Rachel Maddow Wards Off Disinfo with Disinforming Tweet

Glenn Greenwald is right about this one

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Something has happened — a rare thing that used to happen all the time, but now arrives roughly every 18 months, like a solar eclipse: Glenn Greenwald has posted something factually correct and only minimally annoying. Specifically, yesterday he tweeted about The Rachel Maddow Show.

Last week, the MSNBC pundit boosted a hoax story on ivermectin overdoses, joining a slew of liberal media outlets in mindlessly digesting the disputed news into another stern missive about COVID-related disinformation. In her rush to warn viewers about the dangers of misinformation, she did not have time to fact-check. Unlike several other outlets, Maddow still hasn’t deleted, updated, or clarified the error.

The original story came from a local NBC-affiliate in Oklahoma KFOR, which reported last week that “patients overdosing on ivermectin,” were “backing up rural Oklahoma hospitals [and] ambulances.” The piece suggested that patients self-medicating with horse-sized doses of the dewormer had created such an E.R. backlog that “gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities.”

Ivermectin, a medication used to treat parasitic worms in both humans and animals, has become the latest faulty Covid cure on the right (the FDA cautions against it in this oddly intimate explainer that begins: “COVID-19. We’ve been living with it for what sometimes seems like forever.”) It’s also become an emblem of anti-vaxx stupidity on the left, making the KFOR report perfect fodder for the “do better” school of news aggregation. The original piece got picked up by several outlets including Rolling Stone, Insider, Newsweek, The New York Daily News, and The Guardian.

KFOR’s report hinged on an interview with a single source — an E.R. doctor named Jason McElyea. But the hospital where Dr. McElyea occasionally works, Northeastern Health System Sequoyah, released a statement disputing his account. According to their statement, the hospital has “not had to turn away any patients seeking emergency care.” Dr. McElyea, the hospital wrote, was not an employee of NHS Sequoyah, though he had been affiliated with a “medical staffing group that provides coverage for our emergency room.” The independent contractor had not worked at their Sallisaw, Oklahoma location in “over two months,” nor had he treated “any patients due to complications related to taking ivermectin.”

This wasn’t the first time an ivermectin-related report proved to be overhyped. On Aug. 23, the Associated Press reported that 70 percent of recent calls to the Mississippi Poison Control Center came “from people who had ingested ivermectin to try to treat COVID-19.” In a correction published two days later, the wire service clarified: it was actually two percent.

A spokesperson for KFOR defended their Oklahoma piece in an email to Gawker: “KFOR-TV’s reporting regarding the pandemic, proper COVID-19 safety precautions, and effective treatment protocols has been fact-based, accurate, thorough, and consistent. It will continue to be so.” (Neither NHS Sequoyah or The Rachel Maddow Show immediately replied to Gawker’s request for comment.)

The doctor has argued that his statements were taken out of context. And to his credit, nowhere in the piece does Dr. McElyea explicitly attribute hospital backlogs to ivermectin overdoses, despite the headline’s claim. But it was KFOR’s framing that made its way around the internet. Several outlets, including Rolling Stone and Insider, have issued corrections to their pieces. Maybe Maddow, who just scored an allegedly $30 million deal to “work less,” could spend some of her free time deleting that tweet.

Update: After this story was published, Maddow posted a follow-up clarifying her initial tweet.