Senators ask FCC to probe Sinclair 'news distortion operation'

Senators ask FCC to probe Sinclair 'news distortion operation'
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A dozen senators wrote to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday to urge the agency to investigate Sinclair Broadcast Group and pause its proposed merger with Tribune media.

The senators — 11 Democrats and Independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Ben & Jerry’s co-founders announce effort to help 7 Dem House challengers Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states MORE (Vt.) — accused Sinclair in the letter of “deliberately distorting news,” thus violating FCC policy.

“We are concerned that Sinclair is engaged in a systematic news distortion operation that seeks to undermine freedom of the press and the robust localism and diversity of viewpoint that is the foundation of our national broadcasting laws,” the senators wrote. 

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The senators suggested the FCC should review Sinclair’s fitness to hold a broadcast license, and allow for further public comment on its proposed merger with Tribune Media. 

“In light of my commitment to protecting the First Amendment and freedom of the press, I must respectfully decline,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai responded to the letter on Thursday, according to Breitbart. “Most relevant here, I have repeatedly made clear that the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast.”

If the merger went through, Sinclair would own local news stations that reach nearly three-quarters of American households. 

Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSenate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh Trump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Senate Dems want DOJ review of Giuliani's work for foreign entities MORE (D-N.M.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: NYT says Rosenstein wanted to wear wire on Trump | Twitter bug shared some private messages | Vendor put remote-access software on voting machines | Paypal cuts ties with Infowars | Google warned senators about foreign hacks Overnight Health Care: Opioids package nears finish line | Measure to help drug companies draws ire | Maryland ObamaCare rates to drop Google says senators' Gmail accounts targeted by foreign hackers MORE (D-Ore.) are among those who signed the letter.

The letter comes after a clip went viral of dozens of Sinclair anchors across the country simultaneously reading a scripted segment warning viewers of “fake news” and media bias that poses an "extremely dangerous" threat to democracy.

Critics and former employees have slammed the segment, saying it disparages media. Some Democratic representatives have also criticized Sinclair.

Sinclair executives have defended the promo, saying it shows no bias and was part of a well-researched journalistic initiative.

“I understand that you disliked or disagreed with the content of particular broadcasts, but I can hardly think of an action more chilling of free speech than the federal government investigating a broadcast station because of disagreement with its news coverage or promotion of that coverage,” Pai wrote in response to the senators.

-Updated 3:03 p.m.