As COVID-19 deaths begin a winter surge, Fox News prime-time host Laura Ingraham is blaming “the media politicization of hydroxychloroquine,” a drug used to treat malaria that was championed by President Donald Trump as a coronavirus cure but that federal and international health agencies have said is ineffective for that purpose. As evidence, she is citing a paper authored by a New York doctor who admits he is “not a researcher” and which was edited by a French microbiologist who faced a disciplinary case for his promotion of the drug.
The Trump administration's handling of the pandemic, fueled by Fox coverage from Ingraham and her colleagues downplaying its danger, has had catastrophic results. The COVID Tracking Project reported 2,473 COVID-19 deaths in the United States on December 1, the highest total since the spring, as well as nearly 99,000 patients currently hospitalized, a record, and more than 176,000 new cases. These totals will grow in the coming weeks as cases become hospitalizations, hospitalizations become deaths, and additional cases spawned during the Thanksgiving holiday are factored in.
But on Ingraham’s show, this carnage is actually the result of journalists undermining the case for hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment.
Ingraham claimed that “a peer-reviewed study being published this month found that 84% fewer COVID hospitalizations among patients treated early with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin” and declared that this meant that that she and other supporters of the treatment had been unfairly “trashed.” She then asked one of her regular “Medicine Cabinet” guests, the cardiologist Dr. Ramin Oskoui, “How detrimental was the media politicization of hydroxychloroquine as a therapeutic?”
Oskoui responded that “probably over 100,000 deaths that could've been easily avoided.” He added that that because of the U.S. rejection of hydroxychloroquine, “we've stressed our health care system, we've almost crashed our economy, and we've destroyed small business, and potentially, sadly, we may have really wounded ourselves from a military standpoint and a health care standpoint for years to come.”
In a separate segment, the Fox host praised restaurant owners for “fighting back” by refusing to follow government orders to close in order to limit the spread of the virus. Ingraham has consistently opposed coronavirus restrictions and relentlessly pushed misinformation about the virus.
Ingraham has been perhaps the most fervent booster of the purported effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19. She and Oskoui even visited the White House in April and successfully lobbied Trump to pressure federal agencies to focus on the drug’s use as a therapy. Since then, accumulated studies have found hydroxychloroquine is ineffective, and the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, and World Health Organization have all issued cautions regarding its use.
Ingraham aired this image during her December 1 segment, providing no other information about the “peer-reviewed study”:
The study in question, published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, was co-authored by Dr. Vladimir Zelenko and compared the outcomes of 141 patients treated at his practice with “zinc, low-dose hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin” to “independent public reference data from 377 confirmed COVID-19 patients in the same community” who were not treated with that therapy.
Zelenko became a right-wing star in the spring after a YouTube video he made touting the purported effectiveness of that regimen in treating patients in his upstate New York community went viral. While experts criticized his claims as anecdotal and unfounded, Fox promoted his story, and he was contacted by both White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the FDA.
After drawing scrutiny from federal prosecutors for falsely claiming that the FDA had approved his treatment regimen, Zelenko explained, “I’m a clinician, not a researcher. I don’t understand fully the language of clinical research.”
While Ingraham touted the study as “peer-reviewed,” one of its editors was another zealous hydroxychloroquine proponent, the French microbiologist Dr. Didier Raoult. In March, Raoult authored his own study touting the effectiveness of the drug which was edited by the other editor of the Zelenko study, published in the same journal, and co-authored by its editor-in-chief. His work launched the right-wing craze for hydroxychloroquine, but it was widely derided by experts for its tiny sample size and other limitations and drew criticism from the journal’s own publisher for not meeting its “expected standard.” Last month a group of French infectious disease specialists filed a complaint accusing him of violating the doctors’ code of ethics.
Meanwhile, evidence continues to accumulate showing that hydroxychloroquine is an ineffective treatment for COVID-19. NIH reported in November that a randomized clinical trial found the drug “does not improve clinical outcomes in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.” A separate study based on a randomized clinical trial published that month in The New England Journal of Medicine reached the same conclusion, finding that “patients in the hydroxychloroquine group were less likely to be discharged from the hospital alive within 28 days than those in the usual-care group.”