Fox News can't get its message straight on hydroxychloroquine

After President Trump announced he was taking antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, Fox News host Neil Cavuto had a starkly different message than his colleagues.

Posted: May 21, 2020 12:51 PM
Updated: May 21, 2020 12:51 PM

A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

What are Fox News viewers to believe? Throughout the late-afternoon and into the night on Monday, the network's hosts and doctors repeatedly contradicted each other when discussing President Trump's announcement that he is taking hydroxychloroquine.

Neil Cavuto was first to react to the jarring revelation that the President had started to take the antimalarial drug as a prophylaxis for coronavirus — despite the lack of firm scientific evidence that it is effective and the warnings which accompany its use. "This is stunning," Cavuto said. The Fox News host proceeded to then issue a stern warning to his viewers: "A number of studies, those certainly vulnerable in the population have one thing to lose, their lives."

Cavuto found himself in the company of medical experts. Dr. Bob Lahita, who he brought on as a guest after his warning, said Cavuto's assessment of the life and death risk was "correct." Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing editor of health news for Fox News, said he found it to be "highly irresponsible" for Trump to be taking hydroxychloroquine. Dr. Scott Atlas, who appeared on Martha MacCallum's show, said the drug is "not proven to work." And Fox even published a story, which led its homepage Monday night, about "DOCTOR'S WARNINGS" about hydroxychloroquine.

That was one side of the Fox News coin. The other painted a starkly different picture. On Tucker Carlson's program, Fox News contributor Dr. Marc Siegel hyped the drug and said the media was going to "politicize" the issue. "I think it's reasonable," Siegel said of Trump taking it. In the next hour, Sean Hannity also attacked the news media, saying "predictably the mob in the media are hyperventilating" over Trump's announcement. Hannity decried journalists who he said have been "waging an unhinged, non-stop never-ending PR campaign against" the drug.

And in the 10pm hour, Laura Ingraham, who has been one of the top promoters of hydroxychloroquine, asked, "Why is the media freaking out about the President taking hydroxy?" She said the "medical establishment went crazy" over his announcement, playing clips of doctors on CNN and MSNBC while ignoring what Fox's own coverage just a few hours before.

The contradictory coverage from Fox News isn't unprecedented. But it continues to be remarkable that on a basic issue of health and safety, one in which Ingraham even acknowledged that the medical establishment is in general agreement on, Fox News can't get its message straight...

Trump unleashes on Cavuto

The contradictory coverage from Fox was even highlighted by Trump on Monday night. The President retweeted a Twitter user who noted that Cavuto had warned against taking the drug, while hours later Ingraham had encouraged its use.

Trump clearly sided with Ingraham, repeatedly attacking Cavuto on his Twitter feed. Trump retweeted a Breitbart writer calling the Fox News host an "asshole," retweeted a far-right voice calling him "foolish & gullible" and retweeted a far-right radio host calling him an "IDIOT."

Trump himself tweeted, "[Fox News] is no longer the same. We miss the great Roger Ailes. You have more anti-Trump people, by far, than ever before. Looking for a new outlet!" Of course, Fox News has over the years become more pro-Trump, not less supportive.

>> Paul Farhi's point: "The 'great' Roger Ailes was credibly accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. He was fired by Rupert Murdoch and sons for his alleged behavior. He died in disgrace in 2017..."

No comment (again) from Fox

Once upon a time, Fox News would release pointed statements when Trump openly attacked the network. Back in the day, the network decried his "vitriolic attacks against Megyn Kelly," saying his "extreme, sick obsession with her is beneath the dignity of a presidential candidate." In another statement, the network even mocked him for showing "fear" by not agreeing to a 2016 debate co-moderated by Kelly. Fox News joked at the time it had "learned from a secret back channel that the ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly."

Fast-forward to present day. When I asked the network for comment on Monday after Trump's attacks against Cavuto, I was greeted by silence. Granted, Trump wasn't President when Fox previously released critical statements about Trump. And the dynamics are different. But the contrast between how Fox previously handled Trump's outbursts versus today is still striking. And it's notable that Fox continues to be one of the only media organizations that doesn't vocally defend its talent from the President's barbs.

Pelosi tells Cooper "morbidly obese" Trump should not take drug

Back to Trump's use of hydroxychloroquine... Appearing with Anderson Cooper on CNN Monday night, Nancy Pelosi zinged Trump for taking the drug. "He's our president and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and his, shall we say, weight group — morbidly obese, they say," Pelosi said.

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