After weeks of incessantly hyping an unproven anti-malarial drug as a potential miracle cure for the coronavirus, Fox News has seemingly ditched its nearly round-the-clock promotion of hydroxychloroquine.
Unsurprisingly, the change in tone coincided with President Donald Trump’s own retreat from touting the drug, and comes as multiple studies have shown no benefit to COVID-19 patients.
Beginning in mid-to-late March and ramping up through the first two weeks of April, the president repeatedly lauded hydroxychloroquine—a drug developed decades ago to combat malaria and currently also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis—as a “game-changer” that has brought people back from the dead.
“What really do we have to lose?” Trump implored the public earlier this month, adding that the drug “doesn’t kill people.” Doctors and medical experts, however, consistently warned that the drug has some severe side effects, such as sudden cardiac arrest.
As is often the case with the cable-news obsessed president, Trump only began promoting the malaria drug as a miracle cure after his favorite Fox opinion hosts openly touted it on-air and in private meetings with him. According to Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog, between March 23 and April 6, Fox hosts and guests lauded hydroxychloroquine almost 300 times.
Throughout that time, both the president and Fox stars relied heavily on both anecdotal evidence and flawed studies—namely from a controversial French doctor whose methods have come under scrutiny—to push the drug as a coronavirus cure. The FDA eventually issued “emergency use authorization” in late March for doctors to prescribe the drug to COVID-19 patients in off-label use.
But by mid-April, however, both Trump and his Fox News allies began to clam up on the drug.
As first noted by Politico, the president barely spoke about the drug over the past week. Last Tuesday, during a meeting with coronavirus survivors, Trump did positively mention the drug with a Michigan state representative who credited hydroxychloroquine for saving her life. Prior to that, the president briefly mentioned the drug at last Monday’s briefing, announcing that the administration had obtained and deployed 28 million doses of the drug to hospitals nationwide. At the same briefing, however, he also spoke glowingly about the “promising results” from remdesivir, another drug that’s currently being tested as a potential COVID-19 treatment.
Since then, and as several small studies showed no benefit to hydroxychloroquine, the president has been mum on the drug. Even on his Twitter account, which previously featured dozens of boasts about the drug, Trump has noticeably slowed down. Outside of a Saturday retweet of a story crediting him with taking a “gamble” on the drug, the president hasn’t tweeted about the drug in nearly two weeks.
And the president’s relative silence has been mirrored by Fox.
Since April 15, hydroxychloroquine has been mentioned on Fox News and its sister network, Fox Business Network, a total of 51 times. The week before that, the drug was mentioned 138 times. During the first week of April, there were at least 194 mentions between the two channels.
Nowhere has the pivot been more noticeable than during Fox News’ primetime hours. The network’s three weeknight stars—Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham—were among Fox’s loudest hydroxychloroquine boosters until the president’s pivot. Ingraham, for instance, touted the drug’s “Lazarus”-like resurrective effects on coronavirus sufferers and privately met with Trump at the White House to further sell him on the drug.
Although Ingraham spent two full weeks touting the drug on her show every night, she barely mentioned it last week, and has done so only once since last Wednesday.
The virtual blackout has been even more stark with the network’s two other biggest primetime hosts. Carlson, who helped kick off the president’s hydroxychloroquine craze by hosting a lawyer last month trumpeting the questionable French study, has only mentioned the drug once in passing over the past 10 days—and only as a way to discuss remdesivir. Such a dropoff is stunning: Like Ingraham, the Tucker Carlson Tonight host spent the first two weeks of April touting the drug in all of his broadcasts except one.
Hannity, meanwhile, had been a loud and proud promoter of the drug, hosting Dr. Mehmet Oz, an alleged “quack” celebrity doctor, on a near-nightly basis since mid-March to repeatedly push hydroxychloroquine. Throughout those broadcasts, Hannity praised Oz’s work and, in turn, the TV doc touted the work of Didier Raoult, the doctor behind the questionable French studies.
Like his colleagues, Hannity was a persistent cheerleader for the drug during the first two weeks of April. Since then, however, he has only mentioned the drug three times, with the last mention being nearly a week ago. Furthermore, after being a routine fixture on the show, Dr. Oz hasn’t appeared on Hannity’s program since April 14.
And a new government-funded study released on Tuesday will likely ensure that both Trump and his favorite Fox News stars continue to quietly back away from ceaselessly hyping the drug in coming weeks.
In a preliminary study of 368 patients in Veterans Affairs medical facilities—not yet peer-reviewed, but backed by the National Institutes of Health—28 percent of those who received hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus died, compared to the 11 percent who received routine care.
Additionally, 22 percent who were treated with hydroxychloroquine plus the antibiotic azithromycin died. The drug made no difference in whether or not patients needed a breathing machine, the research found.
“In this study, we found no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with Covid-19.”