Granted, Fox News host Neil Cavuto’s presentation of the risks posed by use of the drug was less nuanced. He noted the Department of Veterans Affairs study and another undertaken in New York after the emergence of the pandemic which showed that the drug wasn’t efficacious at treating the disease.
“If you are in a risky population here, and you are taking this as a preventative treatment to ward off the virus or, in a worst-case scenario, you are dealing with the virus and you are in this vulnerable population, it will kill you,” he said on Monday. “I cannot stress enough. This will kill you.”
“This is a leap that should not be taken casually by those watching at home,” he added.
Why would they? Because the president of the United States, minutes earlier, had indicated that he himself was taking the medication as a preventive measure against the disease.
“The only negative I’ve heard was the study where they gave it — was it the VA? People that aren’t big Trump fans,” President Trump told reporters. He then reiterated his shrug of a defense against using it broadly: “What do you have to lose?”
At some point on Monday evening, Trump caught wind of Cavuto’s real-time contradiction of his embrace of the medication. He retweeted six different criticisms of Cavuto’s remarks, including one using a vulgar term to describe the Fox host.
“CAVUTO IS AN IDIOT. THIS DRUG DOES NOT KILL PEOPLE,” Trump superfan Bill Mitchell tweeted, with the president retweeting him soon after.
It was an unusual, though not unprecedented, attack by Trump against an employee of the network he watches and promotes with abandon. In the past, Trump has objected to reporting or information from other Fox News personalities, including former Fox anchor Megyn Kelly and the network’s well-regarded polling team. He has used his bully pulpit to try to cow the network explicitly, encouraging his supporters to look to alternatives and even boosting the rival network One America News, an ostentatiously pro-Trump outlet.
In his tirade against Cavuto, he did the same thing.
Roger Ailes was a political strategist who helped create the network. Prior to his presidential bid, Trump had a weekly call-in segment on the network’s morning show “Fox & Friends” that provided him a platform to build his political voice — a segment given to him by Ailes. Ailes resigned from the network during the Republican convention in 2016 after having been credibly accused of sexually harassing network employees, including Kelly.
Again, this isn’t unprecedented. Fox News’s audience overlaps with Trump’s base of support heavily, and Trump clearly believes that he can use his criticism and calls for a boycott to nudge the network more firmly in his direction. Nor is his beef with Cavuto new. He has sparred with the host before, including back in February when a guest criticized Trump’s debate performances during the 2016 election.
What sets Trump’s current pique apart is how quickly he made obvious what his real objection was to the network’s coverage. It’s not that he thinks Fox News is slipping generally, or that he sincerely wants a new outlet. It’s that he wants the network to be unfailing in its support of his candidacy and presidency.
After all, only hours after lamenting the departure of Ailes, Trump celebrated a ratings victory by his old colleagues at “Fox & Friends.”
Looks like he’s not shopping around for a new outlet in the 6 to 10 a.m. block. Nor should he be. “Fox & Friends” has mirrored prime-time hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham in adhering overwhelmingly to Trump’s political positions and rhetoric.
The past 24 hours weren’t an exception. Ingraham, who has boosted hydroxychloroquine repeatedly (and dubiously) on her show, pondered why the media was “freaking out” about Trump’s claim. On Tuesday morning, the hosts at “Fox & Friends” invited a guest to discuss Trump’s announcement: White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. She supported Trump’s position.
Twice last year, Trump criticized the network for having “forgotten the people who got them there,” a tacit reference to the tug-of-war between him and the network over his base of support. Fox News viewers are an important backstop for the president, with Republicans who watch Fox News being the group least likely to say that there’s anything Trump could do that would make them stop supporting his presidency.
That said, it’s also the case that Republicans are more likely to trust Trump than the network. A poll taken earlier this month found that two-thirds of Republicans would trust information from Trump over information from the network if the two were in conflict.
In the case of Cavuto vs. Trump, May 2020 iteration, that conflict is unusually important. Fox News viewers are being asked to believe either that Trump’s use of hydroxychloroquine is at worst innocuous and, at best, potentially lifesaving — or that, as Cavuto put it, there’s a significant risk of death associated with its use and no non-anecdotal evidence of its efficacy.
In this case, there’s an outside arbiter: the FDA. Its opinion on the matter is at the top of this article. On May 4, Ingraham offered her thoughts on the FDA’s decision.
“The FDA, I hate to say it, they got this one wrong big time,” she said. Trump declined to use this conflict with his administration as a reason to invoke the Ailes era at Fox News.