President Donald Trump voiced his displeasure Tuesday night with the Federal Communications Commission for refusing to approve a highly controversial deal by the Sinclair Broadcast Group to acquire Tribune Media.
“So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,” he wrote on Twitter. “This would have been a great and much needed voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!”
If anyone still thought Trump didn’t see Sinclair in political terms as part of his media support system, this tweet should dispel that notion.
But there is a more sinister aspect to it in terms of Trump trying to influence the regulatory process to get the deal back on track for approval.
Last week, the commission voted to refer the deal for a hearing and further review before an administrative judge. Some analysts saw it as a death knell for the acquisition. Sinclair stock was down 20 percent in the wake of the vote Thursday.
A sudden about-face by FCC Chair Ajit Pai, who had been put in that job by Trump, surprised many. Pai raised questions about the way Sinclair said it planned to divest itself of enough stations to gain approval. He suggested that Sinclair was divesting in name only and would still control some of the stations through agreements with friendly owners.
Sinclair denied any attempt to deceive the commission.
Pai had come under heavy fire during the past year for pushing to rescind rules, which were designed in the 1930s by Congress to ensure diversity and some local ownership. It looked to some as if he were changing the rules to allow Sinclair to win approval for a deal that would give it access to 72 percent of the nation’s homes.
The NBC deal Trump referred to in his tweet allowed Comcast and NBC Universal to merge. The FCC approved that deal in 2011 during the administration of President Barack Obama.
Trump has tweeted support of Sinclair before. In April, as the Hunt-Valley-based company came under withering attack after a Deadspin video that featured its anchors mouthing the same message about “fake” stories, Trump weighed in on Twitter in its behalf.
“So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased,” his tweet said. “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”
At the time, I wrote that he shredded whatever credibility Sinclair had left.
Pai and the other commissioners are scheduled to testify Wednesday before a House subcommittee that has oversight of the FCC. A tweet from the president on the eve of that hearing looks to me like an attempt to influence the process.