Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Hunt Valley-based TV station owner and operator, will remove commentary in its latest “America This Week” program that dismisses mask-wearing as way to slow COVID-19 amid a backlash about the comments.
The decision Friday to redact the comments of host Eric Bolling came the same day that Sinclair announced Bolling will moderate a Wednesday town hall with Republican President Donald Trump at the White House to be shown on Sinclair’s nationwide network of stations.
“This election is one of the most important in modern history and voters are still looking for insight into the many issues that are impacting their daily lives,” Bolling said in a statement. “We aim to give Sinclair viewers the answers to their most burning questions and look forward to getting a detailed view on what the next four years would look like under President Trump."
Bolling left Fox News, where he also worked as a host in 2017, amid allegations of sexual harassment that he has denied. He began hosting “America This Week” for Sinclair in 2019.
The edition of the weekly program in which Bolling made a dismissive comment about wearing masks is slated to run this weekend on local news programs on Sinclair-owned or operated TV stations. It is already available on Sinclair station websites.
“It has been brought to our attention that in the upcoming episode of 'America this Week,’ it may be viewed that Eric did not provide necessary context when providing commentary about the recent rise in new coronavirus cases," said Ronn Torossian, a Sinclair spokesman, in a statement Friday.
Torossian said Bolling is committed to discussing important issues, “but in this instance recognizes that his words may be misinterpreted.” Sinclair did not elaborate on how Bolling’s words may have been misinterpreted.
Bolling’s commentary drew criticism from the watchdog group Media Matters for America and others.
“Bolling’s Sinclair program is notorious for spreading coronavirus misinformation,” said an article on Media Matters website. “In late July, he conducted an interview with conspiracy theorists from the false ‘Plandemic’ video which spread vicious lies about White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci and dangerous misinformation about COVID-19.”
Sinclair tweeted in July that it had decided against airing that interview with a scientist featured in the "Plandemic” video, saying, “given the nature of the theories she presented, we believe it is not appropriate to air the interview.”
Of the latest “America This Week” episode, Media Matters for America said it "should also not be aired on Sinclair’s huge network of local TV stations, as it risks exposing local news audiences across the country to clearly false claims that could compromise public health.”
Sinclair, which is known for pushing conservative perspectives on the news, said it has decided to edit the episode and remove a portion in which Bolling says, “closing down cities and economies and wearing your tube socks around your face hasn’t slowed the virus down."
Public health experts say social distancing can slow the spread of the virus, while face masks can reduce the size of droplets from the mouth and nose that spread COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, making people less likely to infect someone else. The virus has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States alone and more than a million worldwide.
Bolling’s remarks were part of commentary in which he blamed the Chinese government for spreading the pandemic by altering the virus in a lab. He says that while supporters of Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden attack each other, Americans have lost sight of the “real perpetrators."
“Coronavirus has ripped America apart at the seams,” he says. “Now, that’s not Trump’s fault. And closing down cities and economies and wearing your tube socks around your face hasn’t slowed the virus down, and that’s not Biden’s fault either."
The Trump town hall will run at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Sinclair CW and MyNet stations in 55 markets across the country, as well as on the websites for Sinclair stations.
Sinclair said it also offered to host a town hall for former Biden, Trump’s Democratic rival.
“We have been in touch with his team and we are hopeful that we will be able to feature him and bring his policy positions directly to the voters in a similar fashion,” said Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s senior vice president of news, in a statement.