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

Poll: One-third of Americans are open to QAnon conspiracy theories

A car with references to the QAnon conspiracy theory, which the FBI identified as a domestic terror threat, before a Trump rally. Photo: Caitlin O'Hara/Getty Images

More than one-third of Americans think it's possible that elites in Hollywood, government and the media "are secretly engaging in large scale child trafficking and abuse," according to new polling for a U.K.-based anti-racism advocacy group reviewed by Axios.

The big picture: New findings by the group HOPE not Hate show 1 in 10 Americans say they are at least "soft" supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory movement and suggest that distrust in U.S. political systems could fuel further unrest in a fraught election year.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Pence chief of staff Marc Short tests positive for coronavirus — COVID-19 looms over White House Halloween celebrations
  2. Health: Fauci says maybe we should mandate masks if people don't wear them — America was sick well before it ever got COVID-19
  3. World: Polish President Andrzej Duda tests positive for COVID-19.

Pence chief of staff Marc Short tests positive for coronavirus

Marc Short with Katie Miller, Vice President Pence's communications director, in March. Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times via Reuters

Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday and is quarantining, according to a White House statement.

Why it matters: Short is Pence's closest aide, and was one of the most powerful forces on the White House coronavirus task force.