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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.

Go deeper

Tech platforms' last-minute election rule changes raise risks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Election-related policy changes introduced by tech companies at the last minute will put their efforts to control misinformation in the spotlight over the next few days as the U.S. readies for election results.

Why it matters: Most of the new policies haven't been tested in real time yet, and the platforms have a record of confusion, inconsistency and self-reversal as their rules land on the information battlefield.

News about news dominates election

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The media and its gatekeepers have managed to make themselves a central story in the 2020 presidential election.

Why it matters: This is especially true on cable news, where mentions of terms like "misinformation" and "disinformation" have skyrocketed in the past few weeks, surpassing mentions of issues voters typically say they care about like "social security," "climate change," and "immigration."

Voter suppression misinformation spikes on Election Day

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Election security officials and disinformation experts are on high alert over signs that Election Day misinformation aimed at suppressing votes is circulating widely, much of it outside the immediate view of companies and policymakers.

Why it matters: Ample focus is placed on what social media giants are doing to stop the spread of misinformation, but a lot of what's traveling widely so far this Election Day isn't on public platforms, but in texts, robocalls and private chat servers.