Sinclair Delays Segment Touting Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory After Backlash

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) illustration

The conservative company owns a huge swath of the local news market in the U.S.

Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the local news behemoth that runs nearly 200 stations across the country, said it has decided to “delay” a segment highlighting a baseless and inflammatory conspiracy theory about the origin of the coronavirus on its channels. 

“We will spend the coming days bringing together other viewpoints and provide additional context,” the company said in a Saturday afternoon statement

Eric Bolling, a former Fox News host who now hosts a program for Sinclair called “America This Week,” spent several minutes on his latest show interviewing Judy Mikovits, a discredited scientist who is a central character in the conspiracy film “Plandemic,” Media Matters was first to report

The episode was streamed online this week and was expected to air over an unknown number of Sinclair’s stations this weekend, according to Media Matters and CNN Business

“Plandemic” is a 26-minute concoction that argues America’s top doctors ― particularly Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force and the nation’s leading expert on infectious disease ― cannot be trusted to provide information on the crisis. The film was banned from Facebook and YouTube when it started gaining traction earlier this year for providing false information on COVID-19.

Key elements of the conspiracy theory were slated to be shown across Sinclair’s vast network of stations, which cover roughly 40% of the American market. Bolling also spoke to Mikovits’ attorney, Larry Klayman, about the duo’s plans to sue Fauci in the segment. 

Mikovits told Bolling that she believes Fauci “manufactured the coronaviruses in monkey cell lines” and shipped them to Wuhan, China, where the illness was first detected.

Sinclair emphasized in its statement that it did not ever intend to show audiences “Plandemic” in its entirety.

“This documentary has been widely discredited and we as a company do not support the baseless claims that were rebutted during the original segment,” the company said. 

The company defended the segment by saying it supports “free speech and a marketplace of ideas and viewpoints” and pointed to a Fox News medical expert, Dr. Nicole Saphier, who came on after Mikovits to partially denounce her views. While Saphier defended Fauci, she also made the misleading suggestion that the coronavirus might have been made in a lab. 

It’s not the first time the company’s conservative leadership has sought to use its platform to push unsubstantiated right-wing theories. In 2018, Sinclair instructed anchors to recite a “must-run” segment decrying the “troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.”

Contrary to the coronavirus segment, scientists believe the virus has a natural origin, having evolved to infect humans from bats by way of some unknown intermediary animal. Because Wuhan’s live animal markets bring together animals that would not otherwise normally mix, they provide the perfect environment for such a virus to emerge in the human population. The genetic makeup of the novel coronavirus is also not similar enough to any known human pathogen to have originated in a lab.

Mikovits is a known figure in the anti-vaccine movement whose body of work includes a study on chronic fatigue syndrome that was roundly criticized in the scientific community and abruptly retracted in 2011. She has since attempted to position herself as a victim whose work has been continually suppressed by “Big Pharma.”

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