John Oliver takes aim at the broadcast giant trying to gobble Denver TV stations

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John Oliver takes aim at the broadcast giant trying to gobble Denver TV stations

Sinclair broadcasting, which already owns 173 local TV stations around the country, wants to buy The Tribune Media Company, which owns more than 40 local TV stations— including KDVR and KWGN in Denver. Since the announcement, scrutiny on the mega company has sharpened.

HBO’s John Oliver recently devoted a major segment of his “Last Week Tonight” show to Sinclair’s right-leaning agenda and how it can seep into local newscasts and potentially beam into an average of 2.2 million households. Sinclair, Oliver said, is “injecting Fox-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors,” the people who you know and “who you trust.”

Using what Sinclair calls “must runs,” the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation tells its local affiliates to air conservative content. And now, reports Politico, Sinclair’s must-run segments featuring a former Trump White House official named Boris Epshteyn are ramping up to nine times a week. Epshteyn has gone on TV and made the untrue claim that Barack Obama won North Carolina in 2008 “due to illegal voting.”

Some Sinclair stations have been pushing back (if passive-aggressively) by running their must-run segments super late at night when fewer people are watching. Here in Denver, “as if to illustrate the concern about the potential new owner, KDVR news director Holly Gauntt announced her departure Wednesday after two years at the station,” reports Joanne Ostrow. “She’s jumping across the street, literally, to KMGH-Channel 7 in the same role.”

Sinclair “has a history of involvement with Republican politicians and conservative politics,” writeBaltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik who has covered the company since 1989. (Sinclair is based in Baltimore.) Furthermore, he wrote about Oliver’s recent bit, “Sinclair had previously been immune to a primetime takedown by someone of Oliver’s skill and stature because the company wasn’t widely known or important enough to matter. Now it is, and ridicule of the Sinclair brand of news is being seen by millions. … There’s going to be more satire of Sinclair in coming weeks and months, you can count on it.”

That’s right. And you can bet viewers of KDVR in Denver now know a lot more about their local TV station’s potential new owner. Because of this I reached out to some top brass at KDVR to see what they’re thinking given the heightened attention. But, alas, they kicked my request up to corporate— someone in the communications office for The Tribune company not even in Denver. He declined to comment as federal regulators review the deal.

Head-rolling hilarious? Ex-Colorado lawmaker was just funnin’ about beheading journalists

Aw, it was justa buncha yuks, former GOP Sen. Shawn Mitchell says regarding comments he made on social media about the heads of reporters being cut off and piled into trundle carts.

From Ernest Luning at ColoradoPolitics.com:

After news broke this week that three CNN reporters had been fired because of problems with a story about Donald Trump and Russia, former Republican Colorado Sen. Shawn Mitchell entertained the notion in a social media post that “the guillotines will be kept busy” taking care of “hack reporters and seditious leakers” if there’s karmic justice in the world, though he later said he was just kidding.

Just kidding! Here’s the full quote from the ex-pol who posted it on Facebook. “If Karma is waking up, the trundle carts will start filling and rolling, and the guillotines will be kept busy accommodating hack reporters and seditious leakers, by and large fiction-writing, seditious leakers.”

Hilarious!

“Of course I’m kidding,” he told reporter Luning. “It’s a figure of speech meaning if everyone who is publishing fake news about Trump gets fired, then more heads are going to roll. I wasn’t calling for direct action against reporters. I was saying those might be the first three of others if the standard is publishing false stories about Trump.”

Pardon me while I read the latest story about an anti-media political strategy for the 2018 elections, or about a congressman body slamming a reporter, or how at least one journalist in Colorado has registered as a confidential voter for safety reasons.

Oh, yeah, speaking of that…

If you’re a registered voter in Colorado you had a lot to think about this week. On June 29, I first reported for The Colorado Independent how a presidential panel set up by Donald Trump ostensibly to investigate voter fraud was seeking the personal information of all voters in Colorado. Since then, the news blew up. A secretary of state spokesperson told me the office was getting “hammered” with calls.

While some states are resisting, our Republican secretary of state, Wayne Williams, says he must comply with the Trump request under state law— and he plans to. The news led some voters to ask what they could do. I reported how, if you’re concerned about your safety, you can seek something called confidential voter status in Colorado. Some voters wanted to know what would happen if they un-registered and then re-registered to vote after Williams sent the request. I answered that in stories here, and here.

Then, on Friday I spent the day calling around local election offices in counties across Colorado to see what they were hearing from voters. What I found out was alarming. Hundreds of voters were casting off their franchise. Yeah, un-registering by the boatload, concerned about their personal information going to Trump. The story I wrote about it, titled “In Colorado, ‘confusion,’ ‘hysteria,’ and voters unregistering at some local election offices,” bounced around the national media. Writing in Esquire magazine Charles Pierce said the story made him “pig-bitin’ mad.” Slate relied on it for a piece about the Trump commission being “orchestrated chaos.” But wait, there’s more. Trump’s commission on Monday told Colorado to hold off on sending that voter data until a judge reviews a court challenge. So it’s not over yet.

Meanwhile, if you care about the work we do at The Colorado Independent, about investigative journalism, explanatory journalism— journalism that tells you something you didn’t know about Colorado— help us out with a tax-deductible contribution to The Indy‘s nonprofit newsroom. This week, two generous anonymous donors are offering a matching grant challenge that allows you to double your financial support. It’s a dollar-for-dollar match until we hit $25,000. It helps me do what I do. Also, please join me at our party tonight, Friday July 14 in Denver.

The front pages from a random Wednesday in Colorado

The Denver Post reported crime is up in ColoradoThe Longmont Times-Call carried news that the city hired a law firm to investigate if women are being harassed on city councilThe Boulder Daily Camera reported how a new local measure is affecting oil and gas companiesThe Greeley Tribune fronted a piece about how nearly half of local tax assessment appeals are successfulThe Glenwood Springs Post-Independent reported on a “museum tax” going to votersThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel carried coverage of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s greenhouse gas reduction planThe Pueblo Chieftainreported on a group trying to oust three Custer County commissionersThe Coloradoanin Fort Collins localized the state crime stats and found the city bucking a trendThe Steamboat Pilot reported Cory Gardner’s spokesperson insists the senator didn’t cancel a meeting because of protestorsThe Loveland Reporter-Herald had a story on potential fire restrictionsThe Durango Herald covered drone disruptions in fire mitigationThe Cañon City Daily Record reported on local bearsThe Gazette in Colorado Springs fronted the surprise outcome of a sheriff’s corruption trial.

An eye-roll-of-the-month line goes to The Denver Post for this one

Perhaps a reflection of our whacky-silly “But some say…” culture, Colorado’s largest newspaper ran an A1 story above the fold this week about a small group of Coloradans who believe the Earth is flat. And, apparently, they feel persecuted for it, too, although that’s not really explored in the piece. As far as fringe-reporting goes it was well written and probably what news managers around the office call “a talker.” But a line buried 11 grafs down blows up in the reader’s face like a roadside bomb. Ready? Here it is:

(All scientists and educators consulted for this story rejected the idea of a flat earth.)

Whew! Because what if they hadn’t, right? Would the newspaper take the super-duper controversial step of going way out on a limb— taking a stand, dammit— and actually just say in its own voice that the world is, you know, not flat? I know, I know. But some say…

Public radio in Colorado is all over the topic of ethics in journalism

And that’s a good thing. Last month I wrote in this newsletter about a public-engagement panel in front of a live audience by Colorado Public Radio on the topic of journalistic ethics. Now it’s KUNC doing one. Last night, the station hosted NPR’s public editor Elizabeth Jensen in Steamboat Springs to talk with KUNC news director Michael De Yoanna about accountability, fake news, “how the media really works, and restoring trust in journalism.”

I caught up with Michael on the day he was doing it. He said he hoped to take questions from a live audience of about 100. KUNC will host another of these on Aug. 5 in Fort Collins. De Yoanna told me he feels the issue of ethics in journalism came to a boil during the presidential election. “Despite the stereotypes about public radio (and those stereotypes may hold elsewhere), our listenership is about a third independent, a third Democrat/liberal, a third Republican/conservative,” he told me— or pretty representative of Colorado as a whole. The live discussion, he says, is a way to meet the station’s audience face to face. “I think cable news and bad business strategies/consolidation in the local newspaper realm (downsizing newsrooms and a loss of career journalists) has hurt us all,” he says. “KUNC is expanding (hiring more people) and this is our chance to ask if there are things we can do better. NPR is a big part of that and we are working with them. So It’s about getting back to people and hearing what they want and expect from us as a local public media entity.”

Why a Colorado journalist skipped a local Koch conference

Joey Bunch, the lead reporter for Clarity Media’s ColoradoPolitics.com, says he chose not to cover a Colorado conference convened by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers because of restrictive rules for journalists credentialed for the event. “One rule prohibited journalists from reporting on who was there, unless they were part of a formal program or the attendee gave permission to a reporter,” progressive consultant Jason Salzman recently wrote in HuffPo. “In other words, the presence of a person was off the record, unless permission was given or they were on the program.”

This is from Bunch:

“A reporter’s most valuable asset is his independence … It’s a tall order to tell a reporter he can’t report what he sees for the price of admission. I was very appreciative of the invitation, don’t get me wrong, and I knew I was risking losing some stories, maybe big stories, but it didn’t feel right at the gut level, so I asked and my editors backed me up. I was proud of that. A lot of editors would have said, ‘No. we want the scoops.’”

And there were some scoops. I’ve heard of these restrictions before for these types of events, and I’ve written for CJR about the restrictions-for-access quandary. Personally, if invited in this case I might have obliged, but I would have wanted to explain to readers what the circumstances and restrictions were. That doesn’t seem like what others did in this case. As Salzman notes, stories in the APDenver PostNBC, and Politico didn’t note the restrictions. “Emails to the Associated Press, Denver Post, and Politico were not returned,” he wrote.

This week’s personal file…

Kara Mason, news editor for PULP Newsmagazine in Pueblo and a former Capitol reporter for The Colorado Statesman (who has some rough stories about her time there, just ask) is now writing for ColoradoPolitics, which recently bought The Statesman. She’s planning to focus on southern Colorado for the publication’s Hot Sheet, she told me. She also writes for The Cañon City Daily Record.

Now for some news on the local media front from CJR’s United States Project

Catherine V. Moore wrote about how Appalachia, dissatisfied with the national media’s frame, found its own voice. Trudy Lieberman, who watchdogs healthcare reporting for CJR, explained how secrecy, speed, and Twitter changed coverage of the GOP healthcare bill. Gwyneth Doland, a woman after my own heart, wrote about how some alt-weeklies are looking for a lifeline from nonprofits. And David Wahlberg wrote how Wisconsin is a case study for health reporters covering Medicaid.

*This roundup appears a little differently as a published version of a weekly e-mailed newsletter about Colorado local news and media. If you’d like to add your e-mail address for the unabridged versions, please subscribe HERE.

Photo by flash.pro for Creative Commons on Flickr.

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About the Author

Corey Hutchins

is a journalist in Colorado, and Columbia Journalism Review's Rocky Mountain correspondent for the United States Project. Follow him on Twitter @CoreyHutchins and email him at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.

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