Fox News and its biggest star, prime-time host Sean Hannity, have been increasingly relying on controversial television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz to provide analysis on the spread and treatment of COVID-19. Now, it has been reported that President Donald Trump -- who often takes cues from Fox and receives advice directly from Hannity -- has told his aides to seek Oz’s advice on treating patients during the pandemic.
In various appearances on Fox News and on Hannity’s radio show, Oz has relentlessly pushed the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, an unproven treatment for the coronavirus that Trump and right-wing media have taken an intense interest in promoting. Oz often cites dubious or misleading medical studies to justify his arguments and has suggested that pushback against promoting the drug as a cure for coronavirus might be motivated by a political agenda.
Oz has a controversial history when it comes to medical advice
Oz, who many recognize as the host of ABC’s The Dr. Oz Show, has a troubling history of pushing bogus, unreliable medical theories lacking in evidence, including the promotion of dangerous and discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy. He has also hosted psychics on his show and has defended their work by saying, “Doctors don’t have all the answers.”
Oz has been accused of being a “quack” doctor by others in his industry. In 2014, he was brought before Congress during a hearing about bogus diet ads, where Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, chair of a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, accused him of perpetuating scams and “melding medical advice, news, and entertainment in a way that harms consumers.”
Fox News has increasingly looked to Oz for advice on coronavirus treatments
In recent weeks, Fox has increasingly given airtime to Oz on potential treatments for COVID-19 patients, particularly hydroxychloroquine, the controversial antimalarial drug Trump and his allies are touting as a potential coronavirus treatment. Since March 9, Oz has appeared on Fox News weekday programming at least 42 times. A Media Matters study found that Oz promoted hydroxychloroquine on the network at least 40 times in a two-week period during late March and early April.
Oz often cites the work of Dr. Didier Raoult, a French microbiologist who has a controversial publishing history and has declared climate change predictions are “absurd.” Oz said that Raoult’s study left him "flabbergasted" but it has also drawn criticisms, and the publisher of the journal where the study first appeared later conceded that it does not meet “expected standards.”
Oz has also cited a small study in China as evidence that hydroxychloroquine could be a cure to COVID-19 and pushed the Fox & Friends hosts to ask Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is heading the nation’s coronavirus response, about the study. Fauci responded that it’s “not a very robust study” and that the evidence is not “overwhelmingly strong.” Oz, in turn, responded on Fox & Friends that Fauci is “a pro and I respect him a lot, but a small study that shows statistical significance is a really important observation.”
On March 24, Oz was featured in Fox News’ town hall with members of Trump’s coronavirus task force. Oz used the opportunity to talk with Vice President Mike Pence about hydroxychloroquine, quoting Raoult that denying patients the drug is “unethical” and asking Pence, “Would you take these pills if you felt ill today?”
Oz typically dismisses criticisms that the full effects of using hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus are unknown, saying that the people he’s talked to “so far felt that it might have helped a little bit or it definitely helped a lot” and arguing that the drug is the “best [tool] we have” against the virus and we should just “see what happens.”
In one Fox & Friends segment, Oz agreed with the hosts that “politics is definitely playing a role” in the criticisms of pushing hydroxychloroquine, complaining that some are getting “people scared that it's too dangerous to even try just because you don't like that a political leader said one thing or the other.”
Hannity has become particularly close with Oz
Hannity -- a close confidant and de facto adviser to Trump -- appears to have become very close with Oz. The doctor has appeared on Hannity’s Fox News show 12 times in the last month, with nine of those appearances occuring in the last two weeks, and he has been on Hannity’s radio show almost daily over the last week for extended conversations that sometimes include taking medical questions from callers.
On multiple occasions, Hannity has stressed that he and Oz stay up talking until 2 o’clock or “3 in the morning now, late at night.” On air, the two have often complimented and flattered each other. In one episode of his radio show, Hannity praised Oz’s “top-syndicated” show and his passion for bettering people’s lives, while Oz complimented Fox’s “culture of getting the information out.”
The two have also bemoaned criticisms of their efforts to push hydroxychloroquine. Hannity once complained on his radio show that he’s “getting the crap beaten out of me for looking for a treatment,” while Oz cited former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to suggest that medical experts at “top-notch medical institutions” are motivated by politics.
In another radio appearance, Hannity complained to Oz after the American Medical Association rebuked Trump’s suggestion that people don’t have much to lose if they take hydroxychloroquine, asking, “Do you see that the American Medical Association is right? I don't.” Oz replied that people he knows who “do this for a living” are “scoffing at the physician response to this” before suggesting that the AMA is influenced by people writing false stories about complications with hydroxychloroquine.
Trump is now following Fox’s lead in looking to Oz
Now, Trump is reportedly telling aides that he wants to consider Oz’s advice in the federal government’s response to dealing with the pandemic. This is unsurprising given Trump’s now-predictable tendency to base decisions off of what he sees on Fox News -- which, lately, has been Oz.
In a March 26 interview with Trump, Hannity repeatedly hyped up Oz and his promotion of hydroxychloroquine to Trump. Hannity also spoke to Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, on his Fox show, emphasizing Oz’s credibility and telling Birx that “our friend Dr. Oz” says “we don’t have time for clinical trials.”
Oz has also said on Fox & Friends that he is “speaking with members of the task force,” including Birx and Medicare and Medicaid chief Seema Verma about coronavirus and testing hydroxychloroquine as a cure. Oz has said that Sharecare, a digital health company which he co-founded, is looking into whether lupus patients taking hydroxychloroquine can contract COVID-19, which Oz claims Verma has supported. Co-anchor Ed Henry mentioned to Verma on America’s Newsroom that Oz has said “he reached out to you” to suggest ways to ask people currently taking hydroxychloroquine for other ailments whether they have contracted COVID-19. “Have you followed up on that?” Henry asked, to which Verma responded, “We absolutely have.” On Hannity’s radio show, Oz also revealed that he has taken advice from Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade on testing patients with lupus for COVID-19.
Correction (4/17/20): This piece originally stated, “Since March 9, Oz has appeared on Fox News at least 68 times.” In fact, Oz appeared 42 times on Fox News weekday programming in that time frame.