As the Trump TV of local news, Sinclair Broadcasting's online news site, Circa, does its best to derail the Russia investigation.
With some longtime, right-wing media allies suddenly growing cold to Donald Trump and his permanent campaign of White House chaos, Trump advocates are scouring for new, sympathetic media outlets to faithfully deliver partisan attacks.
One eager player that has emerged is Circa, an innocuous looking, general interest news site that’s owned by Sinclair Broadcasting. That’s the same local television powerhouse with 170 stations that has served as an obedient player in Trump’s propaganda wars.
Circa’s news home page looks straight forward enough, with headlines such as, “Sen. John McCain is expected to begin cancer treatment on Monday.” But in recent weeks and months, the site has served as a conduit for GOP attacks, and specifically GOP attacks on the FBI and the Trump team’s attempt to beat back the Russia investigation.
The Circa trend is especially dangerous because the misinformation it peddles comes from a site that poses as a neutral outlet, which likely makes it easier to disseminate false claims more broadly.
Everyday news consumers might not be clued into Circa’s bias, but hardcore conservatives are. Circa “has become a favorite of Sean Hannity among other Fox News personalities, along with embattled presidential son Donald Trump Jr.,” reports the Daily Beast.
The site’s national security correspondent Sara Carter appeared on the Fox News show "Hannity" 11 times in March, 6 in April, 5 in May, and 12 in June, according to Harvard’s Harvard’s Nieman Foundation.
And it was a Carter “exclusive” last that week that prompted cheers among Trump’s remaining hardcore media supporters. It was a dubiously sourced story about a senior FBI official supposedly under investigation for illegally leaking to the media.
“FBI General Counsel James A. Baker is purportedly under a Department of Justice criminal investigation for allegedly leaking classified national security information to the media,” reported Circa.
The salacious story, built entirely on anonymous sources, fit nicely into the Trump administration’s spin about disingenuous leakers running rampant inside the government. It also served to undercut Baker, who worked closely with former FBI Director James Comey. (Yes, the Circa story about leakers arrived via a leak.) Comey has emerged as a key target of White House attacks since testifying about how Trump sought personal loyalty from him.
As Rachel Maddow recently noted, Baker is one of a handful of people Comey confided in, real time, at the FBI about Trump’s inappropriate behavior. That means undermining Baker’s reputation could be a goal of Trump supporters going forward.
And because Circa is owned by Sinclair, that meant lots of the company’s local affiliates —WNWO in Toledo, Ohio; WGME in Portland, Maine; WSET in Roanoke, Virginia; and KATV in Little Rock, Arkansas — picked up the dubious Baker story and ran with the completely unconfirmed account about a maybe-investigation. These stations all hyped the thin Circa story.
Was the story even legit? Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Law Fare, raised all kinds of red flags about the article:
Note that the story's sourcing is consistent with a smear job from congressional investigators. To which we should all say hmmmmm. /5/
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) July 29, 2017
Philip Carter, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, wrote that he is "very skeptical" of the story, noting its use of anonymous sources without corroboration. He called it "shady."
And that’s likely why the Baker leak story received virtually no pick up from legitimate news outlets: There’s probably no there there. But thanks to Circa and Sinclair’s fleet of local stations, the GOP allegation has been spread wide and far.
This all represents a disturbing new trend in the Trump propaganda campaign.