John Oliver hits Sinclair Broadcast Group for conservative bias

Comedian John Oliver is taking aim at Sinclair Broadcast Group, accusing the local television giant of conservative bias.

His criticisms also come at a critical time for Sinclair, which is on the verge of a $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media that would significantly consolidate local television networks.

Oliver on his HBO show "Last Week Tonight" on Sunday said that Sinclair's right-wing bias rivaled that of Fox News and Breitbart and expressed caution over the planned merger, saying would it inject conservative views into local news broadcasts.

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“Sinclair content tilts noticeably conservative,” Oliver said, adding it wouldn't be a problem if “the opinions were confined to the commentary or the ad breaks.” 

Oliver, though, said Sinclair steers the ideology and tone of broadcasts across the country on TV stations it owns.

He said Sinclair distributes news scripts to its stations, one of which suggested the FBI’s investigation into President Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn was politically or personally motivated.

“Did the FBI have a personal vendetta in pursuing the Russian investigation against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn?” Sinclair anchors asked.

Oliver also pointed toward segments that Sinclair media tells its stations they “must run,” which include right-wing video op-eds from Sinclair executive Mark Hyman and the station’s chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn.

Epshteyn once falsely claimed that former President Obama won North Carolina because of voter fraud. 

“As far as we can tell, no other major owner of TV stations distributed its own commentary segments to run during local news,” Oliver said. 

The merger deal would put Sinclair's local TV channels in 72 percent of American households.

If Sinclair buys Tribune, it would bring its average viewership in the largest markets to 2.2 million households, according to Oliver.

At one point in the segment, Oliver mocked a news clip in which a local reporter reenacted a robbery by pointing a gun at the camera. Oliver jokingly pulled out a gun and pointed it at the audience to get their attention.