Sinclair Broadcast Group host Eric Bolling, who has a pattern of airing dangerous coronavirus claims and conspiracy theories, pushed the debunked claim that only a fraction of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. were caused by the disease in a new episode of his program America This Week: United We Stand. He also aired a segment which seemingly elevated a strategy for 80% of Americans to get infected with coronavirus to achieve herd immunity, which would kill millions.
The latest edition of Bolling's program was available to stream on the websites of many Sinclair-owned or -operated stations on September 3 and also aired in full or in part on at least 39 Sinclair stations in 34 states and Washington, D.C., over the weekend. In it, Bolling asked a guest about “another story that’s been circulating recently,” adding, “I think this is really, really important.” He was unable to provide a source of information and twisted the updated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to claim that “only 6% of the deaths that have been attributed to ... COVID-19 are actually caused by COVID-19. Most of them are comorbidities that are killing these people.” Bolling’s guest, Dr. Dena Grayson, commendably called his assertion “complete nonsense” and noted that deaths from the disease are likely being undercounted.
Bolling's talking point wasn’t just idle speculation. It was a bogus twisting of updated data on COVID-19 deaths from the CDC showing how many people also had an underlying condition -- spread by a QAnon conspiracy theorist’s social media post which President Donald Trump amplified. This claim had already been debunked by Dr. Anthony Fauci, USA Today, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, and even one of Sinclair’s own national correspondents days before Bolling’s program aired.
After Grayson fact-checked Bolling's statements and said that “this is just not an illness that we want to take lightly,” Bolling claimed he didn't mean to, saying, “I wholeheartedly believe this is one ... badass virus.” But his pushing a debunked conspiracy theory that the virus is far less deadly than it is shows the opposite. (Dozens of past social media posts from Sinclair-owned stations have also failed to include relevant context about the new CDC data.)
Bolling’s Sinclair program also aired a segment which seemingly advocated for a strategy to expose hundreds of millions of Americans to the coronavirus to achieve herd immunity, instead of maintaining or expanding social distancing restrictions until a safe vaccine has been distributed widely enough to achieve the same effect. Bolling presented the segment, which featured a medical reporter from a Sinclair station, as “a look at how close we are to reaching herd immunity, and the best steps to achieve it.”
But instead of discussing vaccination as the best step toward herd immunity, the segment focused more on the higher percentage of immune people in areas with large outbreaks, hinting at the strategy of intentionally exposing Americans to the virus to build herd immunity.
Despite the warning of nearly 2 million Americans dead “if we allow natural herd immunity,” this ghastly prediction was not referenced at all either by the show’s host or the reporter from the segment.
This talking point builds on an argument forwarded by Trump’s newest coronavirus adviser, Scott Atlas, hired by the president likely after he saw him on Fox News numerous times. Atlas, a radiologist and former employee of a right-wing think tank, has been urging the president to allow the virus to spread through the country’s population in order to build herd immunity, and the administration has already taken steps in that direction, according to an August 31 report from The Washington Post (the White House later denied considering that approach). An analysis from the Post found that “reaching a 65 percent threshold for herd immunity may require 2.13 million deaths.”
Irresponsibility is the hallmark of Bolling’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic, which to date has killed more than 186,000 Americans. In late July, Bolling used his show to give a platform to a coronavirus conspiracy theorist whose video was removed from multiple social media platforms for spreading potentially harmful misinformation about COVID-19. After Media Matters’ reporting on that episode, Bolling claimed ignorance of his guest and Sinclair eventually announced the segment would not be broadcast on its stations -- after initially defending the interview and allowing it to air on at least one of its stations.
Bolling has previously spread dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 on his Sinclair program. He and his guests have pushed conspiracy theories that the coronavirus was engineered in a lab, suggested the coronavirus death toll was being inflated, and promoted unproven coronavirus treatments. In March, he suggested that media outlets were inciting panic about the outbreak to damage Trump politically. He has also repeatedly used racist names for the virus. And in an earlier episode, Bolling agreed with a guest that the economy must reopen despite the health risks, as the pandemic continues raging in most states.