Trump is again raging at Fox News, because anchor Neil Cavuto challenged Trump’s new declaration that he has been taking hydroxychloroquine. Cavuto noted that numerous studies have shown the drug’s benefits are unproven and that taking it with preexisting conditions can kill you.
That set off Trump. Only this time, there’s a key tell lurking underneath Trump’s fury: His own doctor has yet to say whether Trump is actually taking the drug.
It’s often said Trump has badly perverted a crucial aspect of a president’s duties. By downplaying the threat posed by the virus, he has prioritized his own political needs over the imperative of setting a presidential example that might lead Americans to better protect themselves.
But in this case, the perversion may be even deeper. Trump is trying to persuade Americans to believe hydroxychloroquine is safe, only he’s doing so without genuinely confirming that he himself is taking it.
Indeed, it’s plausible that he is not.
Trump told reporters Monday that he’s been taking the anti-malaria drug for a “couple of weeks,” He dismissed widespread concerns about the drug: “I’m not going to get hurt by it.”
Despite the fact that Trump’s own Food and Drug Administration has issued dire warnings about its use on coronavirus patients, Trump said “the only negative” he has heard was from a Department of Veterans Affairs study. Trump dismissed this, claiming VA “aren’t big Trump fans.”
On Fox News, Cavuto pointed out that the VA study Trump cited found that those who took the drug and were in a “vulnerable population, including those with respiratory and other conditions, they died.”
“I cannot stress enough: This will kill you,” Cavuto continued. “This is a leap that should not be taken casually by those watching at home.”
Fox News's Neil Cavuto is stunned by Trump's announcement that he's taking hydroxychloroquine: "If you are in a risky population here, and you are taking this as a preventative treatment ... it will kill you. I cannot stress enough. This will kill you." pic.twitter.com/e6D5alfAgc— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 18, 2020
This was basically a warning to people that they should be extremely cautious and evaluate clinical studies before taking the drug, in keeping with what Trump’s own administration has found, rather than merely accepting Trump’s word for it that it is safe.
That enraged Trump. He retweeted a bunch of his sycophants’ tweets attacking Cavuto. He then declared that Fox News is “no longer the same,” adding: “You have more anti-Trump people, by far, than ever before. Looking for a new outlet!”
Health experts agree with Cavuto. The problem, they pointed out, is that Trump is setting an example to people that could lead them to be overly cavalier in taking the drug. Recall that when Trump floated the idea of injecting disinfectants to combat the novel coronavirus, callers deluged health hotlines in confusion.
In this case, though, Trump might not actually be taking the drug himself. Trump’s doctor released a letter that said only that the two men had discussed the matter and had “concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks,” without saying whether he has prescribed it to the president.
Basically, all Trump’s doctor really did here is help Trump push the public case that hydroxychloroquine is a good treatment for the coronavirus, without saying whether he is subjecting himself to it.
If Trump actually thought there were only benefits and no risks, and wanted to do all he can to get Americans to partake in it, wouldn’t he not just take the drug himself, but also do all he can to ensure that Americans know he’s taking it, including having his doctor clarify this unequivocally?
To be clear, it wouldn’t be any better if Trump actually is taking the drug and told Americans to do the same, given all the warnings that have been issued. Either way, the goal is to create the impression that there’s a miracle cure for the coronavirus, that Trump is heroically trying to bring it to the American people and that the scientists who are standing in the way should not be trusted — never mind the risks. It’s beyond depraved.
Ironically enough, as Matt Gertz demonstrates, this is a message that Fox News itself has pushed relentlessly, Trump’s rage at Cavuto’s apostasy aside.
Whether Trump is actually taking the drug, Cavuto gave viewers actual information they can use to weigh the safety of doing so for themselves. Trump raged over this very act because it made him look bad.
Note the through line here: Just as Trump discredits the VA study’s findings by claiming VA employees aren’t his “fans,” he also discredits Cavuto’s purveying of information by noting that Fox is now “anti-Trump,” as if that alone is enough to settle the credibility of both.
Everything, always, must be evaluated through the prism of whether it is sufficiently hagiographical towards Trump. That’s the sole measure of an information source’s usefulness or reliability. Even if the information in question might enable people to make better decisions that could save their own lives.