Ding dong, the witch is dead.
The witch, in this case, is the Sinclair/Tribune merger, which, had it happened, would have consolidated much of local media under the ownership of the Trump-loving, propaganda-pushing, conservative agenda-spinning Sinclair Broadcast Group, a family-owned megacorp that became famous for forcing their news anchors, zombie-like, to read company talking points like it was a hostage situation. Remember this video from Deadspin?
That's Sinclair. The company also requires local news stations to air pro-Trump segments called "must-runs" featuring former Trump stooge Boris Epshteyn. (Seattle station KOMO became famous for running these must-runs in the middle of the night after John Oliver did a segment on it.) In one recent must-run, aired while the Trump administration and ICE were separating and imprisoning families seeking asylum in the U.S., Epshteyn said, "Many members of the media and opponents of the president have seized on this issue and have worked overtime to make it seem as if those who are tough on immigration are monsters. Let’s be honest, while some of the concern is real, a lot of it is politically driven by the liberals in politics and the media." This aired on the local news, with no disclosure that Epshteyn a.) appears to have the moral code of a smashed pumpkin, or b.) used to work for Donald Trump. And this is bad, because people trust the local news (for some reason), and when your local news becomes a mouthpiece of the White House, a whole lot of voters are going to blindly absorb and believe whatever bullshit Boris bleats. Around 23 million people tune into the local evening news and another 12 million tune into local morning news in the U.S., according to Vox; on the other hand, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, the top cable networks, get around 3 million primetime viewers each day—combined.
So, last year, Sinclair announced that they would be purchasing the Tribune Media Company for $3.9 billion, which would have beamed the company into 73 percent of households across the U.S. It seemed, for a while, like this merger was sure to go through. The FCC's Republican Chairman Ajit Pai met with Sinclair Chairman David D. Smith the day after Trump's inauguration. Soon after, Pai went on a deregulation binge, overturning decades-old rules meant to protect the integrity of the public airwaves. It was just what Smith ordered: according to the New York Times, "Hundreds of pages of emails and other documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal a rush of regulatory actions has been carefully aligned with Sinclair’s business objectives.”
The president, naturally, was in favor of a pro-Trump corporation having even more access to U.S. voters, and so supported the merger. But, shockingly, the Sinclair/Tribune merger failed to go through. In July, the FCC, concerned that some of Sinclair's company divestitures were a "sham," announced that they were asking an administrative judge to review the acquisition. This, essentially, killed the deal. Trump, of course, was not pleased about it: “So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,” he tweeted. “This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People.” It was a bad day for Trump, but a good day for the republic.
The Sinclair/Tribune takeover didn't officially die, however, until today, when Tribune announced they're doing the thing we all wish Fred Trump had done 72 years ago: pulling out. And not only is the deal dead, Tribune, for good measure, is also suing Sinclair for breach of contract. In a statement, the company wrote: "In an effort to maintain control over stations it was obligated to sell, Sinclair engaged in unnecessarily aggressive and protracted negotiations with the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission (the 'FCC') over regulatory requirements, refused to sell stations in the markets as required to obtain approval, and proposed aggressive divestment structures and related-party sales that were either rejected outright or posed a high risk of rejection and delay—all in derogation of Sinclair’s contractual obligations." For this, they are seeking $1 billion in damages. Tribune: you may not be that much better than Sinclair, but in this case, good luck.
Best case scenario? Sinclair counter-sues, then Tribune counter-sues again, and again, and again, until all that's left of both companies is a bunch of lawyers checking their bank balances and eating stale bagels across a conference table. And then, after the overlords are dead, the employees will take over, buy their own stations back for what they'll be worth (say, a dollar), immediately unionize, and vow never to sell out again. There aren't many good days in American media; when Sinclair fails, it counts as one.