Downplaying risk of death, Sinclair ran a national segment promoting hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment

The day before Trump claimed he was taking hydroxychloroquine, Sharyl Attkisson touted the drug on Sinclair stations nationwide

On May 17, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s national Sunday news program, Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson, featured a hydroxychloroquine segment suggesting that mainstream media rejected the drug as a potential treatment because of its promotion by President Donald Trump. While the segment mentioned a French study, presumably the oft-mentioned one by French scientist Dr. Didier Raoult, it did not reference any of the problems with his widely criticized initial study, and it downplayed deaths among COVID-19 patients who took hydroxychloroquine.

A day after this report aired nationwide on Sinclair stations, Trump claimed during a White House briefing that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine for roughly 10 days; he also attacked the scientists who conducted a Department of Veterans Affairs analysis showing no benefit and more deaths among coronavirus patients taking the drug.

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Citation From the May 17, 2020, edition of Sinclair Broadcasting Group's Full Measure

Attkisson began the segment by noting that “studies from China and France sparked early hope” that hydroxychloroquine could be a COVID-19 treatment. But she never explained any of the problems with the French study by Raoult; according to a New York Times Magazine profile of the “contrarian” doctor, his study originally had 26 patients on hydroxychloroquine but finished with only 20. Of the six patients who did not complete the study, one stopped taking the medication due to nausea, three patients were transferred to intensive care, and one patient died. The profile also noted that “the results of his initial trial have yet to be replicated” and that even Raoult has “tempered his claims about the virtues of his treatment regimen.”

Detractors of hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment have a strong case in recent findings on the drug’s mortality among COVID-19 patients. Yogen Kanthi, an assistant professor in the division of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Michigan, told The Washington Post that an increase in deaths among COVID-19 patients on hydroxychloroquine “shouldn’t be surprising” due to the drug’s potential for heart arrhythmias when combined with azithromycin and the underlying cardiovascular issues of many patients. Attkisson repeated the Food and Drug Administration’s warning about “serious heart rhythm problems” with hydroxychloroquine, but she followed it with a doctor who claimed that he hasn’t seen “a single adverse event” among those taking the drug for COVID-19 and who called hydroxychloroquine’s detractors “fake news” pushing “fake science.” Her segment also attempted to discredit the VA's hydroxychloroquine study.

We already have a case study of how hydroxychloroquine factors into a state’s front-line coronavirus planning. Utah embraced the unproven COVID-19 treatment in mid-March, before Trump and Fox News did, only to have to correct course after sharing poor advice and purchasing thousands of doses of the drug. Dan Richards, a pharmacy CEO on an unofficial task force, was partly responsible for hydroxychloroquine’s early embrace by the Utah government. The unofficial group he was part of sought to “speed the drugs to patients” without consulting a physician, despite shock and concern from statewide medical experts about “wide use of unproven therapies” exposing patients to “potential harm with little evidence of benefit,” according to an article from new site STAT.

After placing an $800,000 hydroxychloroquine order with Richards’ pharmacy, the state government eventually turned its focus away from the drug, as outside “observational studies found no benefits, and the FDA issued its warning about heart rhythm problems,” the article notes. The $800,000 was also returned.

According to Attkisson's site, Full Measure is broadcast to 43 million households on 162 Sinclair stations across the United States. And her May 17 show wasn’t the conservative broadcast company’s first brush with coronavirus misinformation; her Sinclair colleague Eric Bolling has spread conspiracy theories and right-wing talking points about the pandemic to viewers of his America This Week, while the network has also produced news segments leaving out warnings from experts and dishonestly defending Trump’s boasts about his administration’s response.