The conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group aired at least four segments in five days that pushed misinformation about the U.S. COVID-19 response and failed to include important information. The lapses included reports leaving out warnings from health experts about states reopening too early, misrepresenting a discredited conservative author's organization as a “government watchdog,” and dishonestly defending President Donald Trump’s boasts about successful testing and America’s death toll, which has already surpassed the worst estimate Trump mentioned less than two weeks ago. These segments aired on dozens of stations in dozens of states.
Earlier in April, Sinclair’s chief political correspondent Scott Thuman reported on protests against stay-at-home orders by state governments. The news report, which aired in at least 28 states and Washington, D.C., failed to include health experts’ warnings that reopening states too early would lead to a resurgence in coronavirus infections and deaths.
But that’s not the only Sinclair segment in recent weeks which has failed to communicate warnings from public health experts against ending social distancing measures prematurely.
On April 25, Sinclair national correspondent Kristine Frazao reported on how states were differing in their policies on reopening businesses and easing stay-at-home orders, and she also quoted Trump criticizing Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen businesses. But Frazao failed to mention reporting from The Associated Press that Trump repeatedly told Kemp he approved of his plan to reopen. The segment also included multiple tweets by Trump defending his handling of the pandemic and repeated his complete lie that the U.S. has tested more people for coronavirus “than all major countries combined.” According to a Media Matters search of the iQ Media database, the segment aired on at least 42 stations in 29 states and did not include any warnings from public health experts.
On April 27, Thuman covered the “mixed messages between what comes out of Washington and what's seen around the country” about reopening businesses and states relaxing restrictions. While his segment quoted a California beachgoer and an Atlanta resident concerned about going back out in public already, it failed to quote any health experts with their concerns against reopening and only briefly mentioned that health officials in Iowa “are warning that they may not hit their peak [number of cases] for another two to three weeks.” This segment aired on at least 44 stations in 35 states and Washington, D.C.
Another report by Frazao on April 28 quoted criticism of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s spending prior to the outbreak by discredited conservative author Peter Schweizer. Though Schweizer is a partisan Republican operative, his organization the Government Accountability Institute was misrepresented as a “government watchdog” on many local newscasts. In reality, the GAI is a conservative group with close ties to Republican funders such as the billionaire Mercer family. Frazao also uncritically repeated Trump’s claim that the U.S. is leading the world in coronavirus testing, even though health experts disagree. This Frazao report aired on at least 38 stations in 29 states.
And an April 24 report by Sinclair national investigative reporter James Rosen, who formerly worked at Fox News, attempted to justify Trump’s bizarre boast that “statistically, we're doing phenomenally, in terms of mortality, in terms of all of the different elements that you can judge.” Rosen tried comparing deaths as a percentage of confirmed coronavirus cases and comparing the U.S. death toll against deaths in “the 10 countries with the highest numbers of cases” before focusing on recovery rates instead. But Rosen failed to even mention a crucial fact about the U.S. death toll: On April 12, the U.S. surpassed all other countries in confirmed COVID-19 deaths with over 20,000 Americans dead. The confirmed death toll has now tripled to at least 60,000, which is more than the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War and it's the upper limit of Trump’s estimated death toll on April 20. And there is good reason to believe the true COVID-19 death toll is far higher than reported. Rosen’s segment aired on at least 43 stations in 26 states.