Local broadcasters affiliated with the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group ran stories over the weekend that explicitly promoted a Trump reelection campaign fundraising effort.
At least twenty Sinclair-owned network news broadcasters posted items on their website starting on Thursday hyping a new “Keep America Great” hat for sale on the Trump campaign’s website, according to a review by The Daily Beast. All of the stories appear to have initially linked directly to the campaign’s online store, though that link has since been removed on some of the stories.
Sinclair did not respond to a request for comment. Identical or nearly identical versions of the story ran across numerous Sinclair-owned websites.
“Donald Trump's re-election campaign has rolled out new hats as the President aims for another four-year term in 2020,” read one version of the story, which ran on the website of the Sinclair-owned D.C.-area station WJLA. “Trump's online campaign store has started selling red baseball hats with the slogan 'Keep America Great' in white letters,” it added, with a link to the official Trump campaign store.
The president’s reelection team has leaned on merchandising to raise money from its supporters. One recent promotion offered plastic straws with the president’s slogan along the side. The straws, which retail for $1.50 apiece, have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the campaign.
Sinclair’s promotion of the “Keep America Great” hat was first spotted by a Twitter user who monitors Trump campaign fundraising emails.
The local news giant, which reaches millions of Americans through nearly 200 affiliates nationwide, is widely seen as friendly to the Trump administration. Its chief political commentator, Boris Epshteyn, is a former Trump campaign and White House aide. Sinclair has also ordered must-run segments across its TV affiliates that couched its coverage in nearly identical language that mirrored conservative criticism of media coverage of the Trump administration.
Sinclair, though, is not the first broadcaster to run apparent Trump campaign promotions across a number of local broadcasting affiliates. In June, a number of ABC owned-and-operated stations featured stories on their websites that directed visitors to sign a Trump “birthday card.” The card was actually a Trump campaign list-building effort.