Sinclair Delays Report Containing Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories

Sipa USA via AP

Sinclair Broadcasting, one of the nation’s largest operators of local TV stations, said on Saturday it would delay its planned presentation of a news report featuring commentators offering discredited conspiracy theories about the nation’s coronavirus pandemic, after the piece drew scrutiny and pushback.

“We will spend the coming days bringing together other viewpoints and provide additional context,” the Hunt Valley, Maryland, company said in a statement Saturday afternoon. “All stations have been notified not to air this and will instead be re-airing last week’s episode in its place.”

The move suggests the company reversed its planned course. Sinclair earlier in the day indicated the piece would air. “We’re a supporter of free speech and a marketplace of ideas and viewpoints, even if incredibly controversial,” the  broadcaster said in a statement earlier in the day. Sinclair owns, operates  or provides services to 191 TV stations in 89 U.S. markets. Its stations are affiliates of Fox, CBS, ABC, Univision and many other top TV networks.

At issue is a segment of the Sinclair weekend program “America This Week,” hosted by Eric Bolling, a former Fox News host and personality. In the report, Bolling interviews Judy Mikovits, a widely discredited medical researcher who has gained some notoriety since appearing in a video segment from “Plandemic,” a conspiracy theory video that attempts to bolster several falsehoods about the origins of coronavirus. In the Sinclair segment, posted online in advance of its airing on TV, Mikovits appears to assert that Dr. Anthony Fauci, a prominent government official who is head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is responsible for coroniavirus being created – a specious claim. A chyron that appears at the bottom of the screen during her appearance reads: “Did Dr. Fauci Create COVID-19?”

Media Matters, a progressive-leaning organization that monitors media outlets, previously revealed the content of this weekend’s “America This Week” broadcast.

The controversial news content is the latest to surface from Sinclair, which has in the past mandated that conservative-leaning opinion segments be presented in its local news programs. While the onus of analyzing information and content is often the viewer’s, Sinclair’s business structure – its programming airs on stations that have strong alignments with NBC, the CW and others – often renders the task of putting those segments in proper context more difficult for the audience.

In 2019, Sinclair decided to stop distributing opinion segments from Boris Epshteyn, a former assistant to President Donald Trump, that drew attention for their right-wing opinion and because Sinclair often required that its stations air them.  In the prior year, the company mandated newscasters at its local stations read lines in promos that accused non-Sinclair outlets of disseminating “fake stories…stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.”

During the segment previously planned for distribution this weekend, Mikovits tells Bolling that Fauci shipped coronavirus to Wuhan, China. Bolling counters that such an assertion represents a “hefty claim.” Larry Klayman, a conservative attorney who has also been involved in promoting discredited theories, also appears in the segment.

“We hear your feedback regarding a segment on this week’s ‘America This Week.’ At no juncture are we aligning with or endorsing the viewpoints of Dr. Mikovitz or Mr. Klayman or endorsing the “Plandemic” documentary. Full stop,” Sinclair said Saturday, spelling the woman’s surname incorrectly. Sinclair noted that it “also interviewed a medical expert who debunked Dr. Mikovitz’s claims as conspiracy theories.” The company added: “We are incredibly aware of the dangers of COVID-19 and our stations across 81 markets have remained steadfast in covering their communities with a focus on safety and adherence to local protocols and regulations nationwide.”