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How Fox News Handled Trump’s Disinfectant Gaffe

The day after President Trump mused about disinfectant injections and interior light as cures for Covid-19, he tried to make it go away, saying he was just being "sarcastic". It was not the first time the president, esteemed as a television adept, seemed to forget that he stages his daily briefings precisely to be on television, that they are recorded, that they are then played back endlessly on news programs. He doubles the ridicule by trying to contradict what we plainly heard him say and the way he said it.

Fox personalities that night were silent. The next day, beginning even on Trump's favorite show, the fawning "Fox & Friends", Steve Doucy said injecting disinfectants "is poisonous", and several during the day warned viewers that "it's not safe" and "please don't try this at home". But none were critical of the president for saying it until Bret Baier allowed "it is clearly something he clearly stepped in".

Fault finding would go no further. That night — prime time, when far more watch the channel — reporter Trace Gallagher had this to say:

"One day after the president suggested that light and disinfectant might have potential to treat Covid-19, the White House says the media took the president's comments out of context and the president said it was sarcasm."

Cut away to video of Trump at the White House that next day in which the president said to reporters in the Oval Office,

"I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen".

After that, Gallagher wrapped with:

"The Department of Homeland Security did say that sunshine and household bleach are extremely effective at killing the virus on surfaces."

That's all folks! Gallagher and the "Hannity" program let stand Trump's total lie. We are unaware of any further coverage of the incident on Fox. Did its viewers ever see the video?

"Out of context" has become the reflexive excuse every politician reaches for to feebly explain a gaffe. As a service to history, here is the entire context, everything President Trump said. See if you can find the sarcasm, or the "question to reporters":

"So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it's ultra-violet or just very powerful light, and I think you said that hasn't been checked and you're going to test it [turning Homeland Security Acting Under-Secretary Bill Bryan who Trump had been asked to study heat, light, and disinfectant and report on them] and then I said supposing you brought the light inside the body which you can do either through the skin or in some other way and [turning again to Bryan] I think you said you're going to test that too? Sounds interesting.

"And then I see the disinfectant [on surfaces] knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number, so it would be interesting to check that, so you're going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me.

"A lot of people have been talking about summer. Maybe this is one of the reasons. We've, uh, I once mentioned that maybe it does go away with heat and light and people didn't like that statement very much. The fake news didn't like it at all and I just threw it out as a suggestion, but it seems like that's the case.

[To Bryan] "I would like you to speak to the medical doctors to see if there is any way you can apply light and heat to cure, you know, if you could, and maybe you can, maybe you can't. Again, I say maybe you can, maybe you can't. I'm not a doctor. I'm like a person that has a good you know what. Deborah [turning to Dr. Birx] have you ever heard of that, the heat and the light relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?"

Dr. Birx evaded the question referring to fever as a response to a virus. Phil Rucker of The Washington Post followed, taking issue with Mr. Trump:

"Sir, you're the president and people tuning in to these briefings, they want to get information and guidance and want to know what to do. They're not looking for rumors".

Trump's reply:

"Phil, Phil, I'm the president and you're fake news and you know what I'll say to you? I'll say very nicely, I know you well, I know you well because I know the guy, I see what he writes, he's a total faker, so are you ready? Are you ready? It's just a suggestion. From a brilliant lab, by a very, very smart, perhaps brilliant man. He's talking about sun, he's talking about heat, and you see the numbers. So that's it. That's all I have. I'm just here to present talent. I'm here to present ideas because we want ideas to get rid of this thing. If heat is good and if sunlight is good, that's a great thing as far as I'm concerned."

The makers of Clorox and Lysol felt they had to issue formal warnings to the public not to inject or ingest their products. Health hotlines around the country were besieged with questions causing states such as Maryland and Washington to issue public advisories not to take disinfectants.

dr. trump

Mr. Trump seems to put science, medicine and controlled studies on equal footing with rumor and anecdotes, said Sudip Parikh, a biochemist who is chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society. With hardly any evidence in support, the president had heavily promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, as a cure for those ill with Covid-19. “I think it could be something really incredible,” Mr. Trump said on March 19th.

A New York Times analysis reported that on that day, on only the president's say-so, prescriptions for the drug jumped by more than 46 times the normal weekday volume: 32,000 were written by doctors and in specialties having nothing to do with infectious diseases. The surge continued in the days that followed, with prescriptions running at almost five times the norm. Fox News anchors were eager to echo the president's enthusiasm. Laura Ingraham, especially, championed the drug on her nighttime show, even to the extent of visiting the president in the Oval Office to press for its use.

A weeks-long controversy ensued with those promoting hydroxychloroquine pointing to success stories, and health experts calling such results anecdotal. Advocacy of a drug used often in conjunction with the antibiotic, azithromycin — a combination that could cause heart problems — paid little heed to the dangers it could pose. Moreover, its use showed inconclusive outcomes with Covid-19 patients. It is certainly not a cure, is a palliative at best, and evidence was in numbers too small for being statistically reliable.

Negative reports began to flow in. Doctors at a New York hospital confirmed the hazard, reporting that heart rhythm abnormalities developed in most of 84 Covid-19 patients treated with the drug combination Trump promoted as "a game-changer". It changed the game for an Arizona coupled who self administered a variant — hydroxychloroquine phosphate. Both died.

The Veterans Administration reported that in a group of 368 patients, again not a large enough number but the largest so far, more had died (28%) in the group who had taken hydroxychloroquine than among those who had not (11%). That was followed by the Food and Drug Administration warning physicians against use of the drug except in hospitals where its effect on the heart can be monitored against its inducing too-fast heartbeats called ventricular tachycardia.

Suddenly, all went silent at the White House, and there's been no further mention at Fox, not even from Ms. Ingraham.

meanwhile, what the right hand was doing

At the same time that Trump was advocating disinfectants as "almost a cleaning" of the lungs, his administration declined to tighten regulations on industrial soot emissions, the fine airborne particulates called PM 2.5 that are about 1/30th the width of a human hair. Also at the same time, a Harvard study found that people who lived in areas with high degrees of air pollution — breathing in PM 2.5 soot for years — are more likely to die from Covid-19.

But the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, said the scientific evidence for the regulation, months in the works after years of study, is insufficient. EPA's public health experts point to their own research that shows PM 2.5 leads to tens of thousands of premature deaths annually. Wheeler was a coal industry lobbyist before Trump appointed him to get rid of environmental regulations. The New York Times reported that his decision "brought praise from Republican lawmakers and the nation's oil companies and manufacturers".

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