Congressman promotes notorious coronavirus conspiracy theorist 

Congressman Glenn Grothman (R-WI) 

Judy Mikovits is a prominent conspiracy theorist who has been spreading dangerous disinformation about COVID-19. She said it was "insanity" to close public beaches during the pandemic because there were "healing microbes" in the water. She warned Americans against getting a flu vaccine, falsely claiming that it would increase the odds of contracting COVID-19 by 36%. She promoted bleach as a treatment.

Her conspiracy theories are so dangerous that a viral video featuring Mikovits, Plandemic, has been banned from Youtube, Facebook, and other social media platforms. 

Mikovits is also being promoted as an expert by a United States Congressman. On July 14, the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, part of the House Committee on Reform and Oversight, held a hearing on "Guardrails to Ensure a Safe and Effective COVID-19 Vaccine." The purpose of the hearing was to "examine the processes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will use to review and license or authorize any vaccine candidates for the novel coronavirus." The subcommittee heard from five leading experts on vaccine development and approval. 

About an hour and five minutes into the hearing, Congressman Glenn Grothman (R-WI) used his time to assert that "experts disagree" and suggested the subcommittee should really be hearing from Judy Mikovits:

Right now somebody gave me a book Plague of Corruption by Judy Mikovits who is very — sometimes very pro-vaccine, sometimes jaded about vaccines and you know we got five people I think on the panel today, and nobody is particularly jaded to the degree which she is.

I wondered if people feel that somebody like her should be on a panel today or be in the room as we rush vaccines to--to market? Could somebody comment on her or do you think it would be good to have somebody on a panel like this who maybe thinks we are a little bit over-vaccinated in America and isn't going to be so gung-ho vaccine, everybody?

"A lot of, I think, intelligent people who read a lot are sometimes a little jaded on the vaccine thing," Grothman concluded.

"Plague of Corruption," which was published by Mikovits in April, is "co-authored by anti-vaccine blogger Kent Heckenlively." In the book, she "compares herself to, among others, Galileo, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thomas Jefferson." She also implied that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, "ordered the murder of virologist Kuan-Teh Jeang, who died in 2013, as part of a cover-up burying Mikovits’ research." 

Asked to defend some of the claims in her new book and video by Science Magazine, Mikovits sent a PowerPoint which called for an “immediate moratorium” on all vaccines. In another video, "Mikovits is wearing a hat that says VAXXED II, which is a sequel to a film that links the mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine to autism, a debunked theory." 

Grothman has a history of peddling anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. In 2017, Jeff Spitzer-Resinick visited with members of Congress "to advocate for better health care and education for people with autism" as part of Autism Society’s Day on the Hill. During that trip, Grothman repeatedly asked Spitzer-Resinick if he believed that vaccines caused autism, another widely debunked theory. As a member of the Wisconsin state legislature, Grothman sponsored legislation that would have prohibited hospitals and other employers from requiring their employees to get flu shots. The bill was opposed by 20 state health organizations. 

Sinclair's dangerous propaganda

Grothman is not alone in pushing Mikovits into the mainstream. Sinclair Media Group, a right-wing organization that operates nearly 200 television stations that reach 40% of Americans, recorded and published an interview with Mikovits in which she suggested that COVID-19 was created by Fauci. 

Eric Bolling, the former Fox News anchor who was ousted from the network following allegations of sexual harassment, now hosts a weekly show produced by Sinclair. Although Sinclair does not have the profile of Fox News, it shares its ideology and also has a massive reach. It has previously forced local stations to run pro-Trump commentary from former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn. Bolling's show is syndicated on local television networks that reach millions of viewers across the country. 

This week, Bolling interviewed Mikovits and her lawyer, Larry Klayman. Bolling made no mention of Mikovits' role in pushing discredited conspiracy theories and introduced her as an "expert in virology." Mikovits used the platform to accuse Fauci of manufacturing COVID-19. 

BOLLING: Dr. Mikovits, tell me about the -- what you believe Dr. Fauci has done wrong?

JUDY MIKOVITS: I believe Dr. Fauci has manufactured the coronaviruses in monkey cell lines and shipped them from and paid for and shipped the cell lines to Wuhan, China, now for at least since 2014. He published that fact and funded the studies that were published in 2015 in Nature Medicine that stated that the original cell line the Chinese used to grow the virus was shipped from Ft. Detrick, USAMRIID, the biosafety level 4 facility there.

Bolling did not make any effort to contest this absurd claim, other than calling it "hefty." When Bolling followed up later, Mikovits claimed the same lab created "the Ebola strain in 2014 that killed 21,000 Liberians."

After the segment, Bolling interviewed Fox News medical contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier to respond. Saphier said she found Mikovits' claims "highly unlikely," and she did not believe Fauci "has been involved in the manufacturing of this virus." But even during this interview, the chyron below Saphier and Bolling asked: "Did Dr. Fauci Create Coronoavirus?"

The full segment was posted online Thursday and was first highlighted by Media Matters. It was immediately published to the websites of dozens of local stations around the country. 

Initially, Sinclair defended the segment, saying the company was "a supporter of free speech and a marketplace of ideas and viewpoints."

Bolling also defended the segment in an interview with CNN

"I did challenge her," Bolling said, noting he called her claim "hefty."

When pressed over whether calling a claim "hefty" constituted effectively challenging the conspiracy theory Mikovits pushed, Bolling said that he did believe he challenged her.

Bolling then told CNN Business that he was not aware of the viral "Plandemic" video Mikovits was featured in earlier this year…

...But when asked whether, now that he was aware of the video, he had any second thoughts about airing the segment with Mikovits, Bolling replied, "I don't second guess my producers and bookers."

But as outrage over the segment grew, Sinclair reversed course and announced it was delaying the airing of the episode.

There are a few issues with Sinclair's response. First, it perpetuates the idea that Mikovits is making a useful contribution to the discourse and that her views just need additional context. 

Second, the decision was made too late. Although the segment was pulled from the websites of Sinclair affiliates, no correction or notice was provided. The video was also removed from Bolling's Facebook page, but not before it was viewed thousands of times. 

Bolling's interview with Mikovits also aired on at least one television station, WCHS in Charleston, West Virginia.

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