On March 19, President Trump promoted two drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, as potential treatments for COVID-19 after Fox News spent days exaggerating the drugs’ effectiveness. Since then, there has been a run on these drugs, which are needed to treat other medical conditions, and a man in Arizona died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate because he thought it would protect against the coronavirus.
Much of the initial coverage of these drugs on Fox was spurred by a lawyer named Gregory Rigano. Rigano, who was described as an adviser to Stanford University’s medical school despite no actual affiliation, appeared on Fox multiple times to tout the potential benefits of these drugs. At the heart of his claims was a study conducted in France which shows a small number of coronavirus patients benefiting from hydroxychloroquine. But as CNN’s Sanjay Gupta pointed out, the study suffers from a number of serious limitations, including that three patients excluded from the study were later sent to the intensive care unit and that patients were monitored for only six days.
These drugs may eventually prove effective in treating COVID-19, but additional study is needed. Meanwhile, Fox hosts like Sean Hannity continue to recklessly promote these drugs to an audience that is understandably eager for a cure, with little evidence of their effectiveness.
- On March 12 during a segment on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel was one of the first guests to mention hydroxychloroquine (also known as Plaquenil) as a possible treatment for coronavirus, noting that it has been used to treat patients in South Korea.
- Siegel again mentioned hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine on March 14 on Justice with Judge Jeanine, stating that the use of the drug in other countries as a COVID-19 treatment appears “promising.”
- On March 16, Fox's Martha MacCallum asked Johns Hopkins professor Justin Lessler about potential use of chloroquine as a treatment.
- Gregory Rigano made his first appearance to talk about COVID-19 on Fox News on The Ingraham Angle later that night. Rigano, identified as a co-author of a study on chloroquine, promoted the small study mentioned above.
- On March 17, Fox host Laura Ingraham asked coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci about the drugs, and he explained that they still require further study.
- Rigano made his second appearance on Fox News during the March 18 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, this time erroneously identified as an adviser to Stanford Medical School. Rigano again promoted the small study in France and pushed for Trump to allow the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.
- That same night, Fox's Sean Hannity began touting the potential uses of chloroquine and asked a panel of doctors whether the drug could be used prophylactically.
- Later, Ingraham asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar if the Trump administration has considered fast-tracking trials of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.
- After Trump promoted hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in his press conference on March 19, Carlson interviewed the CEO of Vanda Pharmaceuticals to discuss the drugs.
- Hannity praised Trump’s focus on chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine and incorrectly claimed that Rigano’s study was done in “consultation with Stanford University School of Medicine, UAB School of Medicine.”
- Later in the same March 19 show, Hannity told Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema Verma that he personally would use the drugs Trump promoted if he had COVID-19.
- On her show that night, Ingraham boasted that the actions Trump took in his earlier press conference were due in part to the “persistence of The Ingraham Angle.”
- On March 20, Hannity told listeners of his radio show that he would be “all over” these drugs if he had COVID-19 and encouraged listeners to stock up on hydroxychloroquine if they thought they had symptoms.
- That night on his show, Hannity forgot the name “hydroxychloroquine” while exaggerating its proven effectiveness in treating COVID-19.
- Also that night, Ingraham took issue with Dr. Fauci’s characterization of the evidence supporting the effectiveness of these drugs as “anecdotal.”
- On March 21, in an interview with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Fox's Jeanine Pirro praised Trump for pushing for the use of these drugs in compassionate use cases.
- On March 23 on Fox & Friends, host Ainsley Earhardt pushed for the use of hydroxychloroquine in combination with azithromycin, or Z-Pak.
- Dr. Mehmet Oz appeared on Fox & Friends and also promoted the same small study, saying his “jaw dropped” when he read the results.
- Co-host of The Five Greg Gutfeld complained about a Bloomberg article pointing out the potential dangers of hydroxychloroquine.
- That night, Hannity read Vice President Mike Pence a letter from an unidentified doctor who said that hydroxychloroquine in combination with azithromycin and zinc proved effective in treating COVID-19 patients.
- In an interview that night with Dr. Oz, Ingraham played clips of his interview with the French doctor behind the small hydroxychloroquine study and downplayed the study’s limitations by stating that six patients were excluded “for whatever reason.”