It was bad journalism – inadequate in its coverage, inaccurate in its portrayal of what was happening in Oklahoma. The story, first published by a local news agency, suggested for no reason that overdoses in people taking ivermectin to fight Covid-19 were a major factor in the replenishment of hospitals in the state.
There was no evidence of this – and the story didn’t even show that its only named source had claimed it was true. But the flawed story got widespread nonetheless, compiled by major media outlets, and amplified on social media by liberals who wanted to show that the right-wing had gone to the deep end in their growing fondness for ivermectin.
And that wasn’t the end of the mess. Partly due to insufficient evidence, some conservatives soon concluded, for no reason, that the doctor was a liar who made it up. That wasn’t the truth either.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of what went wrong here.
1) A local news agency hailed the doctor’s quotes, giving no context
Ivermectin has traditionally been used by both animals and humans for anti-parasitic purposes. It has grown in popularity as a Covid-19 treatment this year, in part because right-wing media promoted it for that purpose. However, state health officials have warned that ivermectin ingestion can cause serious harm, especially when consumed in forms or amounts designed for animals, and that there is no evidence of effectiveness against Covid-19.
The controversy over Oklahoma history began with an article published last Wednesday by KFOR, an Oklahoma television station. Only one person was quoted in this article: Dr. Jason McElyea, an ambulance doctor who works with various hospitals in southern and eastern Oklahoma.
The article strongly suggested that McElyea had alleged that ivermectin use was a leading cause, perhaps the only leading cause of congestion in Oklahoma hospitals. Aside from taking ivermectin, the story didn’t give a single additional reason why hospitals might be overcrowded.
But there is no evidence, even in the additional interview material KFOR released after the controversy broke out, that McElyea himself put so much blame for ivermectin use. It’s still hard to figure out what exactly happened in the interview – KFOR cut out its reporters’ questions and just showed us the doctor’s answers – but McElyea seemed to be saying that ivermectin use was a factor contributing to the backlog Hospital has contributed, and not just handily or even primarily caused the backlog.
Even if McElyea claimed that ivermectin was the main factor, it would not be sufficient evidence that this was true. The KFOR article failed to quote anyone else who could have provided more context on what was actually going on at the Oklahoma facilities. In contrast, an article published the same day by Oklahoma’s Tulsa World newspaper cited several people focusing on Covid-19 itself as the cause of hospital congestion.
McElyea was also quoted in the Tulsa World article. There, too, he said that for hours he could not find a place in a big city hospital for a gunshot victim he was treating in a small town emergency room – but this article did not list the shortage of suitable beds. back ivermectin. In fact, the article didn’t mention ivermectin at all.
In a brief email to CNN on Monday, McElyea said he was “misquoted” by KFOR. More in an interview with Oklahomas News 9 last Friday, he said, “When the story ran, it sounded like all of the hospitals in Oklahoma were filled with people who overdosed on ivermectin, and it is not.”
KFOR stands by its history. The broadcaster said in an email to CNN on Monday, “KFOR-TV’s coverage of the pandemic, proper COVID-19 safeguards and effective treatment protocols were fact-based, accurate, thorough and consistent. That will continue to be the case. “
2) Aggregators have not verified themselves
In the era of online “aggregation”, it is common for large outlets to jump on a local story and post their own versions with little or no further coverage. But it is a risky practice at best, irresponsible, when the local story is based on a single source.
There was a lot of careless aggregation here. Rolling Stone made an adaptation of the KFOR story without doing enough research to ensure the local report was solid. And Rolling Stone used an even more inflammatory headline: “Gunshot Victims Wait While Horse Deworming Overdoses Overwhelm Oklahoma Hospitals, Doctor Says.” (Rolling Stone, not immediately responding to a request for comment on Tuesday, changed the headline to include an “update” after a hospital McElyea works with issued a statement questioning the original story. We’ll discuss this hospital statement in a moment.)
Other outlets including The Hill, Insider and the UK Daily Mail also published versions of the KFOR story before changing or deleting those versions after the criticism began. (As of Tuesday afternoon, the KFOR story was still online.)
3) Liberal tweeters jumped
The story of ivermectin overdoses overflowing hospitals in Oklahoma was shared on social media by numerous liberal figures with sizeable following. Perhaps the most prominent was MSNBC presenter Rachel Maddow
who shared the KFOR piece with her more than 10 million Twitter followers. (MSNBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.)
There are good reasons for liberals to worry about the effects of taking ivermectin against Covid-19, especially instead of getting vaccinated. But that doesn’t excuse the decision to make thin but sensational claims about the drug’s effects.
4) Some conservative tweeters have jumped to conclusions too
After McElyea received criticism, a hospital he worked with, the Northeastern Health System Sequoyah, issued a statement stating that it had not worked there for more than two months that the hospital had no patients with I’ve seen complications from taking ivermectin and that it “didn’t have to turn away patients seeking emergency care.”
Corners of the right, this statement was taken as definitive evidence that the doctor was a liar. Some of McElyea’s critics have even left him dire reviews on medical websites.
But again, it wasn’t clear that McElyea had actually said something untrue, much less that he had deliberately lied. In addition, these critics ignored the fact that the doctor’s online information showed that he was affiliated with more than one hospital.
Another hospital where McElyea works, INTEGRIS Grove Hospital, opened on Monday. called
“What we can confirm is that we saw a handful of ivermectin patients in our emergency rooms.” The hospital added, “And while our hospitals are not filled with people who have taken ivermectin, such patients are adding to the congestion already caused by COVID-19 and other emergencies.” In a follow-up message on Monday evening, hospital spokeswoman Kristi Wallace said, they had no beds available that night.
So there is confirmation of what McElyea actually said. And while there is no basis for the viral claim that ivermectin overdoses are causing the hospital congestion in Oklahoma, it is possible that ivermectin may play a role.
“While we understand that hospitals across the state are currently struggling with capacity issues, the hospital association has not received any reports of specific medical problems,” Patti Davis of the Oklahoma Hospital Association said in an email on Monday.