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FOIA Helps Show How Conservative TV Giant Could Find its Way Into 7 out of 10 Homes: FRINFORMSUM 8/17/2016

August 17, 2017

The FCC’s Ajit Pai’s calendar notes a meeting with Sinclair executives and business partner.

FOIA Helps Show How Conservative TV Giant Could Find its Way Into 7 out of 10 Homes

FOIA requests to the Federal Communications Commission won the release of hundreds of pages of documents showing how the TV giant Sinclair Broadcast Group stands to benefit from the agency’s “deregulatory blitz.” Most important is a deregulation that effectively removes a cap on how many stations a single broadcaster can own and that could put Sinclair in the vast majority of American’s homes.

Sinclair, already “the nation’s largest television station operator by coverage,” is trying to merge with another TV giant – Tribune Media. Current rules, however, mandate that no one company can own TV stations that reach more than 39 percent of the nation. But FCC chair Ajit Pai approved a measure in April – that reinstates “an obsolete loophole called the ‘UHF discount,’ which allows broadcasters to discount by 50 percent the reach of local stations that use ultra-high-frequency (UHF) TV signals” – that will all but ensure the media giant can work around this constraint.

If approved, the merger would “transform Sinclair into a media juggernaut, with reach into seven out of 10 homes through more than 200 stations in cities as diverse as Eureka, Calif., and Huntsville, Ala. The company would have a significant presence in important markets in several electoral swing states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina, and would gain entry into the biggest urban markets: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.”

The move alarms critics. Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps says, “No one company should have such power over the news and information that citizens must have to successfully practice the art of self-government. And that doesn’t even get into the vices of this particular company.” The Washington Post reported in December 2016 that, “A review of Sinclair’s reporting and internal documents shows a strong tilt toward Trump” and that local affiliates were forced to air “must-run” pro-Trump specials.

FCC chair Ajit Pai has also come under fire in recent months for his proposed net neutrality rollbacks. More on those stories here and here.

FOIA Sheds Light on Harassment of Trump Org Whistleblowers by Trump Security Again

A family’s harassment at the hands of the Trump Organization’s security team is the subject of a recent Buzzfeed article. The story – bolstered by FOIA responses from the FBI – details how Trump security guards terrorized the wife and 12-year-old son of a Trump Organization employee who threatened to reveal financial malfeasance at the company. The employee, Daut Bajrushi, “believed he had evidence the Trump company had ripped off homeowners of about $300,000.” When his wife and son went to his office to retrieve paperwork, guards allegedly intimidated them and threatened to hurt the family if they went public.

This is not the first accusation of Trump security intimidating would-be whistleblowers. FBI FOIA responses to Buzzfeed’s Jason Leopold and MIT’s Ryan Shapiro and published in May of this year detailed previously unreported threatening phone calls – one the FBI characterized as “overt extortion” – related to Trump’s business dealings that were investigated by the bureau. The more recent was a 2009 call that was received by a high-profile bankruptcy lawyer representing clients who “stood to lose more than a billion dollars” over Trump’s failed casino venture, Trump Entertainment Resorts. The caller told the lawyer, Kristopher Hansen, that “My name is Carmine. I don’t know why you’re fucking with Mr. Trump but if you keep fucking with Mr. Trump, we know where you live and we’re going to your house for your wife and kids.” More on this story here.

FBI Sued for Records on Roger Ailes for Second Time this Month

 Ryan Shapiro and Property of the People’s Operation 45 are suing the FBI under the FOIA for records on ousted Fox News head, Roger Ailes, as well as documents concerning Fox News Channel, Fox Television Stations, and 21st Century Fox. The complaint was filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

This is the second FOIA suit filed this month for the FBI’s records on Ailes. Gizmodo sued the FBI after the bureau didn’t respond in that statutory 20-day time period. The complaint was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

We Need to Have Our History

Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) director Mark Bradley recently gave an enlightening interview to Federal News Radio’s Meredith Somers that should be a must-read for classification authorities and records management officials alike. Of the approaching tsunami of email and electronic records Bradley says, “I worry about what historians will face 50 years from now when they write the history of what’s going on now, what kind of records they’re going to have, whether they’re going to have access to them at all.” Bradley also says agencies need to stop approaching classification and declassification efforts as a zero-sum game; “If you ask an agency like the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] to focus more on classification, they’ll ask whether you’d rather the agency combat terrorism or spend money on looking at what happened during the Bay of Pigs. The answer obviously is we all want to be protected, but we also need to have our history.”

The 50-Year Rule Not Working

Our “FOIA Yoda” and Nuclear Vault director, Dr. William Burr, takes a look at some more dubious secrets in “The Fifty-Year Rule: Its Use and Misuse.” A key question? How can DOD reviewers seriously believe that these 50-year old documents remain so sensitive that disclosing them would cause serious harm to U.S. foreign relations?

TBT Pick – JFK and Top Aides Considered Preventative Military Action Against Chinese Nuclear Facilities

Today’s #tbt pick is a 2001 posting detailing how President John F. Kennedy and top advisers considered bombing strikes and covert paramilitary operations to destroy China’s nascent nuclear weapons program in the early 1960s. Some of the highlights from the declassified documents behind the posting are:

  • JFK saw the prospect of a nuclear-armed China as a dangerous threat and the Pentagon and the CIA looked closely at the possibility of covert para-military operations to destroy China’s nuclear weapons installations.
  • National security adviser McGeorge Bundy played a key role in encouraging covert planning against China’s nuclear program, which included discussions of paramilitary operations such as raids by Taiwanese commandos as well as the prospect of joint action with the Soviet Union.
  • Other officials, including State Department analysts, were not persuaded by worst-case analyses of a nuclear China and argued that Beijing would be more cautious, not more aggressive.

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Happy FOIA-ing!


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