Both KGAN (CBS 2) and KXFA (Fox 28) will be increasing the amount of Trump-friendly news commentary they broadcast. Neither station has a choice in the matter. Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the media company that owns one of the Cedar Rapids stations, and operates the other, is mandating the pro-Trump content boost.
Politico reported this week that Sinclair, the largest owner of local TV stations in the country, will triple the number of “Bottom Line with Boris” segments its stations must air each week during local news programs. The segments, which last between two and three minutes, feature commentary by Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign spokesperson who also worked for Trump’s inaugural committee and in the press office of the Trump White House. The segments were being run three times a week. They will now air nine times each week.
Ephsteyn was born in Russia. His family emigrated to the United States when he was 11, and eventually became citizens. He is a college buddy of Trump’s son Eric, and was an attorney and worked at an investment firm before joining Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Ephsteyn was hired by Sinclair as its chief political analyst in April. By then, Ephsteyn was a well-established presence in the media, and frequently described as Trump’s attack dog. Ephsteyn is “known for his argumentative, badgering style on TV,” was how The New York Times tactfully described Ephsteyn the month before Sinclair hired him. Politico was less restrained in its March 2017 story describing Ephsteyn’s TV career. The story’s title was “White House official terrorizes network green rooms.”
Ephsteyn is a natural fit for Sinclair, which is owned by politically conservative members of the family of its founder, Julian Sinclair Smith. During a speech to business executives last December, Jared Kushner boasted that his father-in-law Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, which Kushner helped run, struck a deal with Sinclair executives to guarantee favorable news coverage on its stations. In return, Sinclair stations would receive exclusive sit-down interviews with Trump. Sinclair executives denied any deal was struck, but its stations did provide favorable coverage, and the interviews did occur.
Sinclair could guarantee the tone of its news coverage, because unlike other media companies that own local TV stations, Sinclair requires its stations to broadcast certain news show segments. The segments, which are known as “must-runs,” uniformly follow right-wing political talking points, as HBO’s comedy/news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver recently documented.
In a 19-minute segment, Oliver highlights “Bottom Line with Boris,” along with other must-run news segments, including one that associated French beachwear with terrorism. (Seriously, watch the video.)
Having a Russian-born partisan named Boris reciting pro-Trump talking points might seem awkward given recent revelations about possible collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russia, but that’s what Sinclair is offering viewers. Little Village attempted to contact Becky Lutgen Gardner, the news director for both KGAN, which Sinclair owns, and KXFA, which Sinclair operates, to discuss how the stations handle the must-runs, but has not yet received a reply. The must-runs are also broadcast in Iowa on KTVO in Ottumwa and KMEG in Sioux Falls. Nationwide, Sinclair’s commentaries are featured on its 84 stations that air local news. The company owns a total of 173 TV stations.
Sinclair’s reach may increase in the near future. It is currently attempting to buy 42 local TV stations owned by Tribune media. If the purchase is approved by federal regulators, the combined Sinclair and Tribune stations would reach approximately 72 percent of American households.