It took a few days, but Donald Trump has put his two cents in regarding the FCC’s shocking decision to ask an administrative judge to review Sinclair Broadcast Group’s acquisition of Tribune Media — a move tantamount to killing the deal.
“So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,” Trump tweeted. “This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People.” He added a gripe nearly a decade after the fact about regulators approving Comcast and “Liberal Fake News NBC” getting together despite that deal’s larger scope.
Trump appointed Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who had furthered the administration’s goal of stripping away regulation from industries from broadcasting to coal plants. Pai, who has been accused to being cozy with Sinclair, derailed its Tribune merger by raising “serious concerns” about it last week, but Trump had not previously commented directly on the state of Sinclair-Tribune.
The transaction has drawn wide-ranging fire, including from NewsMax chief Chris Ruddy, a longtime friend of Trump’s, because it would make the No. 1 owner of local TV stations vastly larger, extending it into more than 60% of U.S. households. This tweet marks Trump’s first substantive comments on a media merger since calling Rupert Murdoch last December to congratulate him on the Disney-21st Century Fox deal. (He groused about AT&T-Time Warner being too big, both as a candidate and then a few months ago while aboard Air Force One.)
Several people with Trump ties have wound up in Sinclair’s orbit, including on-air commentator Boris Epshteyn. Former White House official Steve Bannon forged a strong alliance with Sinclair stations in swing states, including Michigan. And yet, because of the strong connection with Murdoch, who has built a powerful collection of local TV stations, speculation has swirled that Trump may have influenced the FCC’s last-minute undermining of the merger.
One threat Trump may have sensed — which Sinclair has never acknowledged — is that the local TV powerhouse has moved assemble a right-leaning media machine capable of giving Fox News a run for its money via local broadcast airwaves instead of cable.
The timing of the tweet, several days after the meltdown of the merger last week, certainly didn’t fit with Trump’s common Iran/North Korea/NFL rapid-response pattern. The hour may be late, but it will be interesting to see if the president’s Twitter handle can again tilt the balance, this time helping to resuscitate a deal widely believed to be doomed.