Media

The Hydroxychloroquine Meltdown

A pharmacy worker shows pills of hydroxychloroquine used to treat the coronavirus at the CHR Centre Hospitalier Regional de la Citadelle Hospital in Liege, Belgium, April 22, 2020. (Yves Herman/Reuters)
The president claims he’s taking it as a prophylactic. The media met that with hysteria instead of conscientious coverage.

President Donald Trump claims that he’s taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure against contracting coronavirus, and that he has taken zinc and antibiotic azithromycin as well.

There’s no consensus that hydroxychloroquine is an effective therapeutic treatment for COVID-19 (early studies have yielded different results, and the NIH recently began a controlled clinical trial). Few people I’ve read argue that it’s a useful prophylactic. Nevertheless, the frenzied and childish reaction to Trump’s championing what amounts to a commonly used prescription drug is more destructive than his annoying habit of bringing it up.

A CNN columnist warns of “the danger in Trump’s decision to self-medicate.” If Trump is taking the drug, it’s been prescribed and presumably he’s being monitored, yet the CNN piece tries to create impression that the president is popping hydroxychloroquine tablets like mints to soothe his anxieties.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called Trump’s remarks about hydroxychloroquine “dangerous,” though for the general public, the drug itself is no more dangerous than a vast number of pharmaceuticals used every day by millions of Americans to help them live with less pain or to keep them alive.

“Side effects of hydroxychloroquine include paranoia, hallucinations and psychosis,” notes the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg, reading one of the many rare side effects of the drug. Wait until she reads the warning labels on the abortifacients that she wants the government to subsidize.

For that matter, we’re often lectured that killing an unborn baby is a decision made solely by a woman in conjunction with her doctor. Yet taking hydroxychloroquine is apparently a joint decision between a man, his doctor, every Democrat in congress, all the anchors on CNN, and an entire slate of New York Times op-ed columnists.

The most reckless media personality on the issue has been Trump’s former bestie, Joe Scarborough, who repeatedly told his audience this morning that hydroxychloroquine will “kill you“:

So he is not taking something that his own administration has said will kill you. That his own FDA said will kill you. That the [Department of Veterans Affairs] said will kill you. … That’s what doctors will say, too. The FDA said, take it if you’re in the hospital or take it if you’re in a closely watched clinical trial. But, don’t take it unless you’re under those two circumstances. So the president is not taking it, and yet, and yet, he’s telling Americans that they should take it.

Not a single one of these agencies says hydroxychloroquine “will kill you.” That would be asinine. What the FDA recently noted is that there are elevated risks associated with COVID-19 patients taking the medication, which is entirely different. As far as I know, Trump has never explicitly instructed Americans to take it. What I do know is that hundreds of thousands of young people who use the drug, often to save their lives, are hearing media personalities and politicians liken it to cyanide. Hundreds of thousands of older men and women who take hydroxychloroquine for rheumatoid arthritis are hearing media personalities and politicians telling them their lives are danger.

The conscientious way to cover Trump’s hydroxychloroquine usage would be to point out that there’s no proof that the drug will help treat the coronavirus, though tests are still ongoing. Instead, we are subjected to an overwrought lecture series of nasty, childish, partisan attacks and misleading stories about a couple ingesting fish-tank cleaner.

“I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group, and in his, shall we say, weight group: ‘Morbidly obese,’ they say,” says House speaker Nancy Pelosi to Anderson Cooper.

Now, it should be noted that there are all kinds of side effects to commonly used drugs. Take, for instance, the anti-wrinkle drug Botox, which not only comes with a laundry list of warnings but has also been known to spark botulism symptoms that killed several Americans. Scientists have approved hydroxychloroquine for 70 years; every day doctors prescribe it on- and off-label.  If Trump and his doctor think it’s okay for him to take it, that’s his business.

Whether hydroxychloroquine will be useful in this particular fight is yet to be determined. But COVID-19 aside, the drug doesn’t “kill people.” It saves people. The fearmongering isn’t helping anyone.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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