By Stuart Emmrich
President Donald Trump announced at a White House event on Monday that he has been taking the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine for “a couple of weeks” as a preventive measure against COVID-19.
A lot of people don’t believe him.
Immediately after the startling announcement, dozens of critics took to Twitter to doubt the president’s claim. “Raise your hand if you think that Trump is lying about taking #Hydroxychloroquine,” tweeted the widely followed health advocate Peter Morley. “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that Trump, who has been known to lie once or twice, is lying about taking hydroxychloroquine,” added the political commentator Emma Vigeland. “It’s so obvious that it’s almost not worth pointing out, but Trump saying he’s taking hydroxychloroquine is one of his oldest media tactics,” tweeted the Vanity Fair political reporter Gabriel Sherman. “In this case, say something outrageous to hijack news cycle and distract from 90K dead Americans.”
In a long Twitter thread, the former New York Times reporter and best-selling author Kurt Eichenwald stated: “Speaking as someone who has known Trump for decades, I promise you he is lying about taking hydroxychloroquine. I also expect he will soon trot out some physician to lyingly confirm he is or will drop the topic and deny he ever said it. The purpose of EVERY Trump lie is some form of personal aggrandizement—either reconfirming his deluded sense of ‘greatness’ or informing people he is right when he is wrong. Add to that—the man is stupid. Taking hydroxychloroquine falls directly into that lie/stupidity pattern.”
Rolling Stone was even blunter in its report headlined, “Trump Says He’s Taking Hydroxychloroquine, But He Also Lies Daily.” The New York Times also seemed to quickly realize that perhaps Trump was not entirely truthful, changing its initial headline on its story “Trump Is Taking Drug That Doctors Say Carries a Risk” to the more qualified “Trump Says He Is Taking Drug …”
The next morning, the skepticism continued. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “It’s reckless to tell people he is using hydroxychloroquine.” Then he questioned why the president would even take such a step: “Maybe he’s just lying. This president doesn’t tell the truth. He may be taking this, he may not. What he does is whatever suits his ego at the moment.” (Earlier, host Joe Scarborough had weighed in with his own opinion: “Let me assure you the president of the United States is not taking hydroxychloroquine.” He then added: “He is not taking something that his own administration said will kill you.”)
Researchers have been studying hydroxychloroquine to see if the drug can help treat or prevent the coronavirus. But several recent studies have raised doubts about its effectiveness. The Food and Drug Administration has warned against using hydroxychloroquine “outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems.” The National Institutes of Health has also advised that doctors use caution when prescribing it.
When reporters asked why Trump was taking a drug whose effectiveness against COVID-19 had not been established and whose potential dangers had been widely reported, the president answered: “It seems to have an impact, and maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. But if it doesn’t, you’re not going to get sick or die. What do you have to lose?”
That answer didn’t seem to reassure Neil Cavuto, one of the daytime hosts on the normally Trump-friendly Fox News, who referred to a Veterans Administration study that showed that hydroxychloroquine posed a severe risk to the elderly or those with underlying conditions. “It was a test on patients there, and those who took it in a vulnerable population, including those with respiratory or other conditions, they died,” Cavuto said, looking agitated. “I want to stress again: They died. 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. I cannot stress enough: This will kill you.” (Immediately after Cavuto went off the air, Greg Gutfeld, one of the hosts of The Five, came on and delivered a far different message about hydroxychloroquine. “If it’s available to you and you can take it, you do it,” Gutfeld said. “That’s a prudent way of looking at it.”)
On Monday evening, the White House released a memo from the presidential physician, Dr. Sean Conley, saying that Trump “is in very good health and has remained symptom-free” and that the president receives “regular COVID-19 testing, all negative to date.” Conley did not, however, say whether he’d actually prescribed the drug to Trump. (On Tuesday morning, the White House was more emphatic, with press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, telling CBS News that she could “absolutely confirm” that Trump was taking hydroxychloroquine. “He said it,” she stated. “The president should be taken at his word.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went on Anderson Cooper 360 on Monday night to express her concern for the president’s health, a message that not everyone took literally. “He’s our president. I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group, and in his, shall we say, weight group,” Pelosi said, before adding, with what seemed to be a trace of a smile: “Morbidly obese, they say.”
The actor and director Ken Olin tweeted immediately afterward: “@SpeakerPelosi just shoved in the knife, and twisted it, so elegantly.” And one of his followers commented, “Anderson should win an Emmy for keeping a straight face.”