Trump-Sinclair deal underscores decline of media

President-elect Trump's son-in-law told a group of business executives off the record that the campaign had a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting Group to receive more favorable coverage in exchange for more access, according to a Saturday report in Politico.

The situation underscores a conundrum that every reporter and news organization faces in our ultra-competitive, click-obsessed media: 

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Just how much leverage does one concede to any political campaign when trying to gain access?

 

For Sinclair -- which owns 154 stations across the country -- making major concessions that included not commenting on Trump interviews given to the company was part of that negotiation. (The arrangement doesn't mention anything about any questions being off-limits.)

All told, Trump gave six interviews to Sinclair, which then distributed them to their affiliates across the country.  

Sinclair’s vice president of news, Scott Livingston, said that the company had also offered the same deal to the Clinton campaign but didn't hear back.

“Our promise was to give all candidates an opportunity to voice their position share their position with our viewers,” Livingston told Politico. “Certainly we presented an opportunity so that Mr. Trump could clearly state his position on the key issues.”

Many Sinclair stations exist in the Midwestern swing states key to Trump's victory and in some cases reach more viewers than CNN, a network Trump has consistently attacked more than any other as “unfair” and “dishonest” before and after the election.  

In Ohio, for example, Sinclair averages 250,000 viewers while CNN only registers 30,000. 

No Republican has ever won the White House without winning the Buckeye State. 

So here's the two big questions to ask:

Is that deal of not commentating on interviews given by a candidate an exercise in trading too much for access?

Or is it right to simply allow viewers to come to their own conclusion about Trump's comments in interviews without insert their own as a news organization?

First, the obvious: The optics are poor when anything with the word "deal" can be attached to it. And it's an unfortunately a consequence of a competitive, fractured media landscape that values clicks and ratings over the old rules of journalism (See: nothing is off-limits, including commentary after the fact).

Sinclair played nice and got Trump -- a ratings and clicks magnet like no other candidate in history -- six times as a result.

“It was a standard package, but an extended package, extended story where you’d hear more directly from candidate on the issue instead of hearing all the spin and all the rhetoric,” Livingston also said.

On that point, Livingston is tapping into a major complaint about media from Trump and many consumers of news of all ideological stripes if all the data around trust and confidence in media being at all-time lows is any indication.

Why not let viewers decide if they like or dislike what Trump is saying?

Why should we be told how to think and what's right or wrong?

On this front, The Hill compiled a list of major newspaper endorsements of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump to meet with Australian prime minister next month Liberal group files complaint on Mar-a-Lago promotion Trump inaugural committee says there were errors in donor records MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump administration to honor fallen workers Conway: I have 'no idea' who is leading Democratic Party Obama to net 0K for Wall Street speech: report MORE before the election. The results were staggering to absorb, as the Republican received a grand total of two endorsements while Clinton took home 57, including endorsements from key newspapers in “blue wall” states including Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, all of which powered Trump's unlikely victory.

The takeaway is clear: Despite the editorial boards of hometown papers far and wide strongly urging their readers to vote for Clinton in no uncertain terms, Trump still won key states that haven't gone a Republican's way since Duran Duran's apex in the ‘80s.

Again, Sinclair was consistent in offering the package to the Democratic and Republican nominees, thereby not showing overt favoritism. And by not offering commentary, which Sinclair doesn't really do anyway in the cable news opinion panel sense, the viewer was left to draw their own conclusions without all the noise we generally hear on cable news via panels made up mostly of partisans with a clear and predictable agenda. 

But when adding it all up, Sinclair should have been transparent about the offer to the Trump and Clinton campaigns right after it was made many months ago. Instead, they allowed Jared Kushner to reveal it after the election was over, thereby forcing them to defend the practice after the fact.

Again, optics.

Journalism just ain't what it used to be.

In 2016, it's oftentimes a matter of being first instead of accurate.

Or in the case of Sinclair, it's about gaining access by successfully making a deal with the author of "The Art of the Deal."

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.