- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2020

CBS News has denied faking a scene of novel coronavirus testing in Michigan by padding the drive-thru line with clinic workers to make the health center look busier than it was, as alleged in a Project Veritas expose released Wednesday.

Employees of Cherry Health in Grand Rapids said they lined up in their vehicles outside the COVID-19 testing tent for a May 1 segment on “CBS Morning News,” according to an interview with an unidentified “clinic insider” and hidden-camera discussions with staffers.

“Apparently the news crew wanted more people in the line because they knew it was scheduled,” said a man identified as Nick Ross, Cherry Health corporate cleaning site supervisor, in the footage.

In a statement to the Washington Times, CBS News denied that the crew staged such a scene, which would be a clear breach of journalistic ethics.

“CBS News did not stage anything at the Cherry Health facility. Any suggestion to the contrary is 100% false,” said the statement, which was also posted on the Project Veritas website. “These allegations are alarming.”

The network said that nobody involved with the story featuring on-camera reporter Adriana Diaz was aware that anyone in the line was a clinic employee, but discovered after contacting Cherry Health that at least one staffer was involved in padding the line.

“We reached out to Cherry Health to address them immediately,” the CBS statement read. “They informed us for the first time that one of their chief officers told at least one staffer to get in the testing line along with real patients. No one from CBS News had any knowledge of this before tonight.”

The network added: “They also said that their actions did not prevent any actual patients from being tested. We take the accuracy of our reporting very seriously and we are removing the Cherry Health portion from the piece.”

Faking such a scene would be beneficial to both CBS and the health center, according to the unidentified “insider,” who said he contacted Project Veritas about the incident.

“I think it’s a little bit of a benefit for both parties,” he said. “I do know Cherry Health is struggling a little bit financially, they’re a nonprofit so they get a lot of their money from donors or grants, so it just makes them look productive. And on the side of the news, they want the line to appear bigger than it is just for reporting purposes to show that this is a big deal that people are getting tested in massive numbers.”

The Washington Times has reached out to the clinic for comment. Cherry Health President and CEO Tasha Blackmon told Project Veritas in a phone conversation, “We and CBS News had nothing to do with that line,” according to the undercover journalism outfit.

That wasn’t the impression left by the hidden-camera footage, which indicated that staffers worked with the news crew to fake the scene.

The insider said that one or two of those in line were real patients, according to the testers, “which added to their frustration because this line sat there for a while so they could organize the shot,” he said.

Said an unidentified nurse: “It’s just annoying because we could have done other stuff.”

“We pretended,” said a woman identified as Alison Mauro-Lantz in the undercover footage. “There were a couple of real patients, which made it worse.”

A woman identified as Maria Hernandez-Vasquez, a professional registration specialist, said a clinic executive asked her to participate in the phony line.

“She said she wants just to make it look busy for the news ‘cause they’re right there,” Ms. Hernandez-Vasquez said in the undercover footage.

The segment, called “Michigan Ramps Up Testing” and introduced by “CBS Morning News” host Gayle King, focused on the importance of expanded testing as the state seeks to reopen after shutting down vast swaths of the economy for the coronavirus.

Project Veritas has been accused of deceptively editing footage in its undercover stings, which PV president James O’Keefe has strenuously denied.

“In a time of crisis, we have to be able to trust these institutions,” Mr. O’Keefe said in the video.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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