Jul 27, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Conservative TV networks tout conspiracies

Grid of TV sets tuned to newscasts with the same logos

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Several right-leaning TV networks have been forced to walk back or acknowledge reports they've aired touting conspiracy theories in the past few weeks.

Why it matters: There's been a lot of focus over the past few years on misinformation spreading online via big platforms like YouTube and Facebook, yet some of the most damaging falsities have come from broadcast networks that reach millions of Americans daily.

Sinclair Broadcast Group asked its dozens of local affiliates across the U.S. this weekend not to air a controversial interview conducted on its program "America This Week," which touted conspiracy theories that NIAID director Anthony Fauci started the coronavirus.

  • The interview, conducted last week features discredited researcher and activist Judy Mikovits saying she believes that Fauci "manufactured the coronavirus" in monkey cell lines and paid for and shipped the cell lines to Wuhan, China.
  • That assertion has been widely discredited by scientists and health officials.
  • Sinclair later clarified that "as a company do not support the baseless claims that were rebutted during the original segment."

Fox News host Jesse Watters said in an interview Saturday with Eric Trump that QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory movement, "uncovered a lot of great stuff when it comes to Epstein and the Deep State."

  • He later clarified in a statement to Axios, "While discussing the double standard of big tech censorship, I mentioned the conspiracy group QAnon, which I don’t support or believe in. My comments should not be mistaken for giving credence to this fringe platform."

One America News Network (OANN), a conservative network that's become a recent favorite of President Trump's, has also spread its fair share of false information, but unlike its peers, it has been more reluctant to apologize or walk those segments back.

  • Earlier this year, the president tweeted a conspiracy theory promoted by OANN that an elderly man that was pushed to the ground by police officers in Buffalo, New York was a member of the fringe anti-fascist movement called Antifa.
  • The network's leadership didn't didn't apologize or walk back the comment, although reports surfaced that some of the network's talent was horrified by the report.

Be smart: OANN's audience tiny compared to both Sinclair and Fox, but it's still available in over 35 million homes in the U.S, per Bloomberg. Fox is available in over 80 million homes, and is routinely ranked the highest-rated cable news network in the country.

The big picture: Even big social media sites, which are usually more hesitant than traditional media companies to remove misinformation, have cracked down on these specific types of conspiracies.

The bottom line: Television, especially local television, is still the top place Americans get their news, per Pew Research Center.

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