Part one of Putin’s Revenge, a PBS Frontline investigation into the role Russia’s Vladimir Putin played in influencing the 2016 U.S. election, explores the rise of the Russian dictator and the events that determined his behavior toward the U.S. In the process it tells us how almost the first action that Putin took after assuming the role of Prime Minister was to engineer the takeover of independent TV broadcasting stations by rich “friends” of the Russian state apparatus personified by Putin. Since more than 90% of all Russians get their news from TV, this was an important step toward imposing an authoritarian state under Putin’s control.
Why is this interesting?
Almost as many Americans as Russians are dependent on TV for their news. Sinclair Broadcasting controls much of that news – and Sinclair, known for its conservative tilt, seems to be happily cavorting in Donald Trump’s grimy bed, perhaps even conspiring to make sure that the only news Americans get to see is friendly to Trumpland denizens
What does Sinclair get out of this relationship? First off, the proposed merger between Tribune News and Sinclair, which has been in danger of flunking the monopoly tests that the FCC uses to evaluate such mergers – precisely so that no company can take total control of American news sources – will come up for a vote in November. Wanna bet how Trump’s FCC, headed by a new chairman, Mitch McConnel’s boy, Ajit Pai, will vote? If the merger goes through – likely a foregone conclusion – seven out of ten Americans will potentially be getting their news from Sinclair. Second, the FCC just voted to relax long-standing rules that mandated that news outlets own and operate a station in the locale where they broadcast, moving us one step closer to content controlled, remotely distributed “news reports” that Sinclair has specialized in producing.
Sinclair is already a media player in Missouri. In the St. Louis area where I live, it owns ABC affiliate KDNL (broadcast channel 30). The merger would put two more stations in St. Louis under Sinclair’s thumb, KPLR and KTVU (broadcast channels 11 (CW) and 2 (Fox)). That’s three out of the four major St. Louis broadcast stations, folks. And broadcast is where many, often older, citizens get their local news.
And just consider what Sinclair has done with local news reports on KDNL: it’s gotten rid of them. And what have they put on in place of local news? Are you familiar with the rightwing radio noisemaker, Jamie Allman? If Sinclair dominates the local TV environment, I suspect
folks in and around St. Louis will become more familiar than they like.
That’s because, instead of the local news programs that are traditionally broadcast at 5:00 and 10:00 pm, KDNL currently airs the Allman Report, a half hour blitz of honest-to-God fake news (the real thing, not Trump-labeled fake news.). To be fair, when challenged, Allman calls it “commentary,” not news, but it still occupies the niche we associate with local news broadcasts and, in the absence of any real local reporting, seems to be intended to fill that void.
This given, I thought I’d check out the Allman Report, so I watched the program all the way through last Wednesday. Here’s some of the highlights of what watchers learned in a single half-hour:
- The President of Thrive STL, Bridget Van Means, was on the show to promote the latest TRAP law, SB5, that has come out of the Missouri legislature. Thrive, for those of you who aren’t aware of the organization, has made a name for itself by offering religiously-slanted, anti-birth control sex education in local schools. Thrive STL also runs several anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy” centers in the area. If I had taken Van Means at face value, I would have learned that the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic was a veritable abortion charnel house that has attempted to hide its bloody deeds by silencing the sirens of the ambulances that visit the clinic in higher numbers than anywhere else in the U.S. SB 5 will mandate that sirens be heard and women warned about the dangers of abortion. Whoopdie do. Van Means also wanted me to know that colonoscopies are more highly regulated than abortions – which, she believes, fully justifies the numerous restrictions imposed by SB5 – despite the fact that the consensus of most medial professionals is that they are medically unnecessary.
- FACTCHECK: After being sued by an anti-abortion group, the infamous Operation Rescue, the St. Louis Fire Department released documents detailing the number of emergency pickups at the Planned Parenthood clinic from Jan. 2009 to April 2016. So what’s the appalling truth? There were 58 emergency calls during a period that saw 135,000 patient visit to the clinic. Moreover, at least half of these calls were not associated with abortion, but with other services offered by the clinic. As for the greater regulation of colonoscopies, they’re 10 times more likely than abortion to result in lethal complications – hence the more stringent regulations that insure similar survival outcomes.
- Two members of the elected St. Louis School Board came on to tell us why control of the school board should revert from the Special Administrative Board (SAB) back to the elected board. The big takeaway here, judging from Allman’s response, was the astounding fact the elected board had not been in charge of St. Louis Schools for the last ten years. I guess he slept through all the Sturm und Drang that resulted in the appointment of the SAB. He certainly provided no further context to help folks understand the situation. My big takeaway: The President of the elected board allowed as to how folks are taking their children out of St. Louis schools and sending them to private or charter schools because they’re so bothered about the fact that the elected school board is being ignored.
- FACTCHECK: Don’t know much about the merits of the current elected board, but I seem to remember reading that the loss of students from the public system predates the schism between the two boards and has a lot to do with the general factors that bedevil underfunded public school systems that serve poverty-stricken inner cities. It is a fact, nevertheless, that the SAB has brought the system back to a fully accredited status – and that it is currently involved in preparing to address the status of the two boards, two important facts that were, as I remember, not discussed.
- In a final editorial segment, Allman asserted that recent revelations about how the DNC and the Clinton campaign had funded the research that went into the infamous Steele dossier somehow meant that Hillary Clinton was really the one that Robert Mueller has been investigating. Yeah, I know. Crazy, right? Allman did allow that the research had initially been commissioned by Republicans, but, then declared with utter confidence, though without any evidence, that the responsible Republican was none other than the nefarious, anti-Trump Jeb Bush.
- FACTCHECK: The Steele dossier grew out of “oppo” research, common to all modern political campaigns. Nothing criminal there, nothing to trigger an investigation (although that won’t stop Republicans from “investigating it” – anything to divert attention from Trump’s ties to Russia). Nor was it ever used. The only criminal activities involved were laid out in the findings of the dossier which have excited the interest of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. It was, we have now learned, initially commissioned by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative Website whose bills are paid by a prominent Republican donor, Richard Singer, a supporter of Marco Rubio during the GOP primary. No Jeb Bush.
- An interesting incidental tidbit that popped up during a call-in segment suggests that things aren’t necessarily going to be roses for Josh Hawley’s effort to take Claire McCaskill’s seat. A sweet elderly-sounding lady told Allman that she could never vote for Hawley because he didn’t kiss Trump’s feet (a bit of literary license here, but you get the drift).
- FACTCHECK: Time will tell.
In case this partial resume of Wednesday’s program hasn’t properly horrified you, bear in mind that the disgraced sex-offender and rightwing rage-machine, Bill O’Reilly, is currently in negotiations with Sinclair for a two-hour show to run on the broadcaster’s local stations starting at either 6:00 or 7:00 pm.
It looks like Putin’s favorite puppet has got the playbook – American version – down cold.