Fox News’ relentless championing of two malaria drugs earlier this year put them at the center of the federal government’s response to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But the network has virtually ignored the Federal Drug Administration’s decision to end emergency waivers for the drugs after the agency concluded they were ineffective.
On Monday, the FDA revoked the emergency authorization it issued in March to use hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, drugs typically used to treat malaria, on hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Recent randomized clinical trials showed “no evidence of benefit for mortality or other outcomes” and the suggested dosing regimens are “unlikely to produce an antiviral effect,” the FDA’s chief scientist Denise Hinton wrote in a letter explaining the decision.
That decision has been almost entirely ignored on Fox. The network has devoted only five minutes and five seconds of coverage to the news -- the majority of which consisted of criticism of the FDA on The Ingraham Angle.
Your World with Neil Cavuto was first on the story, giving it one minute and 18 seconds of coverage Monday afternoon after President Donald Trump weighed in to disparage the FDA’s decision during an event the network aired earlier that hour. Fox’s flagship “straight news” broadcast, Special Report, gave the news 13 seconds on Monday at the tail-end of a segment detailing global coronavirus developments. “Today the FDA revoked the emergency use authorization for the drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, saying they are likely not effective now in treating coronavirus,” noted correspondent Casey Stegall.
Fox prime-time host Laura Ingraham and her “medicine cabinet” guests spent three minutes and 17 seconds attacking the FDA’s decision that night, by far the longest discussion on the network. When Ingraham questioned why the FDA decided to “even inject itself into a debate over a drug it approved decades ago,” Dr. Ramin Oskoui responded that “the FDA is corrupt to the core” and speculated that hospitals don’t want to use the drugs to treat COVID-19 because it might somehow endanger the grant money their researchers receive from pharmaceutical companies. Later in the segment, Dr. Stephen Smith said that people will “absolutely” die because of the FDA’s withdrawal, saying for FDA head Stephen Hahn, “I don’t understand how he could botch this any worse.” Ingraham concluded the segment by saying, “We have got to fix this because this is ridiculous.”
On Tuesday, the story rated 17 seconds during the 5 a.m. EDT hour of Fox & Friends First.
And that was it for Fox’s coverage. Other prime-time “opinion”-side shows like Tucker Carlson Tonight and Hannity, the popular morning show Fox & Friends, and dayside “news”-side programs like America’s Newsroom have not mentioned the FDA’s decision at all.
This paltry coverage of the FDA’s determination that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are not effective for treating coronavirus under some circumstances is risible given the network’s past promotion of the drugs.
Fox trumpeted the medicines hundreds of times in late March and early April, touting them as potential miracle cures for coronavirus despite only scanty and anecdotal evidence suggesting the drugs might have an effect. Vast swaths of the network’s programming effectively became running infomercials on hydroxychloroquine, with hosts, network medical experts, and former coronavirus patients explaining how the drug could be taken to prevent infection and have a “Lazarus effect” on near-death COVID patients while dismissing the possibility that the drugs might have side effects.
This had a huge impact not only on the network’s audience, but on the federal response to the coronavirus. Trump, who watches Fox religiously, was captivated by the network’s coverage and quickly began promoting the drugs, contradicting federal public health experts who warned that there was insufficient evidence that they worked. He also hosted Ingraham, Smith, and Oskoui at the White House to tout the drugs in a meeting that also included FDA chief Hahn.
In response to Fox’s coverage, Trump reportedly pressured federal agencies to focus on the drugs as potential therapies. This appears to have resulted in the FDA’s March 29 emergency use authorization, which reportedly “was widely seen as an effort to placate Trump” who “kept hearing about the controversial anti-malarial drug on his favorite Fox News Channel programs,” as The Washington Post reported. A considerable amount of time, energy, and resources was brought to bear amid a deadly pandemic to placate the president’s obsession with drugs he saw touted on his television -- and now the federal government has a stockpile of 66 million doses of a drug that apparently doesn’t work.
It would have been good if the drugs Fox promoted to the president’s attention actually worked to curtail the deadly virus that has ravaged the country. But as evidence on their effectiveness accumulated, that doesn’t appear to be the case.