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Former Trump surrogate makes his debut as a pundit

Boris Epshteyn's new on-camera role is a reminder of the rise of the Sinclair Broadcast Group and its increasing media significance.
Television camera operators work from a platform as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton attends at a rally, May 26, 2016, in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo by John Locher/AP)
Television camera operators work from a platform as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton attends at a rally, May 26, 2016, in San Francisco, Calif. 

We learned last week that Boris Epshteyn, a former special assistant to Donald Trump, received a request for information from the House Intelligence Committee, as part of the panel's investigation into the Russia scandal. The news came just two months after Epshteyn, who helped oversee Team Trump's TV surrogate operation, left the White House for reasons that were never fully explained.

Over the weekend, however, many Americans watched their local news and saw a new on-air segment called "Bottom Line with Boris," featuring the former Trump aide with a combative reputation. The two-minute segment featured Epshteyn criticizing the White House press corps.

And why, pray tell, was this former White House official making his debut as a pundit? After his departure from Trump World, Epshteyn was apparently hired by Sinclair Broadcasting as a commentator.

The segment was a reminder that reports like this one from the Washington Post a month ago was probably more important than widely recognized.

Donald Trump the businessman prided himself on making winning business deals. Now, Donald Trump the president appears to be a winner in a deal he didn't even negotiate.The Sinclair Broadcast Group, already the nation's largest owner of local television stations, is adding 42 more in a $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media. The result could be slightly friendlier coverage for the president in the nation's largest media markets, as well as in cities such as Cleveland, Greensboro, N.C., and Des Moines that represent key centers in battleground states.

Vox added soon after, "Sinclair Broadcast Group — a conservative, Trump-friendly television empire — is poised to become one of the most powerful players in the mainstream media. The relatively unknown company, whose stations have mixed conservative commentary with local news, is now on the verge of a deal that would allow it to reach nearly three-quarters of American households."

Sinclair's name may sound familiar to longtime readers. When the Bush/Cheney White House created pre-packaged "news" segments, created by the administration to serve as taxpayer-funded propaganda, the Federal Communications Commission accused stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group as being among the biggest offenders, airing segments without disclosing to the public where they came from.

In 2004, ABC's "Nightline" intended to broadcast the names of every member of the armed forces killed in action in Iraq. Many of the Sinclair Broadcast Group's stations refused to air the program.

More recently, Jared Kushner claims he struck a deal with Sinclair, trading access for positive coverage, though the company later insisted there was nothing untoward about the company's interactions with the campaigns.

Now, Sinclair, if its new acquisition strategy advances, will have over 200 stations late next year, just in time for the 2018 midterm elections.