Three times during the first week of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s new morning news program, The National Desk, anchor Jan Jeffcoat falsely suggested that lockdowns don’t work to limit the spread of COVID-19. This misinformation about the pandemic had previously been removed by Sinclair from another of its programs, which has since been canceled.
Sinclair launched The National Desk on January 18, and the program airs every weekday morning “across the country and will be available on 68 Sinclair stations, including all Sinclair's MY and CW Network channels.” According to Sinclair’s press release, Jeffcoat will “provide audiences with commentary-free news coverage from both a local and national perspective,” with contributions from local and national Sinclair reporters.
But during the show’s first week, Jeffcoat has also provided Sinclair audiences with misinformation related to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.
It began on The National Desk’s premiere episode, when Jeffcoat cited California’s spike in cases to falsely suggest that lockdowns are ineffective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Her guest that time, a surgeon who also works as a senior fellow at the right-leaning Cato Institute, agreed with her. They then called for the economy to reopen even as the U.S. was approaching 400,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. (In fact, other news organizations which interviewed actual public health and infectious disease experts have explained how lockdowns disrupt transmission of the virus, thus saving lives.)
Jeffcoat returned to this misleading theme on January 21, during an interview with Tara Kirk Sell of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security. This time, Jeffcoat’s guest pushed back against her suggestion that lockdowns are ineffective.
The next day, Jeffcoat returned to her obsession with California’s rising COVID-19 case numbers despite the state’s “strictest shutdowns” while interviewing Dr. Nina Radcliff, an anesthesiologist. Radcliff pushed back against Jeffcoat’s assertion that lockdowns don’t work, in part by citing the presence of a new variant of the virus in the state.
Jeffcoat's questioning carelessly implies that lockdowns don’t work. And it's an avoidable mistake -- she could have simply asked how much worse California’s COVID-19 case numbers would be if it didn’t have restrictions in place.
Sinclair’s program has shown how it can cover the pandemic in ways that don’t privilege conservative misinformation. One segment which aired on January 21 included a look back at the treatment of the first confirmed COVID-19 patient in the U.S. in January 2020. The segment ended with an emphasis on the need to wear face masks, practice social distancing, and get vaccinated in order to end the pandemic.
On January 22, The National Desk aired a report exploring the hesitancy of some Black Americans to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, given our nation’s history of mistreating Black people in the field of medicine. The segment featured health care consultant Devona Stripling to encourage other Black Americans to get vaccinated.
Another segment aired that day covered the struggle to get vaccines approved for children so they could return to school safely, pointing out that young children do sometimes get sick and die from COVID-19.
It would be a huge disservice to Jeffcoat’s viewers -- and possibly endanger lives -- if she were to turn her program into a hub of COVID-19 misinformation, like former Sinclair host Eric Bolling did in the months before his program’s cancellation. In October, Bolling made a thematically similar claim in his monologue, stating that “closing down cities and economies and wearing your tube socks around your face hasn't slowed the virus down.” After Media Matters’ reporting, Bolling’s monologue was edited to remove that line before it was aired. That isn’t an option for The National Desk, which broadcasts live and has the potential to spread misinformation much more frequently.