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With Trump’s Diagnosis of COVID-19, Fox News Struggles to Realize This Is Actually Serious

And hydroxychloroquine is back.

There wasn’t enough of a public perception that the virus is highly contagious and dangerous—that is, if you’d been getting your news from Fox.(Photo: Screenshot)

There wasn’t enough of a public perception that the virus is highly contagious and dangerous—that is, if you’d been getting your news from Fox.(Photo: Screenshot)

Friday morning’s coverage on Fox News was dedicated to the ongoing story that President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus. And considering that Fox’s commentators had previously defended Trump’s decision to deliberately downplay the pandemic, the message today continued to be that there was nothing to worry about — mostly.

On Fox & Friends, Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel sought to assure the public that there was nothing to worry about with Trump’s overall health, with no major comorbidities — though there was a bit of an asterisk. “He doesn't have lung disease, and he doesn't have underlying kidney disease, which is key, doesn't have high blood pressure. All of those bode well,” said Siegel. “The fact that he’s over 70 means that everyone has to be very, very cautious about this — and, of course, that he’s overweight.”

Nevertheless, Siegel later added: “Again, the fact that he is asymptomatic is a really good sign. But we have to watch that very, very closely over the next several days. And there is no question in my mind by the way, Brian, he can perform his duties 100%. No symptoms. That's not even an issue on the table here.”

Later in the morning, it was reported that Trump has “mild symptoms.”

Siegel has been one of Fox’s most prolific peddlers of misinformation on the coronavirus, starting with when he first downplayed it as being like the flu in the “worst-case scenario” back in March, and has constantly echoed Trump’s own rhetoric to play down the pandemic’s dangers. At the same time, he has engaged in all manner of wild speculation about the health of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Some dissension emerged in the ranks later on, however, when co-host Brian Kilmeade tried to send a message that Trump’s presumed recovery would send a great message to the public. “In the big picture, there could be a good message sent here to the American public — you can get it, you can be a senior and you can beat it and go back. … This is another thing, the most famous person in the world gets and beats it, correct?”

Fox News contributor-at-large Geraldo Rivera disagreed, saying that Trump needs to step back from the campaign trail and focus on his health. “You got it wrong, though,” Kilmeade responded. “If you’re asymptomatic and you isolate, … you can actually go about your day, just stay away from people. … There’s no reason to isolate and not do anything if you’re OK.” 

“This disease kills old people, Brian, period,” Rivera said. “If you take it in a way that, ‘I can handle this because I'm a tough guy,’ then shame on you. I want him to be prudent now. Enough about, you know, ‘I have a mask in my pocket.’ Why wasn't the mask on your face, Mr. President?”

Rivera had previously castigated other cable news channels for interrupting their live coverage of Trump’s press conferences in order to correct the president’s misinformation about the virus.

The panelists also asked multiple times why Biden had not yet responded to the news. Co-host Steve Doocy at one point asked Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy, “What’s up with Joe?”

About an hour later, Biden said in a tweet: “Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery. We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”

The network also returned to another frequent theme in its coronavirus coverage: hyping up the unproven use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, despite the evidence that it is not an effective treatment for the coronavirus.

This resurrected talking point appeared almost immediately in the network’s late-night coverage, when the news first broke after midnight. Fox News host Sean Hannity, one of the drug’s major boosters on the network, brought it up by mentioning hydroxychloroquine in the same breath as one of the more legitimate therapeutic drugs.

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“The president mentioned tonight this new therapeutic, I forget the name of it off the top of my head, and all the — everything from Remdesivir to hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin and zinc and others — you know, we now have more information than we've ever had. And people make will those decisions in consultation with their doctors.”

On Fox & Friends, guest Dr. Qanta Ahmed (who specializes in sleep medicine) repeated the same talking points: “He’s even had the benefit of Plaquenil early on, as we know, which probably may have conferred him some protection. And I wouldn't exclude that, either. Plaquenil, in some studies, has shown to mitigate the ability of the virus to enter into red blood cells. It’s been unfairly vilified.” (Plaquenil is a brand name for hydroxychloroquine.)

 

Former White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson, now the Republican nominee for a House seat from Texas, also discussed the topic:

 

STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Ronny, it was back in the spring, famously, the president started taking hydroxychloroquine, after a valet who was there in the personal residence had been around them and had not been wearing a mask. You know, hindsight’s always 2020. Should he have been continued a course of hydroxychloroquine right up until today?

RONNY JACKSON (FORMER WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN): No, not at all. I mean, he was taking it prophylactically, and the prophylactic dose is only for a short period of time, you know, for seven to 10 days. So he did that, he took a full prophylactic course, and that was the right thing to do at the time. I do think, you know, we were talking about the Remdesivir. I do think it's possible that they go ahead and they reinstitute the hydroxychloroquine and maybe the zinc and/or the azithromycin, and maybe even inhaled steroids. Those are some medications that have very few side effects, and it's possible that they would do those at this early point. And you know, we already know because he’s had the hydroxychloroquine before, that he’s probably not going to have any type of negative reaction to that, so we’ve already kind of tested it there. So, I think that's something they can feel comfortable with.

AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): And don't they say the sooner you start taking that, the better the results?

JACKSON: Yes, that's what some of the studies to date have shown.

Fox’s coverage did not get much better when going into the “straight news” programming. On America’s Newsroom, co-anchor Sandra Smith asked fellow Fox News anchor Bret Baier about Trump’s habit of not wearing protective masks and replayed a clip from the debate of Trump even mocking Biden for wearing masks so often.

“Well, I just think that it's even beyond masks. That's an important part of this, as you talk about what you can do to prevent,” Baier said. “But you know, here’s a guy that’s in the biggest protective bubble. The Secret Service, anybody who gets around him, takes that instant test. Now, when he’s out and about, that doesn't happen as easily and they try to distance him. But the fact that the virus got there, I think just changes the collective mindset about how contagious this thing is. We all knew it was, but this just changes people's perceptions, perhaps, and again, the biggest thing is to send our thoughts and prayers that he recovers quickly.”

In Baier’s telling apparently, there wasn’t enough of a public perception that the virus is highly contagious and dangerous — that is, if you’d been getting your news from Fox.

Eric Kleefeld

Eric Kleefeld is a Senior Writer, Rapid Response at Media Matters

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