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YouTube suspends Ron Johnson for a week after GOP senator touts questionable drugs to fight covid-19

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) speaks during a Senate Budget Committee hearing to discuss President Biden's budget request for fiscal 2022 on June 8 on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) speaks during a Senate Budget Committee hearing to discuss President Biden's budget request for fiscal 2022 on June 8 on Capitol Hill. (Greg Nash/AP)
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YouTube has suspended Sen. Ron Johnson from uploading videos for one week after the Wisconsin Republican’s account shared a clip in which he touted the supposed benefits of hydroxychloroquine and another drug in fighting covid-19.

According to Fox News Channel, a YouTube spokesperson said the video was in violation of Google’s policy against medical misinformation.

“We removed the video in accordance with our COVID-19 medical misinformation policies, which don’t allow content that encourages people to use Hydroxychloroquine or Ivermectin to treat or prevent the virus,” the spokesperson said, according to Fox News.

YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.

For months, President Donald Trump had promoted hydroxychloroquine as a “game changer” for covid-19 and said he had taken the drug himself. But federal regulators have said it should be used only for hospitalized patients or in clinical trials, because of possible side effects, including serious heart-rhythm issues.

Last June, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that hydroxychloroquine did not prevent healthy people exposed to someone with covid-19 from getting the disease. It showed that the drug was no more effective than a placebo — in this case, a vitamin — in protecting people exposed to covid-19.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Johnson denounced what he described as YouTube’s “Covid censorship” and said the company has “accumulated too much unaccountable power.”

“Big Tech and mainstream media believe they are smarter than medical doctors who have devoted their lives to science and use their skills to save lives,” Johnson said. “They have decided there is only one medical viewpoint allowed and it is the viewpoint dictated by government agencies. How many lives will be lost as a result? How many lives could have been saved with a free exchange of medical ideas? Government-sanctioned censorship of ideas and speech should concern us all.”

Johnson spokeswoman Alexa Henning said the video in question was a virtual event hosted by the Milwaukee Press Club. A full video of the event posted by the press club remained on YouTube until Friday evening, when it was also removed with a message saying it had violated YouTube’s community guidelines.

At one point during the interview, Johnson mentioned his support for hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug that some have touted on social media as something that could end the pandemic despite insufficient evidence that it works as a treatment for covid-19 — as well as the sometimes dangerous consequences when people take the animal version.

“Whether it’s hydroxychloroquine, whether it’s ivermectin, whether it’s multi-drug treatments for early treatment of covid, I think that is one of the real blunders of the previous administration and the current administration and our health agencies in completely ignoring — actually, not only ignoring, but working against robust research, robustly exploring the use of cheap, generic drugs that can be repurposed for early treatment of covid,” Johnson said during the event.

Johnson’s hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin claims are just the latest instance of the senator dispensing false or questionable information about covid-19 and playing down the seriousness of the pandemic.

Last year, he suggested it would not be worth shutting down the economy even if 3.4 percent of the U.S. population — or more than 11 million people — might die of covid-19. In April, he said he was “getting highly suspicious” of the push to vaccinate as many people as possible against covid.

Johnson, who was elected as a tea party darling in 2010 and has since become a hard-right Trump loyalist, has also been embroiled in plenty of controversy unrelated to covid-19 in recent months. He has tried to play down the severity of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, which left five people dead and injured scores of police officers. At one Capitol Hill hearing about the insurrection, Johnson tried to distance Trump supporters from the riot and suggested without evidence that “antifa or other leftist agitators” had been among the rioters.

In March, Johnson intentionally delayed the passage of President Biden’s coronavirus relief bill by forcing Senate aides to read aloud all 628 pages of the bill’s text. That same month, he appeared on a conservative news radio show to say that he had “never felt threatened” by Capitol rioters — but that he might have been scared if they had been Black Lives Matter or antifa protesters. His remarks prompted Democrats and some anti-Trump Republicans to call on him to step down.

Johnson, whose second term is ending in 2022, had originally promised he would not serve a third term but has lately said he would consider running again.

Laurie McGinley contributed to this report.