Accuracy in Media

BuzzFeed News blamed President Donald Trump for promoting chloroquine, a drug that could potentially be used in the treatment of COVID-19, and that his promotion of the drug directly contributed to a man’s death.

Though chloroquine has not yet been approved by public health officials for the treatment of the coronavirus, Trump has said there is some promise in initial testing.

Their deceptive story, headlined, “A Man Died After Self-Medicating With A Drug Trump Promoted As A Potential Treatment For The Coronavirus,” did detail how an Arizona man died and his wife was hospitalized after self-medicating.

But the couple did not take the drug in question. Instead, they ingested fish tank cleaner they already had on hand.

“I was in the pantry stacking dog food and I just saw it sitting in the back shelf and thought, ‘Hey, isn’t that the stuff they’re talking about on TV?’ And it was,” NBC News quoted the woman as saying.

It was not.

“Instead of the drug form of chloroquine phosphate, the couple ingested a chloroquine phosphate product that’s used to treat parasites in fish,” a doctor told Forbes.

Even with that information, BuzzFeed’s coverage blamed Trump for promoting chloroquine and wrongly claimed that his actions led to a person’s death. And BuzzFeed acknowledged that information in their own piece:

“Dr. Daniel Brooks, medical director of the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center, said that the aquarium additive that the couple ingested has the same active ingredients as the anti-malaria drug chloroquine. However, the formula activated differently than the prescription, Alexis Kramer-Ainza, spokesperson for Banner Health, told BuzzFeed News, making them seriously ill.”

Contrast BuzzFeed News’ deceptive headline with CNN and NBC News: CNN headlined the news, “Fearing coronavirus, Arizona man dies after taking a form of chloroquine used to treat aquariums.” The cable news network did not take the same stance as BuzzFeed News and noted that the couple attempted to self-medicate and erroneously took the fish tank cleaner additive, not the pharmaceutical version of the drug.

NBC News echoed a similar tone as CNN and wrote that the couple “unfortunately equated the chloroquine phosphate with the medication – known as hydroxychloroquine.” But unlike BuzzFeed, neither blamed Trump for the man’s death.

BuzzFeed News should change its headline to accurately reflect the news, not to promote a narrative critical of Trump.

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