A dangerous combination of coronavirus misinformation and politically biased coverage has found its way to local TV news — thanks in part to Sinclair Broadcast Group’s America This Week and its host, Eric Bolling.
In an effort to defend the Trump administration’s failure to effectively respond to the pandemic, right-wing media have attacked legitimate news outlets, launched racist campaigns to rebrand the virus, and promoted conspiracy theories and unproven coronavirus treatments. Bolling’s America This Week is no different, and he’s been presenting Sinclair viewers across the country with a distorted view of the current public health crisis.
Bolling was previously a host on Fox News, where he regularly pushed conspiracy theories, misogyny, and race-baiting commentary; he was a central figure in promoting the racist birther conspiracy theory about former President Barack Obama. He left the network in 2017 amid reports that he sent unsolicited images of genitalia to multiple colleagues.
Bolling began hosting his own weekly show for Sinclair in April 2019. America This Week airs on dozens of Sinclair-owned or -operated local news stations on weekends, and streams on Sinclair station websites.
In addition to his national media platform, Bolling has considerable access to the White House as a friend of President Donald Trump. Bolling personally pitched the president his coronavirus economic relief plan, and he has hosted several Trump administration officials to help spread the administration’s messaging on the coronavirus.
Bolling initially suggested that media outlets were inciting panic in order to damage Trump
As the potential impact of COVID-19 became clear in early March, right-wing media figures including Fox News host Sean Hannity argued that Democrats and the media were stoking fears about the virus in an effort to damage Trump. During his Sinclair show on March 11, Bolling also repeatedly suggested that media outlets were exaggerating the potential dangers of coronavirus.
- In 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, 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.”
- In the same show, Bolling interviewed economist Austan Goolsbee 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?”
Bolling insists on referring to the virus as the “Wuhan flu” or “Chinese virus”
Many in right-wing media have referred to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan” or “Chinese” virus in an effort to associate the disease with its country of origin and blame China for the crisis. By doing so, right-wing media figures like Bolling reject the advice of health experts and potentially contribute to the dangerous stigmatization of people of Asian descent.
- Nearly a month later, 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 proceeded to list examples of viruses named for their origins including Spanish flu, even though that virus did not originate in Spain.
Bolling and guests have hinted at right-wing conspiracy theories and promoted unproven coronavirus treatments
Sinclair has also provided a platform for Bolling and his guests to air right-wing conspiracy theories about COVID-19. Bolling has been particularly focused on the unproven theory that coronavirus was accidentally released from a Chinese lab, and has even gone so far as to suggest that the Chinese scientists genetically engineered the virus to be more deadly. The theory that COVID-19 was originally created as a bioweapon and was not naturally transmitted from animal to human has received considerable attention in right-wing media.
- 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.
- Former White House adviser Steve Bannon appeared on Bolling’s show on April 29 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.”
Conservative media figures have suggested that the number of U.S. deaths from the coronavirus is inflated, when in reality the current death toll is likely an undercount. Bolling has also hinted at this baseless right-wing claim on his Sinclair program.
- 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.”
Fox prime-time hosts such as Hannity and Laura Ingraham have relentlessly promoted the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, despite a lack of evidence that the drug is effective. On his Sinclair show, both Bolling and his guest White House adviser Peter Navarro have talked about the drug in ways that minimize potential dangers and oversell the drug’s proven effectiveness.
- Bolling hosted Navarrro on the show on March 25 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 interview on April 8, Bolling appeared skeptical of White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony 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.
Bolling’s recent political guests have largely been conservative activists and Trump administration officials
Since March 11, guests on Bolling’s show with clear partisan affiliations have been overwhelmingly Republicans, adding to the one-sided perspective on the public health crisis already offered by Bolling.
- Bolling’s shows have included appearances by conservatives such as Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, right-wing radio host Sebastian Gorka, conservative economic commentator Stephen Moore, the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Ralph Reed, conspiracy theorist Larry Klayman, discredited pro-gun researcher John Lott, and Republican strategist Sery Kim.
- Bolling has also interviewed five Republican members of Congress (Reps. Mark Green (TN), Doug Collins (GA), Dan Crenshaw (TX), Greg Murphy (NC), and Michael McCaul (TX)) and eight former or current Trump administration officials (adviser Kellyanne Conway, adviser Peter Navarro, adviser Larry Kudlow, former national security aide K.T. McFarland, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, White House coronavirus task force member Adm. Brett Giroir, former adviser Steve Bannon, and former White House physician Ronny Jackson).
- Just three Democratic guests (liberal commentator Ameshia Cross, economist Austan Goolsbee, and Democratic strategist Jonathan Harris) have appeared on the show during the same time frame.