On today's BradCast: A good answer to the question of how the hell we got here. We have an FCC that appears fully captured by the very (rightwing) corporate entities it is supposed to be regulating while overseeing control of our public airwaves. [Audio link to show follows below.]
But first, before we get to our main story today, which is a scoop you probably haven't heard about elsewhere, Donald Trump's own FBI Director Christopher Wray testified in the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee on Thursday that he is unaware of any evidence to suggest widespread absentee ballot fraud is underway. That runs completely contrary to the President of the United States' continued, persistent, repeated, evidence-free claims that Democrats are running some kind of massive absentee ballot fraud scam to steal the election from Trump.
On the other hand, Donald Trump was and is trying to steal the U.S. Census from the people of the United States. But on Friday, a federal judge ordered a stop to it, based on testimony and email from Census Bureau officials revealing that the Commerce Department's order for the Constitutionally-mandated decennial head count to be prematurely ended this month would result in fatally flawed headcount data. The Trump Administration has been trying to complete the tally in time to turn it over to the President for final approval by the end of this year, to avoid the current deadline of April 2021 when Joe Biden could be in office to approve it instead. The attempt to force an under-count, according to critics, would bastardized U.S. House seat apportionment, as well as thousands of state legislative seats and the distribution of some $1.5 trillion in federal spending for the next ten years. It would also result in the under-count of minorities and the shifting of political power to white, rural Republican districts.
And speaking of politically captured federal agencies, earlier this week at The BRAD BLOG, award-winning journalist turned media reform activist SUE WILSON broke the story of a "Petition to Deny" license renewals filed against three broadcast television stations in the Baltimore market. The petition, filed by longtime, D.C.-based Republican communications attorney and former FCC official ART BELENDIUK, charges that the giant, rightwing corporate TV station owner Sinclair Broadcast Group is unlawfully violating the Telecommunications Act [PDF] by secretly owning or controlling three stations in the Baltimore market, when they are only allowed to own one.
Belendiuk and Wilson join me on today's program to explain how the far-right Sinclair, which own Baltimore's WBFF, also secretly controls the ownership of Cunningham Broadcast, which nominally owns WNUV and Deerfield Media, which holds the license to WUTB in the same market. Belendiuk explains how that violates federal restrictions on media ownership, while noting that his "Petition to Deny", filed in Baltimore in hopes of blocking the stations' licensing renewals, is just the first such Petition, given that Sinclair is pulling the same corporate shell game scam with stations all across the country.
"You can have relationships with other stations in the market, but they're carefully regulated by the FCC," Belendiuk tells me. "But Sinclair has gone way beyond that, down to the point of setting the salary of the president of Cunningham. That's not the kind of thing you do at arm's length. Cunningham, which is the main partner of Sinclair, has twenty stations in twenty different markets and they're all paired with Sinclair. So this isn't a Baltimore problem, it's just that the petition had to be filed in Baltimore because of FCC reasons. The first place you could file was in Baltimore."
Wilson detailed in her recent report how, under the FCC's regulation of the Telecommunications Act, "In a single local broadcast market, one company may apply to own two stations --- if there are nine or more stations in that market. [But] Baltimore has just eight stations, and three of them are actually owned by Sinclair."
Sinclair, which officially owns almost 200 hundred TV stations across the county in more than 100 markets, largely in the South and Midwest, first came to national prominence when they mandated their hundreds of otherwise trusted local TV news anchors to read a script on air about "fake news" being a threat to democracy, back in early 2018. As their stations are affiliated with various networks such as ABC, Fox and The CW, local viewers often have no idea they are actually watching a Sinclair station, with a far-right corporate owner controlling the local station's newsroom.
"What's really at stake here are the diversity of voices that we the people get to hear on our local TV stations," Wilson explains. "Local television news is really the medium that most of us trust more than any other today for our news. This is really cutting away at that kind of trust, when you allow one company to own so many stations." She says "the law is clear," but the FCC, whose chairman Ajit Pai was appointed by Donald Trump, is failing to enforce it, even though the details of the sham ownership of the stations and companies controlled by Sinclair were discovered in both FCC and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) documents, according to Belendiuk's petition
"The commission is aware of this," Belendiuk insists. "Enough is enough. it's time for the FCC to stop looking the other way."
The self-described "political conservative" also shares the progressive Wilson's concerns about the dangers of the lack of diversity over our public airwaves. "In many markets --- take Columbus, Ohio --- they own two major network affiliates, Fox and I believe an NBC station. That means every day at 6 o'clock there are two local newscasts going out holding one political view. That's not what the Communications Act intended. The Communications Act intended that there should be a diversity of views. If there's a Sinclair with a clear rightwing view, there should be another station that has a middle-ground view, and one that maybe has a leftwing view. There shouldn't be one voice."
He goes on to discuss the serious "impacts" all of this has on our politics and elections. "It really, really matters to the people of Columbus, Ohio. And they're being deprived of the information they need to vote for the candidate of their choice. Whether you're voting Republican or Democrat, that vote should be an informed vote. When you control the local news, which is really what I see as the problem, then I'm no longer getting that kind of information that I need to make an informed decision."
Belendiuk notes that station license renewals, which come up every eight years, will also be happening soon in other markets around the country where, he says, "any citizen can file a petition saying why they don't serve --- and this is in the Communications Act --- 'the public interest, convenience, or necessity'," before he details how Sinclair has been repeatedly fined by the FCC for other violations over the years when they were found to not be acting in the public interest as mandated.
Sinclair has until October 1 to respond to the Petition, after which the matter will either be decided by the FCC or, if they ignore or attempt to whitewash the complaint, by a federal Appeals Court, Belendiuk vows.
There is much more on all of this in today's show, including information on how you can reach him and take action locally if you feel, like he does, that "enough is enough".
Finally today, because this week has been more than "enough", we end with the overdue return of one of our favorite Trump-era musical satirists! Randy Rainbow sends us off into the weekend with a tune that we dare you to get out of your head after you hear it...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)