As customary restraints on corporations and high-level public officials increasingly fall by the wayside in Trump’s America, we may have to rely on the likelihood that their greed will cause them to go simply too far.
That’s what happened with Scott Pruitt at the EPA: he ultimately brought about his own undoing through his inability to limit his covetousness for things large and small. The unbridled pursuit of self-interest may yet bring about the downfall of other Administration figures such as Jared Kushner and Wilbur Ross.
In a remarkable development, overreach also appears to be dooming a major media merger: the audacious effort by Sinclair Broadcast to take over Tribune Media and achieve a virtual stranglehold over local television broadcasting in the United States.
Sinclair seemed to have it made. The company embraced Trump during the 2016 campaign and offered itself up as a propaganda arm of the new administration, hiring Trump crony Boris Epshteyn to produce unabashedly pro-MAGA commentaries that the company compelled its affiliates to air.
The acquisition of Tribune, announced in May 2017, would have given Sinclair an unprecedented share of the local TV market, yet it appeared that the deal would sail through the Federal Communications Commission now that the agency was headed by Trump-appointed regulatory zealot Ajit Pai. Among the rules Pai was eager to eliminate were those involving ownership limits.
Sinclair, however, overplayed its hand. Rather than rubber-stamping the deal, the FCC has just decided to refer it to an administrative law judge, a move that is widely expect to doom the merger.
The company gave the agency little choice when it engaged in a dubious maneuver in its proposal on how to satisfy remaining ownership rules. While claiming that it would divest 23 stations, Sinclair would actually retain operational control over those properties. The FCC’s order suggested that the company’s proposal may have included “misrepresentation or lack of candor.” Translation: Sinclair is a big fat liar.
An article in Politico, describing what it called “a tale of stunning hubris,” quoted a broadcast industry official as saying: “Sinclair’s style in Washington is Exhibit A of how to squander the most favorable regulatory environment in decades.”
While this is a major setback for Sinclair, the defeat of the merger is a boon for media diversity. It is also a hopeful sign amid the deregulatory onslaught and corporate empowerment that have marked so much of the first year and a half of the Trump Administration.
It would be preferable if public interest groups could defeat business abuses directly, but for now we may have to stand by and wait for corporate hubris to do the job for us.