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Sinclair demands Washington Post retract story over pulled segment

The TV station owner says the newspaper column is "rife with inaccuracies, defamation, lies and conspiracy theories."

The TV station owner says the newspaper column is "rife with inaccuracies, defamation, lies and conspiracy theories."

The front of the Washington Post building as pictured in September 2012. (Photo: Max Borge/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Sinclair Broadcast Group is demanding the Washington Post retract a story that painted its chief executive officer in an unflattering light.

The story published on July 31 detailed Sinclair’s decision to defend and promote numerous segments aired on dozens of local television stations that painted the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as an effective remedy in combatting the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Scientists have disputed — and even doubted — the effectiveness in the drug’s treatment of COVID-19. The debate over its use was renewed when it was reported Sinclair would air a segment featuring a conspiracy theorist who promoted the benefits of the drug while calling into question public advice dispensed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force.

The segment was set to air on a political affairs program hosted by Eric Bolling, a former Fox News commentator who found a home at Sinclair and whose show is syndicated across the company’s network of local television stations. The segment was reviewed, then pulled, following an outcry after CNN exposed the company’s plans to air it.

On Friday, Washington Post columnist Paul Farhi used Sinclair’s blunder as the foundation for a lengthy column that illustrated other instances in which the television station owner appeared to make controversial remarks regarding treatments for COVID-19. Frequently, these statements followed, then parroted, comments made by President Donald Trump and other White House officials.

Among other instances, Farhi noted that an April email sent by Sinclair’s chief executive Christopher Ripley appeared to champion the use of hydroxychloroquine as an effective treatment against COVID-19. Farhi described Ripley as a “hydroxychloroquine enthusiast,” a line Sinclair brass took exception with.

In a statement first published by Scott Jones at insider blog FTV Live, Sinclair said the description of its chief executive was “absolutely laughable.”

“At the time Mr. Ripley shared his thoughts, the drug was under consideration by the [Food and Drug Administration] as a potential treatment,” the statement said. “In a time when we were all desperate for answers, Mr. Ripley chose to highlight one piece of potentially positive news. He, like many others…recognizes now that this is not the treatment we hoped it could be.”

The email described by both Sinclair and the Post was sent in mid-April — around the same time the FDA warned doctors against providing hydroxychloroquine to coronavirus-stricken patients. A bulletin issued by the FDA said hydroxychloroquine had “not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19.”

Sinclair said it had made mistakes in prior reporting, but that it has delivered “the best coverage on broadcast television” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“While we will always accept criticism, this type of a malicious hit piece from a news organization will not be tolerated,” Sinclair’s statement read. “We are demanding that the Washington Post remove this story from its website immediately and [that it] not be printed. The article is rife with inaccuracies, defamation, lies and, to be frank, conspiracy theories.”

As of Monday afternoon, the full story was still available on the Washington Post’s website.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).