David Deniston Smith is transparent either by design or nature. He says what he thinks, does what he wants and makes no apologies. That millions are chewing their nails to the quick with worry over Smith’s conservative TV empire taking over seven out of 10 American TV’s with his right-wing messaging, propaganda many claim, he’s making the moves to get every American listening and has all his anchors sending the same message at once.
More than a decade ago, The Guardian reported, Smith said, “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the media is left of center…they’re not telling the whole story. Dan Rather wants you to believe that Saddam Hussein is a nice guy! There are two companies doing truly balanced news today: Sinclair and Fox.”
By the mid-1980s Smith was very involved in the running and future he saw in his father’s small broadcast TV company. He also at the time created the local market agreement concept where a station would be sold to a general manager, as was the case with its Pittsburgh station, but the company maintains operational management. The idea was to legally skirt Federal Communication Commission rules against duopolies. Since 1985, Sinclair has bought out broadcast companies and single stations to become the titanic TV broadcast company it currently is with 193 stations, on 613 channels in 89 markets. As the company says, it “has more television stations than anyone.”
Meanwhile, as Smith was cutting deal after deal and growing the company to take over broadcast news nationwide, he had a side hustle going; a nefarious one. Though nowadays, the porn industry, or at least saddling up with porn stars, is no big deal. Maybe it wasn’t then either, but not unlike today, people still get locked up for far less than what Smith was up to.
Here’s what you need to know about Smith:
1. Smith Was a Partner in a Porn Film Bootlegging Business, Ciné Processors, & Was Arrested in a Prostitution Bust in 1996
In the 1970s, Smith was a partner in a business called Ciné Processors, which made bootleg copies of adult movies in a basement in Baltimore. His then partner David Williams told Rolling Stone that the first porn film they copied was ‘Deep Throat.’ Williams told the magazine in 2005 that he and Smith had a film-processing laboratory in one of Smith’s father Julian’s radio company buildings for a year where they copied popular X-rated, hard-core pornographic movies which they operated for a year. Williams said the ‘Deep Throat’ bootleg was popular because the movie wasn’t available except in some theaters in some big cities.
“The first film we copied was Deep Throat, which had just opened in New York and was not available anywhere else.” Williams said that their porn bootleg business “got involved with the mob and was busted by the police.” Williams told a reporter that it was inexplicable how Smith managed to end up in the role as owner of what would become the biggest TV company in the country.
“How David got control of the family company after that, I don’t know. He was just a big egotist. He wanted attention.”
In 1996, the then 45-year old Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., president was arrested and charged with committing a perverted sex act in a Sinclair-owned Mercedes, the Baltimore Sun reported police said at the time. Smith was busted having “unnatural and perverted sex act with a prostitute” in an area frequented by sex workers.
“Officials at WBFF-TV (Fox 45) and Sinclair, one of the fastest-growing broadcasting companies in the nation with 28 television and 34 radio stations, would not comment yesterday. The company had $126 million in sales in the first half of this year.
Police said undercover Officer Gary Bowman, on a prostitution detail, was talking to DiPaulo about 9: 15 p.m. in a car at St. Paul and Read streets. She left the undercover car after telling Bowman that “she had just seen her regular date driving in the area,” according to court documents.
Police said DiPaulo ran across the street to a 1992 Mercedes, registered to Sinclair, and got in on the passenger side. Police followed the car onto the Jones Falls Expressway, where they said they witnessed the two engage in oral sex while Smith drove north.
Police said they followed the car back to Read and St. Paul streets, where they arrested Smith and DiPaulo, who lives in the 700 block of Washington Blvd.”
After his arrest, the company issued a statement that read in part, Sinclair issued a statement that Smith’s arrest was unrelated to company business and “The company will continue to operate under the direction of its current management.”
And it was reported that Smith offered to broadcast reports on his stations about the drug problem instead of community service. Salon reported a staffer said at the time “The judge was outraged. He said, ‘How can employees do community service for their boss?’”
“That was the time he got caught,” a Smith friend told GQ. “He’s a whoremonger. A real whoremonger. He loves the titty bars. The only people he likes go to the titty bars with him. Those are the only people he trusts. He also goes out to Vegas all the time. He goes to the highend titty bars. He’s always getting the private upstairs rooms, champagne, the works.”
2. Barely Blips on the Screen, Smith’s Questionable Conduct Did Not Stop the Sinclair Forward Momentum
A small station in Baltimore from 1971 until 1985, WBFF was owned by the Chesapeake Television Corp., founded by Julian Smith. In the next couple of years, a division of his company created two new stations; one in Pittsburgh and the other in Ohio. When Smith died, his sons took over and according to a report, “set out to transform the company from an outpost into an empire. The plan was threefold: purchase an unprecedented number of television stations, develop their own programming, and presto, create a network.”
In 1985, the company name was changed to Sinclair and from then on, it purchased stations and broadcasts companies, with opposition and pushback by some but ultimately, ended up with nearly 200 stations in the South and Midwest, primarily and its plan is to acquire more. And more.
As it stands now, Sinclair is the largest broadcast company in the nation. And a very conservative and Pres. Donald Trump-cheerleader one at that. In its report years before anyone heard of Sinclair, GQ used this sub-heading to describe to readers what they’d learn in the magazine’s exposé: “How Sinclair Broadcast Group bent the rules, bought politicians, and faked the news to become one of the largest independent owners of television stations in America. (And yes, we use the word ‘news’ very, very loosely.)”
Former CBS News journalist and legendary journalist Dan Rather describes Sinclair and its reach “an assault on our democracy.”
But Smith has fans in high places.
3. The Prediction That Sinclair Would End up as a Propaganda Machine is Decades Old
Thirteen years ago, it was reported on Sinclair and predicted what was to come.
“Propaganda always works better if it seems not to be propaganda—if it seems to be entertainment, or if it seems to be news,” Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of culture and communication at New York University, told GQ. “These people want to dominate the public sphere, but they don’t want us to know that.”
If the Sinclair-Tribune near-$4 million deal is approved, they’ll be in 72 percent of American households every, The proposed merger, in the works for almost a year is still locked in a battle with antitrust division of the Justice Department over the number of stations that must be sold and at the same time, Federal Communication Commission chair Ajit Pai is under investigation by the internal FCC inspector general for Pai’s relationship with Sinclair.
But a Smith/Sinclair relationship with a conservative government official is not new news.
In 2004, per a report, a conservative commentator was paid $240,000 “from the Bush administration to promote its education policies in the media, he needed to reach a national television audience to satisfy the terms of his lucrative deal. Fortunately for Williams, he was good friends with David Smith, the CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest owner of television stations.”
The Sinclair group, with Smith in charge has a very clearly defined conservative agenda. And now, with Sinclair it in the homes of the overwhelming majority of Americans, many are concerned about the increasingly emerging right-wing propaganda.
4. For Some, Their Worst Fears Were Realized When Deadspin Published a Video Showing Sinclair TV News Station Anchors Reading a Promotional Script Simultaneously
If one had not heard of Sinclair before, the video compiled by Deadspin last week put it on the map. In Sinclair-owned news station across the U.S., news anchors were required to read from a script that attacked biases in the media, a criticism of other journalists from reporting and printing “fake stories before checking the facts…”
The Daily Beast got a hold of an email sent to staff from a company vice president who described the scripted statement as a “promo spot,” read in part, “I believe the message does reinforce our commitment to objective and fair reporting. It’s disheartening for this message to be distorted and politicized. We will be reaching out to answer any questions.”
Some stations refused to participate.
And some respectfully but firmly revolted.
The Daily Beast spoke to a number of newsroom employees including anchors, all who spoke on the condition of anonymity, and they were furious.
But there’s not much employees can do since their contracts contract stipulate that if they left to go to another non-Sinclair station, they’d be subject to a “liquidated damages” clause requiring them to pay Sinclair up to 40 percent of their annual paycheck as penalty, the Los Angeles Times reported.
John Oliver, as he often does, finds the humor in the pharisaical and has been reporting about Sinclair and what can be expected from the news group looking to take over all local TV news. Here’s what he said after the video was shared.
A Fox News “insider” told Buzzfeed that his company and Sinclair are nothing like each other describing the Sinclair anchors as looking like “hostage victims.”
5. Smith’s Response to the Video Was That it was Much Ado About Nothing
Smith, worth $268 million or more, told the New York Times the news broadcast segment, that was at once mocked and offered as a cautionary tale for autocratic media, was a common TV practice, widely used on “the late-night shows that networks air on their local affiliates.”
“Not that you would print it, but do you understand that every local TV station is required to ‘must run’ from its network their content, and they don’t own me,” Sinclair wrote in an e-mail exchange with reporters. “That would be all their news programming and other shows such as late-night talk, which is just late-night political so-called comedy.”
In an email to The New Yorker and reported on by Olivia Nuzzi last week, Smith said he’s “never seen a single article” about his company “reflective of reality…”
“…especially in today’s world with the shameful political environment and generally complete lack of integrity. Facts and truth have been lost for a long time and likely to never return.”
Sinclair Broadcast Group on Twitter only occasionally posts. But it’s a tool of the ‘We Are Sinclair’campaign to promote the Tribune Media and Sinclair merger that would put the conservative news agenda in 7 out of 10 homes across America.
In addition to the promo all Sinclair newscasters were forced to read, it was recenlty reported by Newsweek that Sinclair had “mandated that its outlets run a segment on the so-called deep state that was produced by a former reporter for the Russian propaganda outlet RT.”
But many are worried and afraid. Even Jedi masters.