On an otherwise regular morning in mid-August, viewers in Providence, Rhode Island were treated to a segment called Behind the Headlines with Mark Hyman, which immediately followed the local weather report.
“We have the greatest health care in the world,” Hyman says, despite the fact that some 27 million people in the U.S. do not have health insurance, and millions more are underinsured.
“Did Obamacare make us healthier? No,” Hyman declares. “With Obamacare in place, more Americans are dying than ever before. Now this doesn’t mean Obamacare is killing people, but it does mean that Obamacare isn’t making people healthier.”
The connection between Obamacare and a higher mortality rate has no correlation whatsoever, and experts actually cite more car crashes, drug overdoses, and gun deaths as the driving reasons for that rate — not Obamacare.
And despite the fact that millions of people in the United States are under- and uninsured, the Affordable Care Act has given an estimated 20 million people access to health insurance. Access to care saves lives, not the opposite.
Despite his concession that higher mortality rates don’t mean Obamacare is killing people, Hyman ends his segment with the conclusion that “government-directed health care can kill.”
Hyman’s segment, which runs daily between a minute and a half and two minutes long, is one of several must-run “news” segments that spread misinformation, echo Trump administration talking points, and function as nationalist and right-wing propaganda.
Sinclair often defends the must-run segments by arguing that they don’t take up much time, but the short packaging is part of what makes the programming so insidious. They’re slotted into local newscasts easily and not clearly marked as opinion or required programming.
The segments run on 174 stations currently owned by Sinclair, which is aggressively expanding.
Approval of Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune Media Company is currently pending. Should the deal be approved, it would add 42 stations to Sinclair’s empire, and the broadcasting company would reach 87.3 million homes. Nielsen estimates 119.6 million households in the U.S. own a TV.
And the massive expansion, which would reach 72 percent of U.S. households, wouldn’t have been possible without the Trump administration. Congress has imposed a 39 percent cap — and Sinclair already reaches about 38 percent of households.
Last spring, Trump’s FCC Chairman Ajit Pai reinstituted a loophole that allows broadcasting networks to cover more than the Congressionally-instituted cap. Pai says he never discussed the Sinclair deal with Trump and said in a letter to House Democrats that the FCC has “not been fueled by a desire to help any particular company.”
But the deal, should it be approved, could be a boon for Trump.
The short journey from the Trump White House to cable news
One of the must-run segments is anchored by a former Trump adviser, Boris Epshteyn, who consistently shares misleading talking points and echoes misinformation from the Trump administration under the guise of “political analysis.”
Epshteyn is a central figure in the Trump universe. He served as a senior adviser to Trump during the campaign and made the rounds on cable news for the then-candidate. After Trump won, Epshteyn took a role in the White House, where he worked for three months.
During his short tenure, Epshteyn authored the White House’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, which failed to mention any of the Jewish people who died in the Holocaust.
Last month, Epshteyn was questioned by Congress as part of the Russia investigation. His segment, The Bottom Line, is fed into local newscasts across the country daily.
In a recent segment about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Epshteyn calls Obama’s executive action “wrongful overreach,” and says Trump’s decision to rescind the program with a six-month delay is “the correct approach.”
Despite what Epshteyn’s unequivocal statements, there are strong arguments that DACA, the result of executive action by former President Barack Obama, was constitutional, as ThinkProgress has outlined in the past. Epshteyn presents Trump’s argument against the program against the program as fact.
Behind the headlines, right-wing propaganda
In another must-run segment, Hyman claims those who say Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) voted against Sandy funding are the real liars.
Cruz faced allegations of hypocrisy from King and others following Hurricane Harvey, but Hyman, in the required programming, echoed Cruz’s widely debunked argument about why he voted against Sandy relief.
Hyman says that Cruz did, in fact, vote for an earlier version of Sandy relief, which is true, but Cruz was one of a small handful of far-right Republicans who voted against a robust hurricane relief bill. Cruz has argued he voted against the funding because it included too much “pork.”
But the funding Cruz considers “pork” was funding for long-term rebuilding projects in the New York and New Jersey area, as well as funding to fix the roofs of the Smithsonian, which were damaged by the effects of Sandy that reached Washington D.C.
At any rate, Hyman presents the “pork” argument as fact in his must-run segment about Hurricane Harvey.
When Epshteyn and Hyman aren’t explicitly lying under the guise of news and analysis, they’re both inclined to praise the president and repeat his general talking points.
After a woman was killed when a man allied with neo-Nazis groups drove his car into a group of peaceful counter-protesters, Trump said there was violence on “both sides.” After criticism, he later condemned the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white nationalists — as well as “other hate groups.”
“For many expressing outrage, that is not good enough,” Epshteyn said in a segment about Trump’s response. “They’re unhappy with the timing of the comments or the fact that the president acknowledged correctly that there was hate and violence coming from the left as well.”
Epshteyn sites the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and three others on an Alexandria baseball field by a man Epshteyn calls a “left-wing activist” as proof that there is, in fact, violence on “both sides.”
“[They] have the bullet wounds to prove that there is plenty of hate and violence from the left… The president stating the fact that the fringes of the left and the right are both capable of hate and violence does not mean that he’s condoning any of it,” Epshteyn says.
After Epshteyn ran his segment praising Trump’s response, the president walked back his remarks, saying there were some “very fine people” at the Unite the Right rally.
Epshteyn also recently dedicated a segment to the RAISE act, a bill introduced in the Senate that would reform the immigration system to a “merit-based” system.
The segment offers only the hard-right, nationalist talking points of the bill’s supporters and none of the criticisms, including the fact that the bill would favor a much whiter, wealthier population.
In a segment from June, Epshteyn sounds almost exactly like Trump and the White House press secretaries.
“From the start of the Trump presidency, the press briefings have steered way off course. They’ve become much more theater than information gathering,” Epshteyn says. “Theater in which, frankly, the press has played the leading role.”
John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight also recently highlighted a segment of Hyman’s, in which he calls college students “snowflakes.”
Your daily dose of fearmongering
Another must-run segment is less inclined to falsehoods, but the Terrorism Alert Desk is functionally fearmongering, and a recent story from the Providence Journal highlighted the fact that the segment has made some viewers nervous.
A Maine woman told the Journal the Terrorism Alert Desk worries her grandmother.
“She hears the music and it sounds very important. I try to tell her it’s just an update about national security, but she worries,” the woman said. “She fled a war. For her, terrorism — that’s her biggest fear.”
Some recent segments of the terrorism alert desk focused on the bombing in the London Underground. No one was killed in the attack, but 29 people were injured.
One segment talks about the bombing suspects having lived together while they were both in foster care, and another focuses on surges in terrorism-related arrests in the U.K.
The segments run daily whether or not there has been a high profile attack. A segment from before the London bombing focuses on ISIS’s presence in Iraq and Syria and the conviction of an individual who was trying to join the group.
“A Muslim convert caught trying to join ISIS has been convicted,” the host says. “[He was] planning to travel to Syria to try and commit terrorism.”