In February 2021, liberal journalists (correctly) were crestfallen that Tribune, The Baltimore Sun’s parent company, would merge with Alden Global Capital, an infamous newspaper conglomerate known for stripping down newspapers to ghost status with, in some cases, only one staff writer and the thickness of a store-brand napkin.
After it was announced Monday that local businessman and Sinclair Broadcasting Group executive Chairman David Smith had rescued The Sun with plans to revitalize it to a robust status, the left is apoplectic.
Why? Sinclair, the local news behemoth Smith runs, has been accused for years of tilting right. Based on the hissy fits pitched by the AP, the Baltimore Banner (an online site started after the Alden purchase), CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, it seems like journalists would rather the paper die all together than be run by someone who’s not a leftist.
An initial AP story said Smith told staffer “he will focus on local news and investigations, and he plans to use video and social media to attract new subscribers”, but a follow-up warned Smith was not to be praised and instead scorned since Smith’s “an active contributor to conservative causes” (click “expand”):
A local buyer taking over a struggling newspaper in the 21st century is normally cause for some celebration. But The Baltimore Sun’s newly announced owner has a very specific political background, and some are concerned about what the 187-year-old publication could become.
David D. Smith, executive chairman of the Sinclair broadcasting chain and an active contributor to conservative causes, has bought Baltimore Sun Media from the investment firm Alden Global Capital. The purchase price was not disclosed.
In a Sun story announcing the sale a day earlier, Smith said that he was in the news business because he believes “we have an absolute responsibility to serve the public interest.” He also criticized the city’s “mainstream media” while acknowledging that he began reading the paper regularly only a few months ago.
The Sinclair-owned Fox station in Baltimore frequently airs coverage blaming the city’s Democratic mayor, Brandon Scott, for gun violence and failing schools. And Smith has become a prominent player in local politics. In 2022, he helped finance an effort to impose term limits for some Baltimore officials.
Tax records show Smith’s foundation has donated to the conservative group Project Veritas, which is best known for making hidden camera stings on media and liberal figures.
History is replete with media owners who have strong political opinions; Rupert Murdoch is only a recent example. What resonates is whether they use their products to push those views.
While the region certainly has people with conservative views, turning it into a rigid conservative publication would not seem a wise business decision, said Medill’s Franklin, who was editor-in-chief of the Sun from 2004 to 2009. “One of the most important rules is to know your audience,” Franklin said, “and Baltimore is not a conservative area.”
CNN reacted the way you’d expect. Oliver Darcy, their deranged liberal media hall monitor, whined in his media newsletter that it’s a “deal that has set off alarm bells” since Smith’s local stations around the country “has previously inserted right-wing editorial segments into its local news broadcasts.”
Writing on Threads and X, NPR media writer and former Sun reporter David Folkenflik huffed that “Smith was dismissive of the Sun's journalism” and “deflected questions about his own political activities.”
He also seethed that “Smith has been a major funder of GOP candidates; more recently he has funded far-right outfits like Project Veritas and Turning Point USA & financed local ballot initiatives.”
Folkenflik made sure to take a swipe at Sinclair stations: “Sinclair...has pulled the news coverage and commentaries on those stations markedly to the right, ultimately becoming quite supportive of Trump.”
“Unclear what the current moment holds,” he added.
The Banner story reeked of scorn.
“In a tense, three-hour meeting with staff Tuesday afternoon, new Baltimore Sun owner David Smith told employees he has only read the paper four times in the past few months, insulted the quality of their journalism and encouraged them to emulate a TV station owned by his broadcasting company,” the story began, written by former Sun reporters Cody Boteler, Lee Sanderlin, and Giacomo Bologna.
Two paragraphs later, they shined that Smith said back in 2018 that print journalism was “so left-wing as to be meaningless dribble” and that he dared to stand by that statement in a meeting with Sun reporters.
They were just getting started with the bitterness, backed by anonymous sources (click “expand”):
Smith is a major political player in the region, having donated heavily to campaigns. He recruited candidates to run against Mayor Brandon Scott and funded ballot initiatives that altered the city charter.
The in-person meeting ran nearly three hours and was full of tense exchanges, people at the meeting said. Smith was noncommittal about both the long-term continuation of a print edition and retention of current staff.
Smith seemed to try and pit reporters against each other, asking them to rank who was the best in the newsroom. Several times throughout the meeting, he said he has “no idea what you do.”
Asked about people’s job security, Smith said everyone “has a job today” and said he would not make wholesale changes until he better understood the operation.
One newsroom member characterized the meeting as “bleak.” Another called it “very bad,” and another said it left them feeling sick.
Smith’s company owns the local station Fox45, and he praised its Project Baltimore, which focuses on the shortcomings of Baltimore City schools, as an example Sun reporters should follow.
Oh, the horror! How dare a news outlet focus on the failure of a major city’s public school system!
A second story was cartoonish in nature, down to the headline: “Meet The Baltimore Sun’s new owner: the conservative TV mogul who embraces controversy and profit.”
The nearly 3,000-word item dripped with disgust and conspiratorial zeal.
The one new find? Smith gave $121,000 to....gird your loins...Moms for Liberty!
Cue the suspense sounds effects!
Despite years of the profession blasting Alden as far-flung vipers, they flocked to a journalism professor at the University of Maryland to argue that, “local ownership is not always good” and “the values and the intention of the owner” are what actually matter, “not where they live.”
Over at The New York Times, they warned that Sinclair stations “drew backlash” for a 2018 segment “when anchors at its stations were ordered to read an editorial about media bias.”
The Post was similarly dismayed, claiming reporters are “wondering how involved he plans to be in editorial decision-making — especially considering his well-known support of conservative causes” and more so after having spent hours “press[ing] him on questions involving journalism ethics and how he plans to increase revenue.”
“Sinclair has repeatedly defended the independence and objectivity of its local TV news reporting, which has a distinctive conservative flavor,” reporter Rachel Pannett warned.