Right-Wing Media Misrepresents Hydroxychloroquine Poll

Trump's allies said a Sermo poll found 37% of 6,227 doctors rated hydroxychloroquine "most effective" against COVID-19. It was actually only 2,171 doctors.
Fox & Friends hosts and Dr. Anthony Fauci

Fox & Friends hosts and Dr. Anthony Fauci

Updated April 21, 2020: A new study found that hydroxychloroquine is not effective and actually increases the death rate of patients. A study in France saw similar results. A panel at the NIH convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which Dr. Anthony Fauci leads, have since recommended against combining hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat COVID-19 patients, a combo President Trump has touted.

Editor’s Note: After we published this article, the New York Post, Washington Times, Daily Mail, and the Washington Post have since updated their reporting to reflect the accurate 2,171 number of doctors. Fox News, TheHill, and the other organizations listed in the article below have not updated the number. The original article is below with edits related to the New York Post.

Results from a survey of more than 6000 doctors, touted by President Trump, calling hydroxychloroquine “most effective” to treat coronavirus, have been misreported by multiple news outlets and shared widely throughout Trumpworld.

Last week, New York Post reported under this headline: “Hydroxychloroquine rated ‘most effective’ coronavirus treatment, poll of doctors finds.”

The Post incorrectly reported: “Of the 6,227 physicians surveyed in 30 countries, 37 percent rated hydroxychloroquine the ‘most effective therapy’ for combating the potentially deadly illness, according to the results released Thursday.”

A press release from Sermo, the company that conducted the survey, said: “Hydroxychloroquine was overall chosen as the most effective therapy amongst COVID-19 treaters.” (Italics inserted by Rantt Media.)

The Sermo survey shows that the subgroup of COVID-19 treaters is 2171 — not 6227, as multiple news outlets have since reported.

Trump has relentlessly pitched the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine, and, to a lesser extent, antibiotic Azithromycin, to treat coronavirus since he first tweeted about the drugs on March 21.

The Washington Times reported: “Azithromycin, known by the brand name Zithromax or Z-Pak, was rated the second-most effective therapy at 32%, followed by ‘nothing.’”

In fact, the Sermo poll shows that doctors said treating with “Nothing” was equally effective as treating with Azithromycin or similar antibiotics.

32 percent of 2171 doctors said “Nothing” was the most effective treatment — that’s about 695 doctors.

The doctors who said they felt hydroxychloroquine is most effective, 37 percent of 2171 treaters, is about 803 doctors — far different from variations of the cry echoing throughout Trumpworld: “But 6000 doctors say it works!” More on that cacophony in a moment.

So by a slim margin of 803 to 695, doctors who are treating coronavirus patients feel that hydroxychloroquine is more effective than nothing.

Rantt Media also discovered that nearly half the doctors surveyed had not ordered a COVID-19 test for a patient or been involved in the care of a patient who tested positive for COVID-19. When asked “Which of the following activities have you personally done?” 47 percent of 6227 doctors surveyed answered “None of the above.”

A spokesperson from Sermo confirmed the accuracy of survey information to Rantt Media. The company has not yet responded to inquiries about why Azithromycin, though tied with “Nothing” for effectiveness, was listed in second place, above “Nothing.”

A reporter from the New York Post told me the newspaper would look into its reporting, and as of this writing, the story has been corrected.

The Washington Times clarified its reporting: “2,171 of those responded to the question asking which medications were most effective.”

Fox News has been at the forefront of promoting the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in treatment of COVID-19, “contributing to President Donald Trump touting them at his press conferences,” as Media Matters reported. It’s important to note that both Fox News and the New York Post are owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Steve Doocy, host of Trump’s favorite breakfast show, Fox & Friends also incorrectly reported from the doctors’ survey. Dr. Anthony Fauci, top U.S. infectious disease expert, was a guest on the show on Friday when Doocy incorrectly cited the Sermo doctor’s poll in his insistence that hydroxychloroquine is a game-changing cure for the coronavirus.

Doocy: (2:37) “Dr. Fauci, There was a worldwide study made of 6000 doctors in 30 different countries and the final percentage was 37% of the doctors said that hydroxychloroquine was the most effective treatment against COVID-19.”

Dr. Fauci responded: “I think you said 37 percent—of doctors feel that it’s beneficial. We don’t operate on how you feel. We operate on what evidence is, and data is.” He added, “I think we’ve got to be careful that we don’t make that majestic leap to assume that this is a knockout drug. We still need to do the kinds of studies that definitely prove whether any intervention is truly safe and effective.”

Doocy asked Dr. Fauci to respond to Dr. Oz’s claims about the drug. Dr. Oz has apparently rocketed to the top of Trump’s list as a trusted medical advisor, as The Daily Beast reported.

But Dr. Oz tweeted the incorrect New York Post story:

Another Fox News host, Laura Ingraham, has been particularly zealous about promoting hydroxychloroquine. As I previously reported for Rantt Media, I discovered last month that Ingraham had misrepresented the credentials of a doctor on her show.

A spokesperson from Lenox Hill Hospital told me that Ingraham’s guest, Dr. William Grace, was not employed by the hospital. I had urged Fox News to issue a correction — which they did — and subsequently, Ingraham’s related tweet was deleted.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reminded Ingraham of the incident in a tweet, asking her “Why are you on TV again?”

Ingraham also tweeted a link to the incorrect New York Post story:

The Hill also reported the incorrect information broadcast by Doocy on Fox News: “Fauci’s comments came in response to a question about a recent poll of more than 6,700 doctors in 30 countries, with 37 percent of physicians saying they ‘felt’ that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine was the most effective for treating COVID-19 as cases.”

Right-wing outlet Newsmax bungled its reporting on Fauci’s Fox & Friends visit, conflating the doctors’ survey with a small Chinese study cited by Dr. Oz: “Fauci also commented on reports about a Chinese study, quoted by Dr. Mehmet Oz earlier on the program, showing 37% of doctors feel that the use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine is a beneficial treatment against coronavirus.”

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Meanwhile, President Trump doubled down on promoting hydroxychloroquine in press conferences over the weekend.

During Sunday’s White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing, CNN reporter Jeremy Diamond attempted to ask top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci a question about hydroxychloroquine.

“Would you also weigh in on this issue of hydroxychloroquine?” Diamond asked. “What do you think about this, and what is the medical evidence?”

Trump jumped in, preempting a response from Dr. Fauci.

“How many times have you asked that question? Fifteen times,” Trump snapped.

Diamond persisted, “He’s a doctor. He’s your medical expert, correct?”

Trump again barked, “He answered that question fifteen times.”

Trump’s snappiness at Sunday’s presser follows reports that on Saturday, Trump economic advisor Peter Navarro dressed down Dr. Fauci in the White House Situation Room. According to Axios, Navarro “brought over a stack of folders and dropped them on the table. People started passing them around:

‘And the first words out of his mouth are that the studies that he’s seen, I believe they’re mostly overseas, show ‘clear therapeutic efficacy,’ said a source familiar with the conversation. ‘Those are the exact words out of his mouth.’”

“Fauci pushed back against Navarro, saying that there was only anecdotal evidence that hydroxychloroquine works against the coronavirus.”

“Fauci’s mention of anecdotal evidence ‘just set Peter off,’ said one of the sources. Navarro pointed to the pile of folders on the desk, which included printouts of studies on hydroxychloroquine from around the world.”

Did Navarro’s pile of folders contain the Sermo poll data? Did Navarro scream at Fauci about “6000 doctors!” We’ll never know. Because “In response to a request for comment on Axios’ reporting, Katie Miller, a spokesperson for the vice president, said: ‘We don’t comment on meetings in the Situation Room.’”

In an interview today on CNN, Navarro continued to battle with Dr. Fauci about the science behind hydroxychloroquine. When asked, “So why is Dr. Anthony Fauci, the lead infectious disease doctor in the country wrong about this in your opinion?” Navarro responded, “I would have two words for you: ‘second opinion.’”

Navarro added, “Let me suggest, John, that later in the day you have Dr. William Grace on,” referring to the oncologist who Ingraham had misrepresented on her show as employed by Lenox Hill Hospital.

Other Trump allies shared the incorrect information about the doctors’ survey to bolster Trump’s case for hydroxychloroquine and attack Dr. Fauci — whose security has been stepped up in response to threats.

Bernard Kerik, former New York City Police Chief and convicted felon who was pardoned by Trump, incorrectly cited the survey in his tweet:

“6000 doctors in 30 countries say that #Hydrochloroquine is working, Fauci says he’s not sure it works.”

Trump Campaign Official Marc Lotter cited the incorrect New York Post story in his tweet:

And Andrew Clark, the Rapid Response Director for the Trump Campaign, tweeted link to the incorrect New York Post story:

Rush Limbaugh, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump at his State of the Union address, cited incorrect reporting from the New York Post story. Limbaugh also managed to work in a reprehensible ethnic slur, attacking CNN host Chris Cuomo who tested positive and has been ill with the virus. Limbaugh said, “You think Fredo Cuomo’s taking the drug?… Let’s say Fredo’s taking hydroxychloroquine.”

Trump retweeted “journalist” Jon Solomon who said: “Hydroxychloroquine rated top drug by doctors on front line of COVID-19 who also fear a second wave”

Solomon, who was cited repeatedly in the impeachment hearings, was named “2019 Misinformer of the Year” by Media Matters.

Solomon reported misleading info about the doctors’ survey, citing “6200 physicians,” and “37% of all COVID-19 treaters chose hydroxychloroquine as the most effective therapy” — but he did not report the smaller size of COVID-19 treaters’ group.

Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Guiliani has also been pushing the experimental drugs. The Washington Post reported (Guiliani blocked me on Twitter, so I have not seen his tweets): “‘Got lots of positive reports on hydroxy and Zithromax,’ Giuliani tweeted on March 26.
“It was one of at least 14 messages Giuliani posted during the past three weeks referring to the combination of the anti-malarial drug and the antibiotic azithromycin. ‘The Hydroxy treatment, first introduced by POTUS, appears to be working so far!’ he tweeted two days later.”

Trump and his allies have deployed his favorite rallying cry “Fake News!” to attack the media and vilify journalists for dashing hope about a hydroxychloroquine “cure” for coronavirus. In a response to CNN reporter Diamond on Sunday, Trump dismissed him with, “Only CNN would ask that question. Fake News.”

Fox News bashed the media in a story with headline: “After mocking Trump for promoting hydroxychloroquine, journalists acknowledge it might treat coronavirus.”
However, the Fox story includes a link to the incorrect New York Post reporting: “And, an international poll of thousands of doctors rated hydroxychloroquine the ‘most effective therapy’ for coronavirus.’”

Last month, the Trump Campaign War Room tweeted a video segment of Tucker Carlson:

However, there are no clinical results on the efficacy or safety of hydroxychloroquine. Trump pressured federal agencies to release guidance on the drug, according to Reuters. As the news agency reported:

“Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, says she was surprised to read the document guidance, after Reuters pointed it out to her. “Geez!” she said. “No references, no nothing! Why would CDC be publishing anecdotes? That doesn’t make sense. This is very unusual.”

Hydroxychloroquine is not approved by the FDA to treat COVID-19. The FDA has granted limited emergency-use authorization. A post on the FDA website says: “There are currently no FDA-approved medical countermeasures for COVID-19,” with notice of the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) authority.

Clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine are underway at Duke University, the University of Washington, the University of Pennsylvania, and, as noted by Vice President Mike Pence, at the Henry Ford Health System.

But despite the lack of scientific evidence of the drug’s efficacy or safety, Trump continues to promote hydroxychloroquine. “What do you have to lose? Take it. I really think they should take it … try it, if you’d like,” he said on Saturday.

The answer to Trump’s question, according to many doctors, including the president of American Medical Association: you may lose your life or experience grave side effects. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked AMA President Dr. Patrice Harris in an interview: “So when the president says, ‘What do you have to lose, you got coronavirus. You’re in the hospital. What do you have to lose?’ What do you say?”

Harris replied, “You could lose your life,” adding, “It’s unproven. And so certainly there are some limited studies, as Dr. Fauci said. But at this point, we just don’t have the data to suggest that we should be using this medication for COVID-19.”

At Sunday’s press conference, Trump said the U.S. has bought a “tremendous amount” of hydroxychloroquine and that the federal government has stockpiled 29 million pills. Hoarding of the drug has led to a dangerous shortage for lupus and autoimmune patients.

Peter Morley is a patient advocate who struggles with lupus. Morley takes hydroxychloroquine (also known as Plaquenil) twice a day to manage his flare-ups. He told Rolling Stone that the drug is “lifesaving” to people in his community. But many people have contacted Morley, terrified, unable to get the medication.

CNN Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter said in an interview: “My wife takes a version of [hydroxychloroquine] called Plaquenil for her rheumatoid arthritis. There are so many Americans like her who are having to worry about not having access to the drug they need for their lives because the president is out there touting an unproven idea of a possible cure. Let’s see if this drug is useful with COVID-19. We don’t yet know. That’s what Dr. Fauci and others say. But the president continues to provide this unvetted and unconfirmed information to the public.”

Let vetting and confirmation be watchwords, the beacons of light that lead us out of this dark time.

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