July 10, 2017 Last Updated 7:34 am

Time crunch for Congress, news media, and maybe the president

Morning Brief: Sinclair Broadcasting Group gets unwanted attention following its bid to acquire the Tribune Media local TV stations, while Tribune execs see a big pay day ahead

Time appears to be running out, but one who, and on what? This weekend The New York Times dropped two stories that appear to further the case against the White House regarding collusion with the Russians, but this morning the president retweeted a report on Fox & Friends that former James Comey had leaked classified information

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the Senate’s GOP leaders are still trying to find a way to pass a health care bill before the summer recess, and prospects are not good. Yet if time is running out on this administration, some may feel that passing any sort of bill, in order to move on to a tax cut, is worth the risks to the party. Others see the risks too high, and that simply letting the bill die is a better alternative.

Sensing time is running out on them, too, newspapers are working together in an effort to change current antitrust laws that they see preventing them from combatting the dominant players in digital advertising — Google and Facebook. On Sunday, the chief executive of the News Media Alliance, David Chavern, penned a column for The Wall Street Journal arguing that news organizations should received an antitrust exemption from Congress so that they can work together. Today, the NMA issued a press release to spread the word (see here).

The irony, of course, is that news organizations have, for years, been fighting with each other to be among the first to work with the big players in tech whenever these companies have approached them with something new. Rather than demanding that these companies work with publishers openly, and fairly, they have fought to be the first to launch something with the tech giants, offering up their content while seeing very little in return.

CNBC, Karen Gilchrist:

Newspapers to bid for antitrust exemption to tackle Google and Facebook

Traditional competitors including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as a host of smaller print and online publications, will temporarily set aside their differences this week and appeal to federal lawmakers to let them negotiate collectively with the technology giants to safeguard the industry.

Antitrust laws traditionally prevent companies from forming such an alliance which could see them becoming over-dominant in a particular sector. However, the media companies will be hoping that Congress will look favorably on a temporary exemption, particularly giving the recent clampdown on the technology industry which saw Google slapped with a $2.7 billion antitrust fine.

The New York Times, Jim Rutenberg:

News Outlets to Seek Bargaining Rights Against Google and Facebook

Capturing the current mood, News Corporation — which oversees The Journal, The New York Post and Dow Jones — said in a statement that it supported the effort to “focus the public and Congress on the anticompetitive behavior of the digital duopoly, especially as it adversely affects the news and information businesses.”

Mark Thompson, the chief executive of The New York Times Company, told me that “the temperature is rising in terms of concern, and in some cases anger, about what seems like a very asymmetric, disadvantageous relationship between the publishers and the very big digital platforms.”

The thinking is that publishers need the option of operating as a group — and the leverage that would come from any collective action — should they determine that it’s the only way to win meaningful accommodations.

The Transportation Security Administration may begin requiring travelers to remove their newspapers, magazines and books from their bags when going through security. The idea is that these materials are dense, and removing them would lead to more effective x-ray scans of carry-on bags.

But the ACLU sees privacy concerns, while acknowledging that “exposure of reading materials is part of the privacy that is lost when we allow bag searches.”

ACLU, Jay Stanley:

New TSA Policy May Lead to Increased Scrutiny of Reading Material

A person who is reading a book entitled “Overcoming Sexual Abuse” or “Overcoming Sexual Dysfunction” is not likely to want to plop that volume down on the conveyor belt for all to see. Even someone reading a bestseller like “50 Shades of Grey” or a mild self-help book with a title such as “What Should I Do With My Life?” might be shy about exposing his or her reading habits. And of course someone reading Arab or Muslim literature in today’s environment has all too much cause to worry about discrimination. To at least one woman who experienced the new policy, “The scrutiny of my books, magazines and food feels even more invasive” than the body scanners, swabs, and pat-downs…

…If the TSA is to begin implementing this practice, I would make two recommendations for them.

First, the agency and its screeners need to be sensitive to the potential privacy concerns at work here. That means training screeners to be aware of the privacy issues around books and papers, along with orders curbing any agents’ temptations to snoop through, draw attention to, comment on, or discriminate upon any books and papers they incidentally observe in the screening process. The agency should also think carefully about protocols where passengers may want privacy for their reading materials, such as giving passengers the choice to have their papers searched in private.

Second, given any rule or practice requiring the unpacking and separation of books and other papers, the TSA should allow those materials to be contained by themselves within another package.

While TNM was off for a short summer break at the end of June into early July, John Oliver was doing a segment on local news, and specifically, the takeover of Tribune Media stations by Sinclair Broadcast Group. If you missed it, and I certainly did, here is the segment:

Sinclair was able to gobble up the stations due to the weakened position of Tribune following a bankruptcy, then the splitting of the company into two weak entities. They were also able to do so thanks to the fact that such takeovers are often highly rewarding for the executives involved in the deals.

The result will be that your local television news will be far more right-wing now if your local station has been taken over by Sinclair, a company for leading the swiftboating of John Kerry, and now the promotion of Boris Epshteyn, a Trump campaign spokesman.

The Baltimore Sun, David Zurawik:

Sinclair Broadcast Group is finding out how harsh the national spotlight can be

The Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group has been getting a lot of notice in recent months as it awaits government approval to take over Tribune Media. The acquisition will add 42 TV stations to the 173 Sinclair already owns, according to its website. That’s a lot of clout in a lot of living rooms for what is already the nation’s largest station group…

…But never have I felt Sinclair was in as precarious a position as now. With the increase in size has come far more intense scrutiny. It’s not flying under the radar any longer.

And in this highly partisan era of Donald Trump’s presidency, the temptation for Sinclair to get more political is going to grow. Sinclair has a history of involvement with Republican politicians and conservative politics. Going down that road with Team Trump could have serious consequences for the company’s credibility and brand.

Eureka Times-Standard, Sean Taketa McLaughlin:

An open letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group

We the people of Humboldt County, on the Redwood Coast of California, would like to welcome you to our community. With your recent acquisition of four local television channels, you are now a major part of our media landscape. We may be a small market demographically, but we support our local news outlets and we have high standards and expectations for corporations that control access to information in our communities.

As the comedian John Oliver pointed out recently on his show “Last Week Tonight,” Sinclair has earned a somewhat unsavory reputation for biased coverage and inflammatory “must-run” segments that routinely misrepresent facts in order to benefit right-wing political agendas. While this behavior may stem from a legitimate belief that you are “doing the right thing,” you should be aware that it often comes across as cynical manipulation and intentional distortion of the truth.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Sinclair’s proposed purchase of Tribune Media is bad news for St. Louis
Robert Feder: Huge payday awaits Tribune Media execs after Sinclair merger
DSL Reports: FCC Boss Tries to Hide His Latest Gift to Sinclair Broadcasting
Salon: After body slamming a reporter, Greg Gianforte received a donation from director of Sinclair Broadcasting Group

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