The Curious Calm Before the Storm
“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” –Aristotle
In February of 2020, China reported the general success of numerous clinical trials for treating COVID-19 patients with chloroquine (CQ) and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ). Chinese health officials voted unanimously to institute a chloroquine protocol as the standard of care for COVID-19 patients. That same month, both China and South Korea publicly committed to medicating COVID-19 patients with HCQ and CQ. By that time, many rationale papers (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and one by the world’s most published infectious disease expert) had already been published in the medical literature recommending one or both of HCQ and CQ as promising drugs for treating novel or known coronaviruses (generally as well as specifically SARS-CoV-2).
However, it is a curious fact that the Western media found nothing at all interesting worth reporting about any of that through the first 78 days of 2020.
Given what we know about the history of drugs of the cinchona tree, China’s announcement of highly positive results from HCQ/CQ experiments, the commitments of numerous nations (South Korea, China, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Turkey, and others) during that time to a standard of care using HCQ or CQ for COVID-19 patients, one might expect that some one single person among the vast American press corps had something to say on the topic. Something. Anything.
On February 6, John Arnst published an article entitled, “Could an old malaria drug help fight the new coronavirus?” in the member magazine of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The article cites a letter in Cell Research written by scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology proposing immediate study of CQ as a treatment, then quotes a professor at the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute as saying, “it seems like chloroquine can be used as an early-stage drug” [treatment for COVID-19].
Nobody in traditional media picked up on the story.
On February 13, the English-language news outlet China Daily published an article identifying HCQ as a potential treatment for SARS-CoV-2.
Still no words from the mainstream media.
On February 20, Nigerian journalist Adekanye Modupeoluwa published an article with The Guardian Nigeria referencing a Nigerian doctor’s enthusiasm over CQ as a coronavirus treatment along with ensuing discussion on Twitter. But the conversation never reached the Western media.
The Guardian itself did not follow up on the story during the first 78 days of 2020.
On February 25, Dr. Didier Raoult, the world famous infectious disease researcher who published a rationale paper in favor of testing HCQ, released a video suggesting HCQ or CQ should be used to fight the novel coronavirus early before patients are even hospitalized. The next day he was interviewed by French journalist Mathilde Ceilles about his intention to put the inexpensive medication to the test. The day after that, the Russian Times interviewed him.
Strangely, nobody in the American media seemed to notice.
On February 26, the UK added CQ to the list of medicines illegal to export. This seems like a strange measure for a widely manufactured drug that isn’t yet worth discussing in the media. It’s almost as if they wanted to ensure their domestic supply…for some reason. That same day, around 20 redditors had a sourced discussion about HCQ and CQ in the r/COVID19 subreddit.
Where were the English and American media on this story?
More appropriately, where were Western public health officials in the discussion?
The popular maker of medical videos, MedCram, featured a video expressing “cautious optimism” of COVID-19 treatment with chloroquine and zinc on March 10. That day an Italian doctor began treating hundreds of COVID-19 outpatients with HCQ (none died in sharp contrast with mortality rates that peaked just under 50% at that same time in Italy). The very next day, the University of Oxford (perhaps you’ve heard of it) began recruiting patients for a randomized control trial (RCT) to test HCQ as treatment for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
Apparently zero Western journalists were paying attention or found any of that interesting enough to give a passing mention. Perhaps they were too busy peddling COVID fear porn to pay attention to what medical researchers were talking about. Whose job is that anyway?
On March 13, in the midst of deafening media silence, Dr. James Todaro and Gregory Rigano published a 15-page document entitled, “An Effective Treatment for Coronavirus (COVID-19)” noting the Chinese and South Korean treatment protocols and the historical research suggestive of the HCQ Hypothesis. The paper reads a bit rushed with wholesale parts copied directly from sources suggesting the pair wanted to break the ice just as Raoult’s research was reaching publication. After all, this was a topic clearly worth more discussion than it was receiving.
According to the Washington Post, during the first 17 days of March, “a large group purchasing organization for 4,000 U.S. hospitals…showed a 300 percent week-over-week increase in orders of chloroquine and a 70 percent week-over-week boost in orders of hydroxychloroquine.” That is to say that many doctors and hospital administrators were paying attention, yet no single journalist seems to have asked medical professionals what they were doing to prepare for the pandemic.
On March 17, the University of Minnesota posted a press release announcing its own RCT testing HCQ as a post-exposure prophylactic for SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19. The American press did not show the slightest interest in hydroxychloroquine or that trial until March 19.
What happened on March 19, 2020?
During the March 19 Coronavirus Task Force press briefing, President Trump first mentioned hope that hydroxychloroquine “could be a game changer” in the fight against COVID-19.
So, did nobody at all in the medical community communicate the clearly high interest in studying HCQ as the first drug off the shelf to test against SARS-CoV-2? Did not a single journalist do the basic footwork to find out what drug(s) might be on that list? Were the words of the most well-published infectious disease expert not enough to pique one iota of curiosity? Is every last person at every major media outlet completely incompetent?
It gets worse. The day before Trump’s now-infamous press conference, Google removed the document prepared by Todaro and Rigano from public view. This meant that the sharp spike in Americans using Google (or any other search engine) to learn about HCQ were left hunting through what was only a thin gruel of largely technical medical information. Why did Google want to keep you from reading the one document that laid out the evidence-to-date for a lay audience?
On face, it certainly appears that complete silence in the public sphere about hydroxychloroquine’s potential was coordinated by powerful media forces.
Of course, we all know what happened next. The press descended on Trump in a frenzy as if he had suggested hope in treating patients with arsenic. That itself is its own story for another day.