President Donald Trump’s jaw-dropping claim on Monday that he’s now taking the unproven anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus prophylactic kicked off dueling dialogues happening in real-time on Fox News, with news hosts warning that the drug can literally “kill you” while the reliably pro-Trump opinion stars applauded the president and mocked the media for “freaking out.”
Weeks after both the president and Fox News seemingly moved on from round-the-clock promotion of the drug as a miracle coronavirus cure, Trump dropped his bombshell, telling White House reporters that he’s been taking the drug for the past week-and-a-half because he’s gotten “a lot of positive calls about it.”
“A lot of doctors take it. I take it,” he boasted to a shocked White House press corps. “I hope to not be able to take it soon, because you know, I hope they come up with some vaccine. I think people should be allowed to.”
Immediately after the president concluded his remarks, a stunned Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto took to the air to implore viewers not to listen to the president, who had just encouraged them to go out and get the drug as a preventive treatment of COVID-19.
“The [Veterans Affairs] study to which the president alluded wasn’t a loaded political one, it was a test on patients there. And those who took it in a vulnerable population including those with respiratory and other conditions, they died,” Cavuto exclaimed, refuting Trump’s complaints about a NIH-backed study on VA coronavirus patients.
“I want to stress again, If you are taking this as a preventative treatment to ward off the virus or in a worst-case scenario, you are dealing with the virus, and you are in this vulnerable population, it will kill you,” he warned Fox viewers. “I cannot stress that enough. This. Will. Kill. You.”
Besides the government-funded study that Trump has grumbled about, several other recent reports and studies have found that hydroxychloroquine offers little to no benefit versus its potential risks. The Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, has issued a warning against prescribing the drug outside of clinical trials or hospitals, citing “serious heart rhythm problems in patients with COVID-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, often in combination with azithromycin.”
Cavuto then brought on St. Joseph University Hospital Chairman Dr. Bob Lahita, who said that he was “very surprised” by the president’s revelation, adding that he has seen “no effect whatsoever with this drug” on coronavirus patients.
Hours later, during Special Report, the network’s pre-primetime, D.C.-focused news broadcast, anchor Bret Baier welcomed Dr. Manny Alvarez, the network’s chief managing editor of health news, who said he found it “highly irresponsible” of the president to be taking the drug and boasting about it. And during the following hour, on The Story with Martha MacCallum—another of the network’s self-described “hard news” programs—Dr. Scott Atlas pointed out that the drug is “not proven to work.”
Needless to say, the president wasn’t too thrilled by the coverage his declaration received from the “hard news” shows on his favorite cable-news channel, especially from Cavuto—a routine target of his. The president devoted much of his Monday evening to retweeting criticisms of the veteran Fox anchor from myriad MAGA sycophants before issuing another toothless threat that he may ultimately abandon the Trump-friendly outlet.
“@FoxNews is no longer the same,” the president wrote. “We miss the great Roger Ailes. You have more anti-Trump people, by far, than ever before. Looking for a new outlet!”
But while the network’s news anchors and medical experts took a decidedly skeptical stance on Trump’s hydroxychloroquine use, Fox’s high-profile “opinion” stars did what they do best and immediately rushed to defend and praise Trump and admonish or mock anyone who disagrees.
Almost immediately following Cavuto’s stunning segment reacting to the president’s claims, for example, Fox’s late-afternoon gabfest The Five predictably came to Trump’s rescue. Co-host Jesse Watters, for instance, mocked detractors like his own co-host Juan Williams, saying critics act like Trump said he was “making meth in the East Wing.”
Their colleague Greg Gutfeld (whom the president has recently praised for being “a one time Trump Hater who has come all the way home”) went a step further and directly advised the Fox audience to join the president in taking hydroxychloroquine if they do not have heart conditions. “If it’s available to you and you can take it, you do it,” he said. “That’s a prudent way of looking at it.”
Similarly, during primetime hours, Trump’s most ardent defenders ignored the medical experts featured during news hours to instead bash critics of the president’s use of the drug.
“The mob, the media, they have been waging what is an unhinged, nonstop never-ending PR campaign against him,” said Sean Hannity, Fox’s most-viewed host and a personal friend of Trump’s. “They act like the president and his hope and optimism about the drug were some type of mortal sin.”
His fellow primetime star, Laura Ingraham, who was the drug’s most prominent media booster, at one point visiting the White House to push the president to tout the “miracle cure,” invited on Texas doctor Ivette Lozano to tout the benefits of the drug and, of course, mock the news anchors who were “freaking out about this.”
Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade on Tuesday morning also defended Trump’s decision to take hydroxychloroquine, citing an NYU study that said that coronavirus patients who took the drug were less likely to die from the virus (though he did not mention that the study looked at the drug’s effects on individuals who already had the virus).
“Don’t act like he just grabbed it from some witch doctor. We know where it came from, it’s been heavily politicized,” Kilmeade said.
Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz also dismissed criticism of the president’s decision, but carefully avoided enthusiastically endorsing the drug. Still, the Republican ex-congressman said that Trump’s apparent physical energy was an endorsement of the drug’s effects.
“For a lot of medical professionals, this is not going to be the answer, but for the president’s physician, it is the answer,” Chaffetz said. “He seems to be in great health—I haven’t met anyone who has more energy and stamina at his age and acute awareness of what’s going on than Donald Trump, so whatever is working for him, keep it going.”
While the coverage of Trump’s taking of hydroxychloroquine as a preventive drug highlights the tonal difference between the network’s news and opinion wings, not all of its TV doctors were skeptical.
Fox News medical contributor Dr. Janette Nesheiwat told Neil Cavuto, shortly after the anchor’s rebuke of the president, that Trump is “very smart” to take the drug because there have been a number of White House cases.
“It is not going to be good for everyone, but it may be beneficial and potentially life-saving for others,” she explained. "So, I think it is good to have this medication in our toolbox along with remdesivir while we wait for a vaccine to become approved."
Fox contributor Dr. Marc Siegel—an early proponent of the drug on the network who once said the “worst-case scenario” for the coronavirus was that it would be like the seasonal flu—cited studies showing the drug “might work in the early course of it,” and said he believed it even saved his own father’s life. “It is a doctor-patient decision,” Siegel said. “It should not be challenged.”
And some of Fox’s on-air personalities sat firmly on the fence between both views of the president’s drug-taking. “I see both sides of the story. Isn’t that crazy that there’s two sides as long as it’s explained properly?” Fox’s weather anchor Janice Dean wrote on Twitter. “All drugs can be dangerous if not used properly. I understand Neil’s take and I understand the other side that it can be beneficial.”