Sinclair stations earned over half a million views on livestreams of an anti-vaccine rally
The stations' streams contained hours of vaccine misinformation without any fact-checking
During last weekend's anti-vaccine rally in Washington, D.C., numerous local broadcast stations owned or operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group streamed hours of misinformation about the vaccines. In total, Sinclair’s livestreams on Facebook earned more than 687,000 views.
On January 23, several anti-vaccine organizations held a rally on the National Mall, with a list of COVID-19 misinformers and anti-vaccine speakers including anti-vaccine doctors, PragerU’s Will Witt, and anti-vaccine activists who have been deplatformed, such as Del Bigtree, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Kevin Jenkins. There is also evidence that several members of the far-right hate group the Proud Boys attended the rally.
Based on Media Matters research, at least eight Facebook pages for local broadcast stations owned or operated by Sinclair posted a full livestream of the rally, including stations in Pensacola, Florida (WEAR), Washington, D.C. (WJLA), Pasco, Ohio (KEPR), Baltimore, Maryland (WBFF), Rochester, New York (WHAM), Salt Lake City, Utah (KUTV), Columbus, Ohio (WSYX), and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (WPDE). Sinclair’s syndicated morning program The National Desk also posted the livestream on its Facebook page under the title “Demonstrators gather at the Lincoln Memorial to protest against vaccine mandates.”
In fact, eight of the streams were cross posts of the same video, which earned over 224,000 views.
Mid-Michigan NOW, which is Sinclair’s Facebook page for local outlet WEYI, posted a different livestream that broadcast roughly 40 minutes of speeches from the rally. The video from WEYI earned more than 456,000 views alone.
The rally, and the livestreams of it, were full of misinformation that was never corrected with chyrons, graphics, or reporter commentary. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. suggested that Anne Frank had more freedoms in Nazi Germany than the unvaccinated do in America today, a claim that is ridiculous on its face.
Former tech mogul and current anti-vaccine figurehead Steve Kirsch claimed, “We don’t need masks, we don’t need vaccines, we don’t need mandates, and we don’t need lockdowns. We never did.” Masks have proved successful at helping prevent the spread of the virus, and vaccines lower the chances of severe illness. These claims and more were allowed onto the Facebook pages of news organizations without any context or correction from Sinclair stations.
While lies spread on Facebook, Sinclair’s on-air coverage of the rally was sparse. Some stations ran short clips of the protest on Sunday, including Washington, D.C.’s WJLA, which aired a 40-second segment on the protests. The host did not fact-check any claims from the rally and even directed viewers to the website to view its livestream of the speakers.
Sinclair has a long history of pushing vaccine misinformation, especially in its syndicated morning show The National Desk, which has downplayed deaths from COVID-19, openly promoted an anti-vaccine lawsuit, and platformed a conservative doctor who spread skepticism around vaccinating children. By widely distributing raw footage of the rally and failing to engage in the most basic fact-checking on its stations’ Facebook pages and broadcasts, Sinclair is continuing this harmful pattern.