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Tribune Media Pulls Out Of $3.9 Billion Sinclair Merger


It was a media deal worth close to $4 billion, and now it's off. Tribune Media is pulling out of its merger agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair owns nearly 200 local TV stations across the country, and the deal would have given them an even broader reach. Critics say Sinclair has a close relationship with the Trump administration that compromises its editorial integrity. CNN's Hadas Gold has been following this story and is in the studio with me now. Hey, Hadas.


MARTIN: So first off, how would this deal, if it had happened, how would have it shaped the kind of news programming American viewers have access to?

GOLD: Well, Sinclair is already a huge player in the local television broadcast arena. But with the Tribune deal, they would have been even larger. And, pretty much, it would have covered more than half, possibly even 3/4 of the United States where, in any major city, you would have been seeing a Sinclair station. Now, why this is an issue for some critics is because Sinclair has sort of a very hard editorial line that comes from the top, that comes from its headquarters in Maryland. And some of that tends to force their stations to air what - they're called must-runs, which are these segments that every station has to run. And sometimes they lean very pro-Trump, pro-conservative, including from a former Trump official, Boris Epshteyn, these terrorism alert desks that have rankled some people who say local news should stay very objective, it shouldn't get involved, necessarily, at these national politics levels and that that's affecting their coverage.

MARTIN: So when it comes to this merger, what was the issue? Why did it fall apart?

GOLD: So this was a huge shock when it started to fall apart last month. That was when the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, announced that it had serious concerns with the deal - because they had to approve it if this was going to through because they take care of the broadcast licensing. And what happened was they said that in part of the arrangements in selling off certain stations, Sinclair was doing possibly what they called sham agreements where they were trying to sell off some of their stations to people or companies that were so closely aligned with Sinclair that it wasn't really a true independent sale. That is what the FCC said they wanted to investigate. They referred the deal to an administrative law judge. And what that means is it's going to go through a hearing, which usually means these deals die because it takes so long that companies aren't willing to wait for that to go through. And, clearly, now the deal is dead.

MARTIN: So this would have consolidated a huge number of media outlets, as you note, into one company's possession. Do you think Tribune can find another buyer?

GOLD: That is something that a lot of analysts expect to happen. That's something that, actually, Tribune's CEO mentioned in his note to employees early this morning. He said that there is a lot of speculation, and they don't know what's going to happen. However, we've already been hearing that Fox possibly might be interested in buying some of these stations. That's where we're headed. There's a lot of consolidation right now in the media sphere. So it's not expected that Tribune will stay out on its own.

MARTIN: This was costly, though, to Tribune to have even gotten this far in this merger, I imagine.

GOLD: Very costly. And Tribune, actually, this morning also filed a lawsuit against Sinclair alleging breach of contract, and for what I've heard is going to be very high damages. They didn't specify that in that lawsuit. They said that will be determined in court. But this battle is not over. We'll see whether they settle. But, clearly, now they were supposed to be unified, and now they're fighting one another.

MARTIN: Hadas Gold - she covers media for CNN - in our studios talking about this now failed merger between Tribune Media and Sinclair Broadcasting. Hadas, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

GOLD: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.