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