Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Eric Bolling, who has his own record of pushing dangerous COVID-19 misinformation, allowed President Donald Trump to tell multiple lies about the pandemic during a town hall aired on the eve of the final presidential debate.
Bolling has an established track record of spreading potentially deadly misinformation about this pandemic through his weekly Sinclair show, America This Week, which typically reaches more than 40 Sinclair stations and, unlike this town hall, is not limited to Sinclair’s CW and MyNet affiliates. Just days before Bolling taped his town hall with Trump, Sinclair removed part of his monologue from a recent episode for falsely claiming face masks and lockdowns do nothing to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (Sinclair decided, however, to retain Bolling’s equally false claim that the coronavirus was altered in a Chinese lab.) And in July, Sinclair removed an entire episode of America This Week following Media Matters’ reporting and subsequent widespread coverage of a terrible interview Bolling conducted with the discredited star of the Plandemic conspiracy theory video.
Wednesday’s town hall was full of coronavirus misinformation that could potentially harm public health, and also included at least one bizarre remark from the president that Bolling ignored -- when Trump said, “You look at the mortality rate, 85%. I mean, what we’ve done is incredible in the short period of time.” An 85% mortality rate would mean that millions of Americans had died of COVID-19 -- the actual rate so far is estimated by the World Health Organization to be between 3-4%, though the U.S. has one of highest rates of per capita COVID-19 deaths.
Sinclair’s town hall allowed Trump to spread dangerous COVID-19 misinformation unchecked
In just one example of why Sinclair in general and Bolling in particular are a terrible choice to press Trump on the truth regarding the pandemic, the host asked Trump in an interview clip he posted Tuesday night, “With COVID, is there anything that you could have done differently?” The president, who has presided over more than 220,000 U.S. deaths during the pandemic, replied, “not much,” before citing outbreaks in other countries. This, of course, went unchallenged by Bolling. This clip also included Bolling asking the president “why has the mask become such a political football” instead of confronting Trump about the major role he played in masks becoming politicized.
There were also dangerous COVID-19 lies shared during the Sinclair town hall. After a teacher in the audience asked a question about educators and students getting priority access to an approved coronavirus vaccine, Trump falsely suggested that younger people face no ill effects: “Young people do very well. 99.9%. … They have a strong immune system. Stronger than us, I guess.” In fact, more than 80 children are confirmed to have died of COVID-19 between May and early August, and coronavirus has been spreading like wildfire among gatherings of children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that “children are at risk for severe COVID-19” and “reinforcement of prevention efforts is essential in congregate settings that serve children, including childcare centers and schools.”
Trump also repeated his view that the U.S. is only in a bad situation in this pandemic because of coronavirus testing, claiming that “the reason [we have] cases is because we test. … Now, if we cut the testing in half, you’d have half the number of cases.” Bolling, instead of challenging this absurd claim, attempted to placate Trump on the spike in coronavirus cases: “I think there’s a math equation in there, sir. I think if the cases are going up, the deaths are staying even, that means the death rate, the mortality rate, is plummeting, is dropping.”
Trump has stated this lie numerous times, but as multiple fact checks have explained in the past months, that’s completely false. In June, Boston University infectious disease modeler Brooke Nichols told PolitiFact that “the up-turn in positive rate is sufficient to debunk” Trump’s claim, while FactCheck.org explained that “data shows that in many places, the uptick in cases outstrips the increase in testing.” Independent researchers told Poynter “that the president’s remarks are not only misleading -- they’re also counterproductive in terms of thinking through what’s needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic.” In July, CNN noted that “the percentage of people testing positive, a key measure of the true spread of the virus, has also spiked.” An August 1 fact check from The Associated Press reported that “Trump's own top public health officials have shot down this line of thinking.” A late September fact check from Snopes cited multiple experts and data to show Trump’s “argument is flawed because it misunderstands -- or purposefully overlooks -- the evidence epidemiologists use to measure whether people were indeed stopping the spread of the virus to new people or communities.”
In another example of coronavirus misinformation from the Sinclair town hall, Trump again asserted his fantasy that the U.S. is “rounding the corner with COVID.” But a fact check from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram proves this, too, is a lie fed uncritically by Sinclair to its local news audience, writing that “despite Trump’s comments, experts and data suggest the coronavirus is not heading out the door anytime soon.”
One model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington School of Medicine predicts, at the current rate, there will be at most around 389,087 deaths in the U.S. by Feb. 1. That means about 171,000 more people would die in the next four months.
The newest predictions come as experts warn of a third peak in confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. — the first striking about April 10, the second by July 19 and the third about Oct. 13, according to The New York Times.
“We are headed in the wrong direction, and that’s reflected not only in the number of new cases but also in test positivity and the number of hospitalizations,” Dr. Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, told the newspaper. “Together, I think these three indicators give a very clear picture that we are seeing increased transmission in communities across the country.”
“We are starting from a much higher plateau than we were before the summer wave,” Rivers continued. “It concerns me that we might see even more cases during the next peak than we did during the summer.”
Bolling also asked, “Do you believe the vaccine is imminent?” Trump responded, “Very soon, very soon.” Trump has contradicted his own public health experts on the timing of a coronavirus vaccine, and pharmaceutical company executives have also contradicted Trump’s claims that a vaccine would be ready by Election Day. Trump has repeatedly attempted to interfere in the development of a vaccine to turn it into a political victory to help his reelection chances.
Sinclair and especially Bolling have repeatedly aired COVID-19 misinformation throughout the pandemic
Both Sinclair and Bolling have lied about Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic. Bolling himself has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the pandemic, beginning as far back as March and continuing as recently as September, when he allowed Trump’s new, unqualified coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas to repeatedly lie about Trump’s efforts to downplay and politicize the pandemic without pushback. And in a previous interview he held with Trump, Bolling ignored the huge role Trump has played in politicizing the wearing of face masks while lamenting that it had become politicized.
Other Sinclair national correspondents have engaged in covering up Trump’s deadly failure to control the coronavirus pandemic. Back in April, James Rosen attempted to justify Trump’s bizarre boast that “statistically, we're doing phenomenally, in terms of mortality, in terms of all of the different elements that you can judge.” And in June, he included in one of his Sinclair news packages a ridiculous lie from Health and Human Services Department spokesperson and Trump loyalist Michael Caputo falsely claiming that “we never had a backlog of tests in this country.” Sinclair’s Kristine Frazao in late April twice repeated Trump’s lies about the U.S. leading the world in coronavirus testing, and in July she uncritically repeated Trump’s lie that 99% of coronavirus cases “are totally harmless.”