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Sinclair pulls the plug on coronavirus report promoting conspiracy theory about Dr. Anthony Fauci | COMMENTARY

First lady Melania Trump, right, and moderator Eric Bolling stand onstage during a town hall on the opioid epidemic in Las Vegas, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, during a two-day, three-state swing to promote her Be Best campaign.
First lady Melania Trump, right, and moderator Eric Bolling stand onstage during a town hall on the opioid epidemic in Las Vegas, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, during a two-day, three-state swing to promote her Be Best campaign. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The Hunt Valley-based Sinclair Broadcast Group said Monday that it will not air a controversial segment that featured an unfounded conspiracy theory suggesting Dr. Anthony Fauci was involved in creating COVID-19.

The segment was scheduled to air Sunday in Baltimore on the Sinclair-owned WBFF on a weekly program titled “America This Week,” which is carried on Sinclair stations across the country. The show is hosted by former Fox News host Eric Bolling.

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But as social media criticism mounted over the weekend in reaction to a CNN report on the content of the segment involving Dr. Fauci, who is helping to lead the country’s response to COVID-19, Sinclair backed off saying it would postpone airing the report to add “additional context.”

That changed Monday with a tweet announcing the segment would not air.

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According to CNN, the episode of the show that was supposed to air included Bolling interviewing Judy Mitkovits, a medical researcher who told Bolling that Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has “manufactured” and shipped coronavirus to Wuhan, China, over the past decade.

“Upon further review, we have decided not to air the interview with Dr. Mikovits,” the company said on Twitter. “Although the segment did include an expert to dispute Dr. Mikovits, given the nature of the theories she presented we believe it is not appropriate to air the interview.”

CNN had first reported the unfounded claims made against Dr. Fauci in the show’s segment Friday night.

A series of tweets from Sinclair on Saturday began with: “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.”

After two more tweets defending its handling of the segment and the company’s commitment to responsible journalism on the pandemic, it announced that the episode was being delayed.

“After further review, we have decided to delay this episode’s airing,” a fourth tweet said. “We will spend the coming days bringing together other viewpoints and provide additional context. All stations have been notified not to air this and will instead be re-airing last week’s episode in its place.”

“America This Week” is usually posted online during the week at Sinclair stations. But this week’s episode was not there at 5 p.m. Saturday. CNN said Sinclair pulled the segment from its station websites.

In an email response to Sun questions, Scott Livingston, senior vice president for news at Sinclair, wrote,” I don’t believe the program was posted on WBFF’s website. The show will not air this weekend. We updated our statement on SBG Twitter.”

The steady right-wing, pro-Trump slant of “America This Week” can be seen in some of the show topics and headlines promoting them on the WBFF website. There was one from a month ago: “America This Week’: VP Pence says talk of coronavirus 2nd wave is ‘fearmongering.‘ ” Another one is from June 30: “America This Week’ features President Trump, Roger Stone and more.”

This kind of content is what I have described as the stuff of Trump’s right-wing messaging machine.

This latest embarrassment is a case of Sinclair getting caught up in propaganda efforts on behalf of Trump just as it did in the misguided hiring of Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump communications aide, as its chief political analyst in 2017. Epshteyn’s reports were as close to pure propaganda as anything I have ever seen on American TV. He left Sinclair’s airwaves in December.

In response to a question from The Sun over the weekend, Livingston confirmed via email that Bolling is an employee of Sinclair.

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Bolling left Fox News in 2017 in the wake of #MeToo allegations. At the time, Fox News said it had parted ways “amicably” with Bolling.

David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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