Sinclair Broadcast Group’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic continues to mislead its audience even as we rapidly approach 300,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States. Sinclair’s notable failures have included giving a platform to COVID-19 conspiracy theories, interviewing people who spread them, and falsely claiming proven preventive measures don’t work. Now, Sinclair has also spent months covering negotiations over COVID-19 relief spending bills while barely mentioning that House Democrats passed a bill back in May to provide more relief to people, the HEROES Act, that the Republican-controlled Senate blocked.
On December 4, CNBC reported that the final jobs report of 2020 showed a “weakening trend heading into [the] holidays.” According to economists quoted in the report, “the weakness points to the need for more fiscal stimulus” from Congress. But the latest coronavirus stimulus package being negotiated on Capitol Hill, which Sinclair has covered in its national news segments multiple times, doesn’t include enough money for struggling Americans. One bill which does contain the payments that experts say are needed -- direct $1,200 checks and an additional $600 per week in unemployment insurance payments -- was already passed by the Democratic-controlled House in May.
And yet since this summer, Sinclair has mostly left its millions of viewers in the dark about this bill. In mid-May, a Sinclair national correspondent reported that the Republican-controlled Senate was planning to block the HEROES Act, which it has successfully done since it passed. But Sinclair coverage of COVID-19 relief negotiations since then has mostly omitted the HEROES Act, at times even misleadingly blaming House Democrats for not caving to Republicans’ demands for less relief or special legal protections for corporations.
About two dozen Sinclair national news segments covering the relief bill negotiations dating back to July 1 either failed to directly mention the HEROES Act at all or failed to expand on it when someone else in their news reports did mention it. Only one segment, a July piece that compared the HEROES Act to the Republicans’ alternative, went into the bill in any depth.
- On July 1, Sinclair chief political correspondent Scott Thuman reported that Congress had agreed that more federal coronavirus aid is needed, but had disagreed on the ways to provide that aid. Thuman noted that Republicans called enhanced unemployment benefits a “disincentive” to work. There was no mention of the HEROES Act.
- On July 7, Sinclair national correspondent Ahtra Elnashar reported on scandalous Paycheck Protection Program recipients including companies tied to singer Kanye West and Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. She then covered work on a new COVID stimulus bill, mentioning time is short before the August congressional recess, but didn’t mention the HEROES Act which passed in May.
- On July 20, Sinclair national correspondent Kristine Frazao reported on new coronavirus relief legislation, looking at both sides' wish lists for the bill. She mentioned that Democrats want to continue unemployment benefits, which were scheduled to expire soon. There was no mention of the HEROES Act.
- Also on July 20, Thuman reported on the wish lists of various people in the Trump administration and in Congress about what they wanted in a new coronavirus relief bill. There was no mention of the HEROES Act.
- On July 21, another Thuman segment about a coronavirus relief bill opened with a medical workers protest in Washington, D.C., over how many nurses have died during the pandemic. Thuman pushed Republicans' arguments against extending the enhanced unemployment benefits, but failed to mention the HEROES Act.
- On July 23, Thuman reported on the ongoing debate on Capitol Hill about the next coronavirus bill and quoted Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin saying the administration wants to reduce the wage replacement rate of the additional unemployment payments. While Thuman mentioned “the House passed its version months ago,” he failed to name the HEROES Act.
- On July 26, Sinclair national correspondent Kristine Frazao reported on the next round of coronavirus relief bill funding, starting her report with a warning of about 28 million possible evictions this year. There was no mention of the HEROES Act.
- On July 27, Thuman did another report on a new coronavirus relief bill, which also covered some Democrats wanting to limit President Donald Trump's use of federal agents in cities seeing protests against police brutality. There was no mention of the HEROES Act.
- On July 30, Thuman reported on alarming economic news that showed the U.S. economy shrank over 32% during the past quarter due to the pandemic. He also reported that “lawmakers are at opposite ends on exactly what should be included in the relief bill.” There was no mention of the HEROES Act.
- On August 2, Sinclair national correspondent James Rosen reported on negotiations over the next coronavirus relief bill and mentioned Trump blaming Democrats for the delay without mentioning that House Democrats passed the HEROES Act back in May.
- On August 4, Rosen’s report boosted conservative economist Art Laffer's coronavirus economic recovery ideas, yet failed to mention the HEROES Act.
- On August 7, Elnashar reported on negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on a coronavirus relief package, portraying Democrats as more stubborn than Republicans while failing to mention the HEROES Act.
- On August 10, Elnashar covered Democrats’ complaints that Republicans won’t accept their compromise to spend $1 trillion less on a new COVID-19 relief bill, but didn’t mention the HEROES Act.
- On August 26, Elnashar reported on the White House’s negotiations on COVID-19 relief. She explained that gridlock over this bill could lead to a government shutdown, yet failed to mention the HEROES Act.
- On September 7, Rosen had a report on the Senate’s attempts to reach a deal on coronavirus relief which also briefly mentioned Trump’s executive order to bypass Congress to extend enhanced unemployment payments. The report included Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) demands but didn’t mention that the House passed the HEROES Act months ago.
- On September 9, Frazao had a report on the Senate GOP's coronavirus relief bill, framing the negotiations as a “blame game" by both sides. She did mention that there's an existing bill passed by House Democrats in May containing $3 trillion in spending, but failed to specify the HEROES Act by name.
- On October 11, Frazao reported on “a stimulus scramble following a funding flip-flop from the president.” She noted that Senate Republicans were unlikely to act on any bills because they were focused on confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. There was no mention of the HEROES Act.
- On October 19, Frazao had another report on the progress of a coronavirus relief package in Congress, mentioning Pelosi's 48-hour deadline to get it done before the election. The report also showed a clip of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) criticizing Pelosi, and Frazao said it's too late for many people who have lost homes and businesses, making no mention of the HEROES Act or Trump previously breaking off talks.
- On November 11, a Frazao report on fights over coronavirus relief in Congress included GOP lawmakers’ claims of a recovering economy and hopes for an upcoming vaccine as reasons for their opposition to a large new spending package. There was no mention that the House passed the HEROES Act in May.
- On November 16, Thuman reported on President-elect Joe Biden's plans to deal with the pandemic and the associated economic pain. It included a clip of Biden mentioning the HEROES Act, though Thuman failed to explain what’s included in it.
- On November 23, Thuman claimed that lawmakers have failed for six months to get a coronavirus relief package done while protections and benefits are running out. After he blamed both sides, Thuman aired a quote of Pelosi noting the House passed the HEROES Act six months earlier. But he did not explain what the HEROES Act is or what it contains.
- On November 30, Frazao covered negotiations over a coronavirus relief bill, quoting a doctor saying they are expecting 3,000-4,000 deaths a day from COVID-19 thanks to the holiday travel season. She blamed Democrats for holding things up, saying the pressure is on them to compromise, yet failed to mention the HEROES Act which passed in May.
- On December 1, Elnashar started her report by saying that eight months after the “largest stimulus package in American history” was passed, “some say more needs to be done." She reported that some CARES Act money ended up with large corporations which didn't need it and mentioned a bipartisan framework for more coronavirus aid. She closed the segment by noting that there are no assurances that the Trump administration will support this bill. Elnashar failed to mention the HEROES Act.
- On December 6, after reporting on the most recent surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations around the country, Frazao covered negotiations over a new coronavirus relief bill. Yet again she failed to mention the HEROES Act.
Sinclair’s other coronavirus pandemic reporting failures
Months of inadequate coverage of COVID-19 relief bill negotiations isn’t the only way Sinclair has botched its coverage of the pandemic. Here are a few other examples, some of which spread dangerous misinformation that could harm public health.
- Weekly Sinclair program America This Week in July interviewed a COVID-19 conspiracy theorist, featured in the banned Plandemic film, and her attorney, who pushed dangerous false claims about the pandemic and Dr. Anthony Fauci. After reporting from Media Matters and numerous news outlets, Sinclair initially defended airing the segment as a matter of “free speech” but then pulled the entire episode of the show from its network of local TV stations after it had aired on one of them. Even though host Eric Bolling has claimed he disagreed with the conspiracy theorist, he has made several claims about the pandemic that are similar to themes present in the conspiracy theory video.
- Bolling falsely claimed in a monologue for his Sinclair program that face masks and lockdowns do not help slow the spread of COVID-19. After Media Matters reported on Bolling’s comments, Sinclair announced that his monologue “was being edited to remove some of his statements before airing” on Sinclair stations.
- A July news segment from Kristine Frazao pushed Trump’s lie that 99% of coronavirus infections “are totally harmless.”
- Multiple news segments from Sinclair national correspondents in April which promoted protests and resistance to the pandemic lockdowns failed to include warnings from public health experts against reopening states for business too early.
- Some Sinclair national news reports uncritically repeated or justified Trump’s lies about his administration’s handling of coronavirus testing and the state of the pandemic in the country.
- In September, Bolling brought up a Trump-boosted conspiracy theory downplaying the deadly nature of the coronavirus and aired a segment advocating for herd immunity without a vaccine -- a coronavirus strategy that would kill millions.
- Sinclair stations’ social media posts spread misinformation in late August about an update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to its COVID-19 data, possibly leading their audiences to mistakenly believe COVID-19 isn’t very deadly.
- Sinclair’s October town hall with Trump, hosted by Bolling, allowed the president to lie unchecked about COVID-19’s effect on young Americans, the reason for the spike in the coronavirus cases, and the status of the pandemic, which Trump claimed the country was “rounding the corner” on.
- Several Sinclair reports about coronavirus relief bill negotiations hid the amount Republicans wanted to cut enhanced unemployment benefits, and at least one uncritically pushed dubious GOP talking points against those benefits.
- Sinclair repeatedly misled its viewers and pushed conspiracy theories about the coronavirus vaccine development. In September, Ahtra Elnashar misleadingly suggested that both Democrats and Trump were politicizing the vaccine’s development, trying to fault “both sides” of the political aisle. Also in a September interview of Trump’s controversial former coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas, Bolling baselessly suggested federal agencies were “slow walking” the vaccine to hurt Trump politically. In November, Bolling called for both criminal and congressional investigations into the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for announcing after the election that its coronavirus vaccine was more than 90% effective.
- During that September interview with Atlas, Bolling allowed him to repeatedly lie about Trump’s efforts to downplay and politicize the pandemic and the process of creating a vaccine, despite the audio recordings showing that Trump did intentionally downplay the dangers of the pandemic.
- In May, host Sharyl Attkisson twice used her weekly Sinclair program Full Measure to advocate for treating coronavirus with the drug hydroxychloroquine, which repeated trials have now shown is ineffective.