Dozens of journalists took to ink and screen to scream lies about a couple who ingested a toxic substance who then succumbed to the horrible effects of a poison. News outlets sold these lies to the public to discredit President Trump, who has asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to speed up approvals of an anti-malarial drug called chloroquine for treatment of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“Man dies after self-medicating with chloroquine,” the headline reads for Axios. “Man dies after ingesting chloroquine in an attempt to prevent coronavirus” NBC News reported.
Dr. Dena Grayson, self-proclaimed media expert on the coronavirus, Ebola and other pandemics tweeted to her 268k followers: “BREAKING: A man DIED & his wife is in ICU after they ingested #chloroquine, one of the anti-malarials that @realDonaldTrump touted. Chloroquine/#hydroxychloroquine have NOT been proven effective against #coronavirus & can cause FATAL heart arrhythmias.”
She continued in a thread, “As I warned, these anti-malarial drugs are associated with potentially FATAL side effects and should only be taken under close supervision of a doctor.”
Heidi Przybyla, NBC News Correspondent, tweeted out a long thread beginning with, “Her husband is dead & she's in the ICU after ingesting chloroquine: "We saw Trump on TV—every channel—& all of his buddies and that this was safe," she said. "Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure."
Further down the thread, "Oh my God. Don't take anything. Don't believe anything. Don’t believe anything that the President says and his people because they don't know what they're talking about. And don't take anything—be so careful and call your doctor. This is a heart ache I'll never get over."
The last tweet in the thread, however, provided the truth to the story, “The toxic ingredient they consumed was not the medication form of chloroquine, used to treat malaria in humans. Instead, it was an ingredient listed on a parasite treatment for fish.” The first tweet received 15.4k retweets. The last only 307, both at time of writing.
NBC News argued “The man's wife told NBC News she'd watched televised briefings where President Trump talked about the potential benefits of chloroquine. Even though no drugs are approved to prevent or treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, some early research suggests it may be useful as a therapy.”
The fact that the couple mixed an anti-parasitic medication for fish tanks into soda, per the article, and drank it seems to be intentionally downplayed in the narrative. What matter most to the journalism world is the opportunity to attack Trump.
Bloomberg ran an article titled Nigeria Has Chloroquine Poisonings After Trump Praised Drug. CNN tweeted out, “Health officials in Nigeria have issued a warning over the drug chloroquine. Three people in the country overdosed on the drug, they said, in the wake of President Trump's comments about using it to treat coronavirus.”
This despite positive results, such as these that ABC News reported: “Chloroquine and a similar drug, hydroxychloroquine, showed encouraging signs in small, early tests against the coronavirus. But the drugs have major side effects, one reason scientists don't want to give them without evidence of their value, even in this emergency.” The media continues to ignore that the medications are prescription-only and require physician care. No one is suggesting people ingest anti-parasitic fish pills.
The obsession with blaming Trump is putting real lives in danger. Pretending that because President Trump announced in a press conference that new drug options could be the part of the solution for battling this pandemic, he is responsible for the irresponsible choices of people around the world is absurd. In fact, journalists quoting such people saying “Don’t believe anything that the President says and his people because they don't know what they're talking about” without any pushback whatsoever could easily scare sick people away from trusting their doctors in an emergency.
Also relevant here is Twitter’s seemingly ambivalent position on verified accounts spreading misleading and even false information related to COVID-19 exclusively when attacking Trump. Twitter updated their abuse policy to control the spread of misinformation on their website specifically surrounding the COVID-19 crisis. Yet Vijaya Gadde, Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety Lead for Twitter is, at the very least, failing to keep the public updated on their enforcement of this new policy, if there is any enforcement at all.
The speed at which these stories are spreading and the lack of interest by social media companies, journalists, or news outlets in reigning in these falsehoods has become genuinely concerning and even dangerous. By the time they can be corrected, thousands upon thousands have already seen the original narrative.
It should not be necessary to argue that journalists should be held to a higher standard of honesty and accuracy in online reporting, but with activism and journalism nearly indistinguishable, it must be firmly shouted as often as possible.
A person should never consume any drug or chemical without doctor supervision, obviously we all know this, and the hysteria surrounding Trump’s perfectly reasonable announcement of potential medical advancements is not to blame for people making irresponsible choices.
Trump did not tell people to consume household chemicals if they feel sick and he did not remove prescription restrictions on access to unapproaved drugs. It is profoundly sad that the people responsible for spreading information to the world refuse to put aside their petty political biases and simply tell the truth. These games will get real people hurt.