Update (10/20/20): This article has been updated with additional examples.
Sinclair Broadcast Group has been spreading potentially dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 to local television news audiences throughout the United States via weekly television programs that air on many of the stations it owns or operates, or pre-recorded news packages from national correspondents which are then broadcast during local news programming.
There have been exceptions: for instance, one of Sinclair’s reporters covered the worries of public health experts about the dangers of coronavirus misinformation in mid-March. But other Sinclair personalities were already pushing misinformation about the pandemic by then. And last week, Sinclair host Eric Bolling even interviewed the star of a coronavirus conspiracy theory video which has been removed from multiple social media platforms. His segment streamed on multiple Sinclair station websites and aired on at least one television station in West Virginia before Sinclair delayed it following reporting from Media Matters. (Update 7/28/20: Sinclair told CNN that it no longer plans to air this interview.)
Below are more than two dozen examples of coronavirus misinformation broadcast on local TV news stations by hosts and reporters working for Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Eric Bolling, host of Sinclair’s America This Week
On his Sinclair program America This Week, Bolling repeatedly downplayed the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting media outlets were needlessly inciting panic and calling for a full reopening.
- On March 11 during his opening commentary, Bolling offered advice to news outlets: “Tone it down, liberal media. Your fear of Trump is presenting itself in the way you report the news.”
- During a segment with Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk on the same episode, Bolling questioned whether “the media has a worse case of coronavirus or Trump derangement syndrome.” Kirk later argued, “There is an irrational market sell-off happening because they are using weighted terms to try to amplify this for political damage against Donald Trump.”
- Bolling interviewed economist Austan Goolsbee later in the show and dismissed his characterization of the coronavirus as a “crisis.” Bolling continued, “Come on, Austan, do you honestly think it’ll get to the point where there’ll be 50 -- a hundred thousand deaths from coronavirus?”
- During an interview with former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint that aired on July 18, Bolling agreed with him that “we got to reopen the economy” despite the health risks.
- In early September, Bolling pushed the debunked claim that only a fraction of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. were caused by the disease. This false claim was a bogus twisting of updated CDC data on COVID-19 deaths showing how many people also had an underlying condition and was spread via a QAnon conspiracy theorist’s social media post which President Donald Trump amplified.
Bolling repeatedly used and defended racist terms for the coronavirus on his America This Week program.
- On March 18, Bolling criticized Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin for noting in a tweet that President Donald Trump referred to the virus as “the Chinese Virus.” Bolling argued, “It’s the Chinese flu; it’s the Wuhan flu, and no, it’s not racist to call it that.”
- On April 15, Bolling again emphasized the need to refer to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan flu,” claiming that using the term would help hold the Chinese government accountable for its actions. Bolling said, “A word to the PC crowd. It’s the Wuhan flu. Too bad. It needs to be called the Wuhan flu. It’s where it came from. It’s not racist; it’s geographical.”
Bolling’s show has promoted unproven treatments and misinformed about preventive measures for coronavirus.
- On March 25, Bolling hosted White House adviser Peter Navarro on the show to discuss medical supply chains. During his appearance, Navarro criticized India for a ban on the export of hydroxychloroquine, which it later reversed, and referred to hydroxychloroquine as a “new miracle drug that might help treat coronavirus.”
- During an April 8 interview with White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, Bolling appeared skeptical of Fauci's comments urging caution regarding hydroxychloroquine given its possible side effects. Bolling said, “A lot of us out here believe if the drug was tested for lupus and some sort of rheumatoid arthritis, we know — don’t we know the side effects that it may cause? So why wouldn’t we use this for something that’s killing people?” Fauci explained that hydroxychloroquine is already being used in certain circumstances and that the doses used for coronavirus patients are much stronger than those used for other medical conditions.
- A segment from an early September edition of Bolling’s program seemingly advocated for a strategy to intentionally 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. Reporting from other outlets suggests that this strategy would lead to millions of American deaths.
- During a mid-October monologue, Bolling dismissed the effectiveness of face masks and lockdowns in slowing the spread of COVID-19, saying: “Closing down cities and economies and wearing your tube socks around your face hasn't slowed the virus down.” Following Media Matters’ reporting, Bolling told The New York Times that this statement was being removed from his monologue before airing on Sinclair stations.
Bolling and his guests have repeatedly promoted conspiracy theories about the coronavirus.
- On March 11, in an interview with Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Bolling said, “A lot of people are saying it may have been a biological weapon that potentially may have leaked out of Wuhan. … Is it unreasonable to think that this possibly could be a man-made disaster, accident?” Adams said that experts agreed this was not the case.
- During an April 15 interview with White House coronavirus task force member Adm. Brett Giroir, Bolling said: “This virus feels to me that it was more engineered than simply someone eating a bat in China in a wet market and it jumping from animal to human.” Giroir responded that he had not seen evidence to support that theory.
- Also on April 15, Bolling brought his personal physician Dr. Colby Grossman on to the show to discuss how COVID-19 deaths were being classified. Grossman noted that while he did not personally endorse the theory, some have suggested that death counts are inflated because “if you have more COVID deaths, then you may potentially be able to get more COVID money.”
- On April 29, former White House adviser Steve Bannon appeared on Bolling’s show and suggested that the virus had been engineered in a lab. Bannon said, “If this is tied to those labs and it’s tied to experiments they had going on, or, Eric, even a biological weapons program, which they signed a treaty they’re not doing — if they have been doing change-of-function experiments to upgrade this, to kind of weaponize these things, … if this is coming out of a lab because of our investigation, all bets are off.” As evidence, Bannon cited a debunked claim that the virus was engineered and contains material from the HIV virus.
- Later during the same show, Bolling interviewed Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and asked, “There is some indication that in the years past, that Wuhan lab has been the centerpiece of excelling, of increasing the deadliness and the contagiousness of a coronavirus. I mean, are we ... are you on that trail?” McCaul replied, “Yeah, I am. I’ve had classified briefings, I can’t get into the nature of those discussions.”
- On July 22, Bolling gave a platform to Judy Mikovits and her attorney Larry Klayman. Mikovits was featured in the conspiracy theory video Plandemic which was removed from social media platforms for containing potentially harmful misinformation about COVID-19. During the interview, Mikovits claimed Dr. Anthony Fauci “manufactured” coronaviruses and shipped them to Wuhan, China. Klayman claimed China “engineered” the coronavirus “into a bioweapon.” Bolling later proposed his own theory that China “accelerated the virus” while researching a vaccine and “it somehow leaked out of a laboratory,” while another guest he brought on to respond to Mikovits and Klayman, Dr. Nicole Saphier, suggested it’s likely that the virus was “man-made within a laboratory.”
- After Media Matters reported on the segment and other news outlets picked up on the reporting, Sinclair at first defended the decision to air the interview because the company is “a supporter of free speech and a marketplace of ideas and viewpoints, even if incredibly controversial.” Hours later, the company announced that it would delay airing the episode and instead instruct its local news stations to re-air the previous week's episode. However, Media Matters has found that the segment already aired on at least one local station, based in Charleston, West Virginia. Video of the interview was also scrubbed from Sinclair stations' websites without a correction or note. Bolling claimed to CNN's Oliver Darcy that he was unaware of Mikovits' Plandemic video before interviewing her, and he shifted blame to others on the show's production team for the booking.
- In a mid-September interview with White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, Bolling seemed to echo Trump’s baseless accusation that the Food and Drug Administration was purposely delaying approval of a vaccine until after the election when he asked Atlas if there is “any slow walking” of the vaccine and whether there's "any politics being played with the timing of a vaccine.”
- In a monologue which aired in mid-October, Bolling claimed: “In fact, with the benefit of 10 month of data, it's damn near certain this virus has to have been altered in a Chinese lab. No way this is your routine ‘guy and girlfriend chow down on an uncooked bat turned into a virus.’ COVID-19 is far too deadly and far too persistent to be a routine virus. No, this has to have been accelerated in a lab.” Even after Sinclair edited the monologue to remove some of Bolling’s other comments containing misinformation about the pandemic, The New York Times reported that “Mr. Bolling stood by his unsubstantiated claims that Chinese scientists had tampered with the virus.”
Bolling aired misinformation about Trump’s politicization of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- During an interview with White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas in September, Bolling allowed Atlas to repeatedly lie about Trump’s efforts to downplay and politicize the pandemic without pushback. Bolling’s misleading interview followed the release of audio recordings of Trump admitting he intentionally downplayed the pandemic and Trump’s repeated public statements connecting the availability of a vaccine to his own reelection.
Bolling’s July 1 America This Week interview of Trump included some softball questions about the coronavirus pandemic.
- Bolling’s opening question of the interview was: “You have a heart. I don't think people see the heart that Donald Trump has. I hope I'm not ruining your street cred, but when you watch all the TV news, when you watch what's going on with the rioting, and then the coronavirus death tolls, and then ... these anchors point the fingers at you, how does Donald Trump the person feel?”
- Bolling’s second-to-last question to Trump was: “Mr. President, before I let you go, everything seems to be political now. We talk about masks. ... Will you consider wearing a mask, and if not, how come?"
Sharyl Attkisson, host of Sinclair’s Full Measure
On May 17, Attkisson aired a misleading segment on her Sinclair program Full Measure about the unproven coronavirus treatment hydroxychloroquine. Sharyl Attkisson suggested mainstream media outlets rejected the drug as a potential treatment because Trump promoted it. She also touted an early French study of hydroxychloroquine without mentioning any of its failings and downplayed deaths among COVID-19 patients who took the drug.
On May 24, Attkisson conducted an interview of Trump in which she again brought up hydroxychloroquine. Attkisson again failed to mention the specific dangers of taking the drug, referencing only “the government guidance … to basically ward them off of using it and trying it” and vague warnings “to be very careful and not use this.” Meanwhile, she let Trump promote the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, while he claimed he completed a two-week course of it.
James Rosen, Sinclair national investigative reporter
On March 4, Rosen pushed claims from big business that media outlets were “overreacting” to the dangers of the coronavirus and “misleading the public about the safety of domestic travel.” Rosen included in his report video of industry association officials complaining about news organizations and noting that many events are still going on as planned.
On April 16, Rosen pushed the Trump administration’s efforts to blame China for the impact of the coronavirus in America, and uncritically included dubious allegations that a Chinese lab was involved in the outbreak. Experts have long established that the coronavirus was not made in a lab and there is no evidence that it leaked from one.
In an April 24 report, Rosen 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 he failed to mention that on April 12, the U.S. surpassed all other countries in confirmed COVID-19 deaths, with over 20,000 Americans dead. This report aired on at least 43 television stations in 26 states.
In a June 19 report, Rosen included a quote in which Health and Human Services Department spokesperson and Trump loyalist Michael Caputo falsely claimed that “we never had a backlog of tests in this country.” In fact, multiple news organizations had months previously reported on massive testing backlogs at cities, states, and companies around the country. This report aired on at least 29 television stations in 28 states.
Kristine Frazao, Sinclair national correspondent
An April 25 report from Frazao aired Trump’s criticism of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to prematurely reopen businesses but didn’t mention his support of the plan. Frazao failed to mention reporting from The Associated Press that Trump repeatedly told Kemp he approved of his plan to reopen. The report also repeated Trump’s lie that the U.S. has tested more people for coronavirus “than all major countries combined.” This report aired on at least 42 television stations in 29 states.
On April 28, Frazao again uncritically repeated Trump’s false claim that the U.S. was leading the world in coronavirus testing. In fact, multiple news outlets had reported that health experts disagree with the president’s claim on testing. Frazao also gave credibility to discredited author and Republican operative Peter Schweizer by airing his criticism of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s spending prior to the outbreak. Many introductions to her report on Sinclair stations also misleadingly presented his conservative group as a “government watchdog.” This report aired on at least 38 television stations in 29 states.
In a July 5 report, Frazao aired video of Trump lying that 99% of coronavirus cases “are totally harmless.” Frazao aired his quote without including anyone calling out his lie or providing facts that prove his statement wrong. Multiple fact-checking and news organizations debunked Trump’s lie, pointing to large numbers of hospitalizations and long-term damage to some people who have tested positive and recovered from initial symptoms. This report aired on at least 53 television stations in 35 states.
Scott Thuman, Sinclair chief political correspondent
An April 17 report by Thuman highlighted protests against social distancing measures and failed to include warnings from public health experts about ending the restrictions too early. Thuman’s report highlighted Trump’s support of the protests and included quotes from Republican officials from two states that were announcing an easing or end of social distancing restrictions. But it offered no further public health context on the dangers posed by these changes. This report aired on at least 38 television stations in 28 states and Washington, D.C.
An April 27 report from Thuman covering “mixed messages” about reopening businesses and states relaxing restrictions again failed to quote any health experts with concerns about reopening. Thuman’s report quoted a California beachgoer and an Atlanta resident concerned about going back out in public already, but it failed to quote any health experts with concerns about 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 report aired on at least 44 television stations in 35 states and Washington, D.C.