Sinclair dumping former Trump aide Epshteyn's commentaries

NEW YORK (AP) — The Sinclair group of local television stations said Wednesday it is dropping its commentary segments featuring Boris Epshteyn, former aide to President Donald Trump, in favor of a greater emphasis on local investigative journalism.

Epshteyn's pro-Trump commentaries, sent by the Sinclair Broadcast Group to its 193 local stations with an order that they must be run, had occasionally been a source of controversy. Sinclair, for example, distanced itself from a segment last year where Epshteyn supported tear-gassing migrants he said were attempting to “storm” the U.S. border.

As of Friday, Sinclair is also ending its mandatory-run commentary segments by Ameshia Cross.

Sinclair said in a memo to employees that producing more impactful and distinctive local stories is a goal for 2020, mentioning investigations into school systems in Baltimore and homelessness in Seattle.

“Our local investigative units are invaluable to the communities we serve,” the memo said. “The positive response and our ratings improvement echoes the public's growing desire for in-depth, watchdog, accountability stories that impact local communities”

Sinclair would not comment Wednesday on whether this indicated the company had less interest in being a political influencer. Sinclair has had some success this year with a conservative-leaning political panel show hosted by former Fox News star Eric Bolling that has featured interviews with President Trump and his aides.

Epshteyn declined comment on the move. He tweeted that he was thankful to be a part of Sinclair and to have “produced poignant and insightful commentary the past two plus years.”

He said he'll be staying on at Sinclair. His future role is unclear, but advertising sales will be a part of it. Cross' future with the company is also to be determined.

Earlier this fall, Epshteyn recorded a commentary that mentioned child rape charges that had been filed against two undocumented immigrants, asking "how many American children have to suffer before Democrats see that illegal immigration is a national security issue?

In response, Cross tweeted that the commentary was racist propaganda. “Undocumented immigrants aren't people we should fear," she tweeted. “They aren't rapists.”

In this week's commentary, Epshteyn predicted that if Trump was impeached, the case would be “laughed out” of the Senate. He described one of the articles of impeachment as “whining.”

The liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America called Sinclair's decision to “stop force-feeding its audience Trump campaign propaganda” a step in the right direction.

“It's proof that the American people want real news, not propaganda masquerading as political commentary,” said Pam Vogel, deputy editorial director at Media Matters.