They say all politics is local, and at least during the covid-19 pandemic, the same rule applies to the news. That’s why a number of prominent news outlets couldn’t resist a report last week from Oklahoma City-based TV station KFOR with the headline: “Patients overdosing on ivermectin backing up rural Oklahoma hospitals, ambulances.”

The Hill, the New York Daily News, the Guardian, Rolling Stone, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and DailyMail.com bit hard. Here’s how Rolling Stone headlined its follow-up on Sept. 3: “Gunshot Victims Left Waiting as Horse Dewormer Overdoses Overwhelm Oklahoma Hospitals, Doctor Says.”

But the same story on Wednesday night featured this headline: “One Hospital Denies Oklahoma Doctor’s Story of Ivermectin Overdoses Causing ER Delays for Gunshot Victims.” Which is to say, the “story” collapsed.

Ivermectin is a drug used by humans to treat such ailments as lice and scabies, though its more common use is as a dewormer for animals. It has no proven effectiveness in treating covid. Yet some folks have pressed their doctors for prescriptions and others have even trekked to animal-supply stores to grab the livestock version of the drug — a really bad idea. This bout of civic insanity, as The Post’s Philip Bump has noted, is a function of vaccine hesitancy as well as politics, considering that states with the most Web-search interest in ivermectin favored President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Any piece of journalism alleging that emergency rooms are backed up — for whatever reason — would need confirmation from doctors, hospitals, medical associations, health-care executives, or some mixture thereof. The KFOR story had one source, Oklahoma Dr. Jason McElyea, alongside claims attributed to him by KFOR’s Katelyn Ogle. And as Reason’s Robby Soave pointed out, McElyea himself didn’t even make the connection between ivermectin overdoses and stress on hospital resources; that leap was all the work of Ogle. “That original story was just a little misquoted,” said McElyea during an interview with Tulsa’s KOTV.

After the story went viral, two hospitals in eastern Oklahoma — Northeastern Health System-Sequoyah and Integris Grove Hospital — issued statements denying that they had been overrun by ivermectin users. During an interview, Scott Schaeffer, managing director of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information, said that during August, his program had a total of 13 “exposures” stemming from ivermectin, meaning “people who for some reason or another, because they’re worried or they developed symptoms, ended up contacting us.” All but three of those calls, he said, came from the callers’ homes and “we kept those people at home,” meaning that the affliction wasn’t severe enough for a trip to the emergency room. That doesn’t mean there weren’t other situations, but Schaeffer said his center, a program of the University of Oklahoma, keeps in close contact with health-care providers and that if facilities were being overrun, “we would have heard about it.”

All that nitty-gritty is necessary to properly disdain the response of various media outlets to the collapse of the Oklahoma ivermectin story. We’ll take them one by one:

Rachel Maddow

The MSNBC host on Sept. 2 tweeted a quote from the story: “Patients overdosing on ivermectin backing up rural Oklahoma hospitals, ambulances” And: “ ‘The scariest one I’ve heard of and seen is people coming in with vision loss,’ he said.”

Following the story’s collapse, Maddow tweeted “additional context,” according to an MSNBC rep. See second tweet below:

But there was nothing to “chime in on.” The initial “article” was just one doctor talking in general terms about the stresses on hospitals at this time.

The Hill

A fast-churning news aggregation machine, The Hill’s “Changing America” section slapped this headline on its version of the story: “Doctor says ERs overwhelmed with people overdosing on livestock drug ivermectin to treat COVID-19.” After things turned south, the Hill appears to have disappeared the story from its site. It’s tough to attach a retraction to an “Access Denied” page. An inquiry to the Hill has gone unanswered.

New York Daily News

Headline: “Oklahoma having an influx of patients overdosing on Ivermectin.” The story’s text claims an even bigger problem, alleging that there’s been an “overwhelming amount of people needing treatment for overdosing on the drug across Oklahoma.” But the same article cites Schaeffer as saying there have been 11 reports of ivermectin exposure since May. Maybe “underwhelming” would have been a more appropriate characterization? A representative for the Daily News said they appreciate our bringing the matter to their attention and they are changing the story. That change deletes the claim about the “overwhelming amount of people” seeking treatment and replaces it with language saying that “nearly a dozen people” are doing so.

The Guardian

Again — hook, line and sinker: Oklahoma hospitals deluged by ivermectin overdoses, doctor says,” reads the Guardian’s headline.

The site has appended a note to the foot of the piece saying, “This article was amended on 5 September 2021 to include a statement from NHS Sequoyah addressing Dr. McElyea’s comments that was released after publication.” When we asked the Guardian whether the original story met its standards and whether this might be an occasion for a correction or retraction, a representative pointed us to the footnote.

DailyMail.com

Here’s a look at the video presentation for the site’s adaptation of the KFOR story:

It’s unclear what has happened to that presentation; the Erik Wemple Blog can no longer find it on the DailyMail.com site.

Rolling Stone

As noted above, Rolling Stone changed its headline. It also resorted to the most weaselly word — “update” — in the beleaguered editor’s tool kit:

Update: One hospital has denied Dr. Jason McElyea’s claim that ivermectin overdoses are causing emergency room backlogs and delays in medical care in rural Oklahoma, and Rolling Stone has been unable to independently verify any such cases as of the time of this update.
The National Poison Data System states there were 459 reported cases of ivermectin overdose in the United States in August. Oklahoma-specific ivermectin overdose figures are not available, but the count is unlikely to be a significant factor in hospital bed availability in a state that, per the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], currently has a 7-day average of 1,528 Covid-19 hospitalizations. The doctor is affiliated with a medical staffing group that serves multiple hospitals in Oklahoma. Following widespread publication of his statements, one hospital that the doctor’s group serves, NHS Sequoyah, said its ER has not treated any ivermectin overdoses and that it has not had to turn away anyone seeking care. This and other hospitals that the doctor’s group serves did not respond to requests for comment and the doctor has not responded to requests for further comment. We will update if we receive more information.

With those two paragraphs, Rolling Stone explained why its initial write-up merited a retraction. So why call it an “update”? Attempts to extract a comment from Rolling Stone have been unsuccessful.

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson tweeted on Tuesday: “If you’ve found yourself tweeting nonstop about Maddow’s (etc) bad tweet and haven’t really chimed in re: the nonstop stream of anti-vax bull---- emanating from [Fox News] primetime, I think you should ask yourself why you find the first story so much more compelling than the second.”

Fair point about Fox News: It dominates the playing field of false, racist and damaging news coverage in the United States.

Yet there should be no minimizing the two-step horror of what KFOR-Maddow-Daily News-Rolling Stone and others did in this case: First, they failed to see through a phantom story, likely because it tickled their own preconceptions of life in a red state. And second, when the story was exposed, they tweaked a headline, appended an “update,” added a comment or inserted “context” — all of them cowardly quarter-measures at war with any self-respecting book of journalistic standards.

Journalists like to say that when they’re confronted with their errors, they correct them. Ha.