Station staffers thought it odd to see Smith, one of four brothers who control Sinclair, aimlessly show up at this evening hour. According to a source familiar with the newsroom, he assured them that he wouldn’t be staying long; he was just killing time until a dinner appointment. Before he left, he confided that he was headed to the White House, to dine with President Donald Trump himself.
At 67, Smith has thick jowls and a head full of silver hair with wide-set eyes shaped like crescents. A longtime Republican donor who travels in rarefied circles (he once hosted a party for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas), Smith lives outside Baltimore in Maryland’s horse country, where his company is headquartered. Over the past 30 years, Smith and his brothers have transformed a small family company with three TV stations into a media goliath with entrée to the Oval Office. Along the way he has shown no qualms about using his stations for political purposes and has salivated at the prospect of acquiring more under Trump’s friendly regulatory regime. In April, Sinclair hired Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump White House staffer and frequent television surrogate, as its chief political analyst. Epshteyn’s softball interviews with administration officials and brusque commentaries are slavishly pro-Trump; a Baltimore Sun columnist wrote that the segments are “as close to classic propaganda as anything I have seen in broadcast television in the last 30 years.”
Boris Epshteyn’s Sinclair segments are “as close to classic propaganda as anything I have seen in broadcast television in the last 30 years.”
After a campaign season spent boosting Trump, Sinclair looks set to grow even bigger thanks to the president’s appointees at the Federal Communications Commission: In May, the company announced a $3.9 billion deal to acquire Tribune Media’s 42 TV stations, which would give Sinclair access to New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, the nation’s three largest media markets. The deal—and, for many, Sinclair itself—came to prominence after John Oliver blasted it in an episode of his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, that has been seen more than 6 million times on YouTube. Experts believe the FCC will approve the merger, despite critics on the left and right who argue the deal will give Sinclair far more reach into American households than the law allows.