Sinclair postpones airing conspiracy theorist interview

Maybe advertisers should start being consistent in which media they support.

It’s been 136 days since the country began its sputtering lock down (give or take a day or three) and we are living through what can only be called a complete failure of governmental leadership. At the same time, we’re seeing corporate responsibility take two different paths. 

On one, companies are making decisions and creating policies that are helping both employees and customers navigate the pandemic. McDonald’s and Walmart, for example, now require anyone who enters their stores to wear a mask. It’s not a political statement; it’s science (except when Nazis wear swastika masks, I guess). Masks help prevent the spread of the disease. 

The other path, however, breeds confusion, sows hatred and enmity, and drives a wedge between Americans.

And our industry plays a big role in inflicting the damage, in large part because of the advertisers that fund networks and websites that promote hatred and conspiracies. 

Fox News (via Tucker Carlson), for example, as recently as last Thursday essentially said that Democrats and the media pump out “ominous” stories about the terrifying state of the nation (i.e., due to the coronavirus) as a political tactic. This is cynicism rearing its ugly head.

“Democrats understand that the unhappier Americans become the more likely they are to win. Unhappy people want change. It is not complicated. So every ominous headline about the state of the country makes it more likely that Donald Trump will lose his job. The more that people suffer, the greater Joe Biden’s advantage. Democrats have a strong incentive therefore to inflict as much pain as they can, and that’s what they’re doing.”

If Fox News is often portrayed as the boogeyman of media, popping up to scare its viewers about the threat of democracy and liberalism, then Sinclair Broadcasting Group can be seen as a golem, a soulless lump of clay that portends to protect its viewers from the insidiousness of facts and reason.

Sinclair has a history of playing fast and loose with its messaging. Like when it basically sent a script to be read from its news anchors that the media is the enemy of the people.

This weekend, according to Media Matters, Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which owns 190+ stations covering 40 percent of America and is the second-largest TV operator in the country, was going to air an interview on the “America This Week” show, with host (and former Fox News personality whose show was cancelled after allegations of sexual harassment) Eric Bolling interviewing Judy Mikovits, a now-disgraced medical researcher prominently featured in a conspiracy-laden video that went viral in April/May that claims, among other things, that Dr. Anthony Facui was behind the creation of the coronavirus. 

Some background on the Mikovits, from Media Matters:

Mikovits gained notoriety after she made multiple false and misleading claims about the coronavirus and public health in Plandemic. Mikovits argued that mandatory coronavirus vaccines will “kill millions as they already have with their vaccines,” and falsely claimed that "flu vaccines increase the odds by 36% of getting COVID-19" and are part of a plot against what filmmaker Mikki Willis called “natural remedies” for the virus. Mikovits also asserted that it’s "insanity" to close beaches because somehow the sand and “healing microbes in the ocean” will actually help treat the virus. She also touted antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus, despite multiple studies casting doubt on its efficacy, and she and the film pushed the false claim that the death count from COVID-19 is being inflated. The news magazine Science also reported that Mikovits made false claims about Fauci and her own credentials in the film, and FactCheck.org explained that she made false claims about face masks and Ebola. At the end of May, Mikovits also defended a bogus bleach product as a treatment for COVID-19. YouTube, Facebook, and multiple other platforms have removed Plandemic from their sites for containing potentially harmful misinformation about COVID-19. 

(We talked about Plandemic on May 11 in a post about how it’s time for the platforms to be regulated like the media companies they are.)

The response, as you might imagine, was fast but perhaps not as hopeful as folks want. On Saturday, both Bolling and Sinclair tried to walk back the interview, saying that it’s just postponing airing the segment. 

Bolling tweeted, “I do not agree with Dr. Mikovits. I recognize this segment does need to be reworked to provide better context, and as such we are delaying the airing of the episode for one week.” 

Sinclair, also taking to Twitter, tried to reflect on its decision to give Mikovits a platform, even playing both sides:

“Further, we valiantly support Dr. Fauci and the work he and his team are doing to further prevent the spread of COVID-19 and are proud to have welcomed him to "America This Week" as well as our stations via our national bureau to update and inform viewers.”

You can read Sinclair’s full thread here:

Instinctively, we can see how giving a conspiracy theory oxygen is a dangerous thing. But we also have some data to back it up. According to a Pew Research Center survey of 9,654 U.S. adults conducted June 4-10, 2020, 

A plurality (38%) say that, compared with the first couple of weeks of the outbreak, they now find it harder to identify what is true and what is false, while three-in-ten say they are finding this easier to do. Another 31% say the difficulty of parsing truth from fiction has not changed.

Additionally, Pew found that 38 percent say “that the coronavirus outbreak has been exaggerated,” with 63 percent of Republicans and 18 percent of Democrats nodding their heads in agreement that the pandemic “has been made a bigger deal than it really is.” 

After three months, fewer Americans ‘very closely’ following COVID-19 news

As corporate America is making decisions to keep its employees and customers safe, it’s also threading a different kind of needle as companies try to handle the ~other~ prevailing narrative of 2020: their role in the Black Lives Matter movement.

But here’s the thing: it’s all connected. Companies who hopped onto the Stop Hate For Profit Facebook boycott, for example, saying they don’t want to help Facebook make money through its role as a conduit of spreading hate, twist themselves in knots defending their ad spend across TV networks that ALSO promote hate, discord, confusion, conspiracies, violence, etc. 

How do you swing a hammer at Facebook but not at Sinclair or Fox News?

Advertisers choose what they believe in through the media (as well as politicians) they buy, often putting their fingers in as many pies as possible. If they truly wanted to live by the messaging they espouse, we would see the flow of cash change streams. It’s less about “cause marketing” but more about supporting actual journalism and the search for truth.

We can have good-faith arguments about the role of government, about the role of media, about the role of whatever. But as long as companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars into organs that spew bad-faith arguments, we will continue to have the fractured society we currently live in.

With 99 days until the election, I doubt we will see companies practice what they preach. 

Thank you for allowing me in your inbox. If you have tips or thoughts on the newsletter, drop me a line. Or you can follow me on Twitter. Also: The Media Nut passed a minor milestone this weekend: 3,000 signups! I am thankful, grateful and humbled that you’re here. If you like what you read, consider getting your colleagues to sign up or even share on social media. 

Steely Dan, “Pretzel Logic”

Some interesting links:

  • The Virus Turns Midtown Into a Ghost Town, Causing an Economic Crisis (New York Times)

  • “BA-BA DA-DA-DA BAAA!”: An Oral History of “Roundball Rock” (The Ringer)

  • Media coverage of the 2016 campaign was disastrous. Now’s the last chance to get 2020 right. (Washington Post)

  • Behind the Fall of Ebony: Accusations of Fraud and a Fight Over Control of a Black Media Dynasty (Wall Street Journal)

  • To Regis Philbin, With GRATITUDE and LOVE (Wall Street Journal)

  • Inside Randonautica, the App Leading Zoomers to Discover Rainbows, Dead Bodies, and Hidden Treasures (One Zero)