White House official joins the conservative, pro-Trump company taking over local news

The pipeline for Republican political talent, remade in Trump's image.

People watch the televised inauguration of Donald Trump in Times Square in 2017. CREDIT: John Moore/Getty Images
People watch the televised inauguration of Donald Trump in Times Square in 2017. CREDIT: John Moore/Getty Images

Two years ago, when most pundits mistakenly believed then-candidate Donald Trump had no chance of winning the White House, it was common to see well-paid commentators predict that all Trump really wanted was a chance to launch his own television network.

It turns out he can have both. Former Trump campaign and White House staffer Kaelan Dorr drove that point home Tuesday afternoon when he announced he was leaving to join Sinclair Broadcast Group as a producer on the show run by fellow former Trump operative Boris Epshteyn.

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Sinclair’s work as a propaganda arm for Trumpism is more sinister than anything the old “Trump TV” network predictions envisioned. Sinclair’s content arrives swaddled in the credibility of familiar faces and brands.

The company has bought up local news operations around the country for years. Four of every 10 Americans lives in a place served by a Sinclair-owned TV news outfit. That share would jump to seven in 10 if the Federal Communications Commission signs off on Sinclair’s attempted purchase of the Tribune Company — a decision controlled by other Trump lackeys who share Epshteyn’s proclivity for putting antagonistic own-the-libs antics over any particular set of principles.

The Epshteyn segment that Dorr will now help manufacture is a fixture of local news broadcasts in those markets. Branded as “Bottom Line,” the pre-taped editorial segments guarantee that local news viewers will get a heavy and positively-framed dose of the Trump worldview each night. Stations are not free to discard the segments, which Sinclair has tagged as “must-run” content.

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So what is the bottom line according to Epshteyn and Sinclair? It’s ridiculous for anyone to be concerned that Trump drew moral parallels between white supremacists and the counter-protesters who opposed them in Charlottesville, Virginia, according to one segment. The National Football League’s bizarre, constitutionally suspect policy barring players from kneeling to protest police racism during the playing of the National Anthem is bad because it doesn’t go far enough to punish free speech, according to another. A Trump ally getting walloped in a special congressional election in Pennsylvania? That’s good news for Trump, actually, according to Epshteyn.

Whatever the story of the day, Epshteyn will reliably spin it as favorable to the president and proof that critics of the White House are some combination of stupid, dishonest, and unpatriotic.

Apparently that’s more work than one man can handle. But while it’s unclear what particular imprint Dorr might make on Epshteyn’s segments, a glance at the young staffer’s career to date helps underscore how entirely Trump has now consumed the traditional institutions and talent pipelines of the Republican Party.

In four years since graduating college, Dorr’s online resume says, he has shot up the GOP operative talent ranks. He jumped from a single House campaign in the summer of 2014 to a statewide field organizing job in Iowa for the state GOP there, then spent most of the next two years at the consulting firm Jamestown Associates, a fixture of the Republican advertising vendor space that helped elect current Govs. Chris Sununu (R-NH), Matt Bevin (R-KY), and Charlie Baker (R-MA), as well as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). Trump’s campaign hired the firm too, and later plucked Dorr out to manage the White House’s communications with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

That kind of career progression — from a cap and gown to a White House staff badge inside half a decade — is the kind of thing young politics students dream of. Dorr’s swift rise to a spot beneath Epshteyn’s wing speaks to how different those dreams look in the Trump-warped antagonism politics of today. The future of political careerism no longer lies in mastering policy details, marshaling coalitions of voters and representatives, or even raising money. It’s all about the ability to crank out content that can be jammed into living rooms nationwide on a nightly basis.

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And while Epshteyn and Dorr’s segments will at least be branded as commentary, the other “mustrun” scripts Sinclair projects into voters’ homes won’t have those labels. Many of them will be read by the same anchors viewers have come to trust, without any disclaimer explaining that they are engineered by wealthy allies of the president to boost his political aims.