Emergency authorization of antimalarial drugs for COVID-19 follows weeks of promotion on Fox News

On March 29, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization enabling doctors to prescribe the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in certain cases as treatments for COVID-19. This announcement comes after President Donald Trump and his allies on Fox News repeatedly promoted these drugs despite a lack of evidence supporting their effectiveness in treating coronavirus.

Medical experts, including coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, have cautioned that there’s only anecdotal evidence to support the use of these drugs for coronavirus treatment and that further medical trials are needed. Meanwhile, promotion by Fox News and Trump has already led to a shortage of these drugs for patients who need them to treat other conditions, and a man in Arizona died after ingesting an aquarium cleaner containing chloroquine phosphate.

Over the last week, some in right-wing media followed Fox News’ lead in promoting the drug and arguing that the media is downplaying their effectiveness simply because Trump is promoting them.

Fox News has spent the past two weeks exaggerating the effectiveness of these drugs as a treatment for COVID-19

Fox News has spent far more time promoting hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine than any other cable news network. Between March 23 and March 25, Fox mentioned the drugs over 100 times and rarely discussed the lack of evidence supporting their use.

  • Gregory Rigano, a lawyer who falsely claimed to be associated with Stanford University’s medical school, touched off much of the coverage of these drugs on Fox. Rigano appeared on both The Ingraham Angle on March 16 and Tucker Carlson Tonight on March 18 to promote the drugs, referencing a small controversial French study purporting to show coronavirus patients benefiting from hydroxychloroquine. The study has numerous limitations, including that three of the six patients excluded from the study were sent to the intensive care unit. The doctor behind the study himself has come under scrutiny for questionable practices regarding his authorship of other medical studies.
  • Fox host Laura Ingraham was one of the first network personalities to promote these drugs as possible coronavirus treatments. In addition to interviewing Rigano, Ingraham also brought up the drugs in interviews with Dr. Anthony Fauci on March 17 and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on March 18, asking Azar if medical trials of the drugs would be fast tracked. The next day, Ingraham boasted about her show’s promotion of the drugs leading to Trump promoting the drugs in the daily coronavirus briefing and questioned Fauci characterizing existing evidence about the drug’s effectiveness as “anecdotal.” On March 30, Twitter deleted an earlier tweet from Ingraham promoting hydroxychloroquine because it fell under the platform’s “misleading information policy” on coronavirus.
  • Fox host Sean Hannity has also been a relentless promoter of these drugs, both on his Fox show Hannity and on his radio program. Hannity has repeatedly stated that he personally would use chloroquine if he contracted COVID-19 and has even encouraged his radio audience to stock up on chloroquine if they felt they had symptoms of the virus. On the March 23 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity read a letter from an unidentified doctor who supposedly had been treating his patients with hydroxychloroquine and found the drug to be effective.
  • Frequent Fox guest Dr. Mehmet Oz has made multiple appearances on the network to promote the controversial French study. In an appearance on Fox & Friends on March 23, Oz said his “jaw dropped” after learning of the results of the study. On The Ingraham Angle on the same day, Oz pushed for off-label use of hydroxychloroquine and noted that he was in contact with the French doctor behind the study.

With Fox News leading the way, other right-wing outlets have also joined in promoting these unproven treatments

  • Donald Trump Jr. and Fox contributor Dan Bongino are among right-wing media figures that have complained that the media is downplaying the effectiveness of these drugs to hurt Trump.
  • Right-wing outlet Washington Times criticized Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for seeking to limit the use of hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment given fears about drug shortages. Turning Point USA Founder Charlie Kirk tweeted about the effectiveness of the drug and claimed that Whitmer is “threatening” doctors who prescribe the drug. Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani quote tweeted Kirk’s post and pushed the drug. Both tweets were then removed from Twitter for spreading misinformation and their accounts were temporarily locked.
  • Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire published an article with a headline claiming that “over 65 doctors, medical professionals and scientists” have called on the government to use hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19.
  • On March 24, Washington Examiner published an article claiming that the “Trump-touted drug” was being prescribed preventatively and to treat some coronavirus patients in India.
  • The Federalist published an article berating the media for expressing measured skepticism about Trump touting an unproven drug, writing, “Corporate media attacks Trump for highlighting [a] potential coronavirus treatment.”