John Oliver pointed a gun at the audience on Last Week Tonight to get people to pay attention to some changes that are afoot in the local news landscape.
Oliver is a big fan of local news, which has to do “a lot more with a lot less.” Local news outlets do a good job of unearthing stories that the national news is missing, and Oliver said he frequently relies on local reporting while researching stories on Last Week Tonight. It’s no surprise that the Pew Research Center found that adults trusted local news more than national news, which is why Oliver decided to draw attention to the work of the Sinclair Broadcast Group. According to Oliver, Sinclair is the “most influential media company that you’ve never heard of,” reaching an estimated 2.2 million households. Sinclair may soon be getting bigger and more influential with a takeover of Tribune Media.
The issue, according to Oliver, is that Sinclair’s content slants “notably conservative” with commentary from former Sinclair executive Mark Hyman and former Trump press officer Boris Epshteyn being featured in segments that affiliate stations “must run.” According to Oliver, Sinclair also feeds scripts to local stations, proving his point with a montage of local news anchors reporting identical stories in nearly identical words.
According to Oliver, Sinclair also has a regular segment called the “terrorism alert desk.” That feature reports about terrorism ranging from an ISIS flag in New Hampshire to a horrifying story out of Iraq, that no other news sources were able to independently verify. According to Oliver, while British tabloids and Breitbart reported the news, they distanced themselves from the story knowing it had not been independently verified, something the Sinclair stations did not do. “I did not know it was possible to dip below the journalistic standards of Breitbart,” said Oliver. “That’s like being too bad a chef to work at a carnival food cart.”
To help ward off viewers from getting a “heaping dose of Sinclair’s content without even knowing it,” Oliver conscripted Steve Schirripa from The Sopranos to create a video that local news affiliates can run alongside Sinclair’s “must run” features making it clear that local news “should never be about cheap scaremongering or advancing a political agenda.”