President Donald Trump isn’t just hearing Fox News personalities preach the merits of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus miracle cure through his television. He also met with Fox host Laura Ingraham and two doctors who regularly appear on her show on Friday for an in-person White House briefing about the treatment, and he subsequently pushed the federal government to make the drug more widely available, according to The Washington Post.
Experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, say there is only thin and anecdotal evidence supporting the use of hydroxychloroquine and another anti-malarial drug, chloroquine, as effective treatments for COVID-19. But in mid-March, Fox began running segments promoting the drugs as possible game-changers. After Trump started publicly pushing them as well, the network blanketed its airwaves with credulous coverage of the medicines, promoting them at least 146 times over a single week. In an apparent response to the reckless speculation from his favorite cable news network, Trump reportedly pushed health officials to make hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine available to treat the virus.
Trump’s worldview is shaped by the cable news segments that capture his attention. But he also frequently supplements Fox’s televised reports by seeking private counsel from network personalities like Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs.
In this case, Trump sat down with Ingraham, who in recent days has effectively turned her show into an infomercial for the drugs, and members of what she terms her “medicine cabinet,” Ramin Oskoui, a cardiologist, and Stephen Smith, an infectious disease specialist. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn also attended the meeting at Trump’s request.
According to the Post, during the meeting:
Smith made a detailed presentation to Trump about his view on treatment, putting an emphasis on the benefits of hydroxychloroquine based on his own experiences and studies, according to two White House officials and a person familiar with the meeting, who, like some other officials interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment.
Trump listened intently, they said, and emerged from that meeting seemingly determined to advocate for hydroxychloroquine to be more widely used.
After the meeting, Trump’s coronavirus task force “decided to rush-deliver hydroxychloroquine to hospitals and pharmacies in the New York area, Detroit, New Orleans and other coronavirus hot zones,” the Post reported.
The Post further reported that William Grace, a New York-based oncologist who has regularly appeared on Ingraham’s program to tout the use of anti-malarials to treat coronavirus, “has suddenly emerged as an influential voice in Trump’s orbit despite having no formal links to the government.” Ingraham inflated Grace’s credentials during one segment, describing him as an “oncologist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City” when he is not affiliated with the hospital and just has admitting privileges there. Twitter subsequently took down a tweet by Ingraham claiming that Lenox Hill doctors were already using hydroxychloroquine “with very promising results” for violating Twitter’s policies against coronavirus misinformation. Grace is reportedly in contact with White House aide Peter Navarro, a staunch defender of the treatment within the administration who reportedly clashed with Fauci over its use during a coronavirus task force meeting on Saturday.
Trump has also reportedly urged administration officials to consult with the notorious celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who has regularly appeared on Fox in recent weeks to advocate for hydroxychloroquine’s use.
Ingraham, like many of her colleagues, spent the early phase of coronavirus’ spread in the U.S. arguing that journalists and Democrats were using the virus as a political weapon to attack Trump. She subsequently became one of the network’s earliest and most devoted supporters of treating COVID-19 patients with anti-malarials. The Fox host was the first at the network to host Gregory Rigano, a lawyer whose Twitter advocacy of the drug launched it into the public eye; argued that hydroxychloroquine had an effect “like Lazarus, up from the grave”; and even credited her show with Trump’s push to adopt the treatment.
In addition to hyping unproven coronavirus treatments, Ingraham has used her show to call for reopening the economy, arguing that the current shutdown “might kill the patient, which is America.”