A Sinclair interview of Trump's new COVID-19 adviser was full of misinformation

A screencapture of an America This Week segment with Scott Atlas

Sinclair Broadcast Group host Eric Bolling pushed a conspiracy theory during his interview of President Donald Trump’s new coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas. Atlas, who reportedly advised Trump to pursue a coronavirus strategy of building herd immunity that public health experts say would kill millions, also forwarded misinformation about the president’s politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bolling’s interview of Atlas on his program, America This Week: United We Stand, aired on at least 41 Sinclair-owned or -operated stations in 34 states and Washington, D.C., over the weekend, according to a transcript search of the Kinetiq video database. It has also been available to stream on many Sinclair station websites since September 10.

During Bolling’s introduction of Atlas as “President Trump’s newest coronavirus adviser” who “whisper[s] in his ear,” he failed to mention that Atlas has been urging the president to allow the virus to spread through the country’s population in order to build herd immunity, and that 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.” Bolling’s failure to mention Atlas’ push for herd immunity is compounded by his coverage the previous week when a segment on his program seemingly advocated for this very idea.

In August, Trump also baselessly accused the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of purposely delaying approval of a vaccine until after the election. Bolling seemed to echo this narrative when he asked Atlas if there is “any slow walking” of the vaccine and referred to a FBI counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign, asking, “Is there any politics being played with the timing of a vaccine?”

During the interview, Atlas repeatedly lied about Trump’s efforts to downplay and politicize the pandemic and the process of creating a vaccine. Despite the audio recordings of Trump admitting he intentionally downplayed the pandemic, Atlas claimed Trump “views it as a very, very serious issue,” saying, “There is no understatement of the problem here.” (Trump’s resumption of indoor political rallies, against coronavirus guidelines from states and his own administration, also belies the idea that Trump is taking the pandemic seriously.)

Atlas went on to deny that Trump had attempted to downplay the huge numbers of American lives lost to the pandemic -- more than 194,000 as of September 15 -- even though Trump recently amplified a conspiracy theory downplaying the amount of deaths the disease has caused.

Atlas also denied that Trump is exerting political pressure to rush development of a vaccine by Election Day, accusing people making such statements of “doing the public ... a heinous disservice" and saying they are “undermining the safety issue" and “killing people" by supposedly dissuading them from taking a vaccine when it becomes available. But Trump has repeatedly connected a pre-Election Day COVID-19 vaccine approval to his reelection chances. In response to concerns that the federal government may pressure companies to rush a vaccine, nine major vaccine developers recently signed a pledge to seek government approval for a vaccine only “after demonstrating safety and efficacy through a Phase 3 clinical study.”

Trump also has a history of spreading misinformation about coronavirus treatments. He pushed the drug hydroxychloroquine as both a preventive and cure for months even though scientists were unable to replicate the French study that created the hydroxychloroquine craze. Trump also pressured the FDA to speed up the approval of convalescent plasma as a treatment in time for the Republican National Committee convention, despite experts' objections about its effectiveness. And the Trump administration has installed political cronies and COVID-19 conspiracy theorists as top communications officials at the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In the last few days we learned that Trump’s HHS appointee Michael Caputo and his team “attempted to add caveats to the CDC's findings” on the coronavirus pandemic to make them line up with Trump’s public comments, and Caputo has bizarrely accused CDC scientists of “sedition.”

Video file

Citation From the September 12, 2020, edition of Sinclair Broadcast Group's America This Week: United we Stand on KTVO

ERIC BOLLING (HOST): Welcome to America this Week: United we Stand. I'm Eric Bolling. We are now 100-plus days into protests and riots, seven weeks away from Election Day, and more than six months into a global pandemic. 

Joining me now is Dr. Scott Atlas, President Trump’s newest coronavirus adviser. Dr. Atlas, thank you for being here. You are the man of the hour. Listen, I got to put all this other stuff -- the “he said, she said” -- this not, these unnamed sources aside. You talk to the president. I've seen you talk to him. I’ve seen you whisper into his ear. Tell us what the president believes the dangers are of COVID-19, what is real first-hand account. 

DR. SCOTT ATLAS: OK, well thanks for having me. You know, I can only say this, that he views it as a very, very serious issue. There is no understatement of the problem here. Lots of Americans have lost their lives, and, you know, there’s no -- there's no way to minimize that fact, and there's no attempt to. It's a very serious pandemic and the administration before I was even involved, you know, has done a lot of great things to move the ball forward to minimize the harm from it. And, you know, we all know about all the efforts in Operation Warp Speed to develop a vaccine. We know all about all the resources that were developed, that we’re doing over -- you know, we've done over 90 million tests. I mean, it's a huge array of things, including mobilizing resources to nursing homes, and point-of-care testing now going to every single nursing home, all kinds of things. But there's no minimizing that in fact he's very concerned, like every normal person would be. 

BOLLING: So one of the big political footballs of the season, we’re a couple of months to the election, and the vaccine you mentioned it right there -- the vaccine. President Trump believes there will be a vaccine prior to the election November 3. Dr. [Anthony] Fauci says don't count on it. What say you? 

ATLAS: Well, I mean, what I've been told -- and, you know, I'm not a primary person involved in the vaccine development, but I'm in the meetings that discuss it to to some extent, and they're on track to have almost or somewhere around or maybe a little bit more than 100 million doses by the end of the year. The production is ongoing while the trials are going. There are several vaccine candidates, there has been an optimization of the process, so that we know we already have in 7 months after knowing the RNA, the genetic sequence of the virus, we already have Phase 3 trial which of the last sort of phase of clinical trials going, which is amazing. And, you know, it's hard to predict, it's essentially impossible to be accurate in a prediction about when this will be available, but they're on track to having it by the end of the year. But it’s -- again, it's all determined by the data. I mean, no one, by the way, is seeing the data. The data is not visible to the president, it’s not visible to us in the White House at all. It's a black box of data that's being, you know, watched by a data and safety monitoring board of outside experts. It has nothing to do with what the president says or wants to happen, because we all want the vaccine. I wish I had the vaccine right now. I would take it immediately. The point here for the American public to know is really -- and this is really critical: There are no safety corners being cut. There is no influence of the trial being done by anyone. There is no political pressure whatsoever. That is ludicrous, and in fact it's doing the public -- a really, a heinous disservice to push that narrative.

BOLLING: Sir, let me turn this a little bit. No one in their right mind thought that the FBI would ever be involved in politics of a presidential election, yet we found Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and other -- Comey -- were involved, or heavily involved in trying to get Hillary Clinton elected rather than Donald Trump. You said by the end of the year, that's two months prior -- two months after the election. November 3 leaves 60 days almost till the end of the year. Is there any slow walking? I mean, listen, I’m going to get beat up, I know they’re going to beat me up for asking this. Is there any politics being played with the timing of a vaccine? 

ATLAS: Not that I'm aware of. Again, like -- I'm not really -- I'm not a political person, even though I may be portrayed as one. But that’s the -- the way this is going is that there is a defined process for safety and efficacy. And I think we all know on the task force every single person agrees this is an objective process. It could be done sooner than the end of the year. I’m saying that it’s on track to be done by the end of the year, who knows how -- no one knows exactly when because it’s all about the number of events, it’s the number of infections, it’s the number of patients who have positive and negative results. It's a matter of statistical power, and the end result will be determined by the people who are seeing the data. And that person -- that those people are not the president of the United States. He has no influence on how quickly this is going other than to expedite the process that he has done. And this is something to celebrate. We're in the middle of a pandemic, and to think somehow that people are undermining the safety issue is really unconscionable. Those kinds of people that are there are basically dissuading people from taking the vaccine, in my view, are killing people. That's how serious this is. This is really political malfeasance to undermine what Americans feel safe about. We have the best FDA drug procedures, we have the best vaccine development safety-wise in the world, and I can tell you there's not a single person on the task force that wouldn't take the vaccine right now if we had it.