No, The Horse Goo People Are Not Clogging The ICUs
Once again, media outlets fell for the sweetheart narrative instead of verifying the story
A few days ago, Rolling Stone published a blockbuster story in which it claimed that in rural Oklahoma ICU beds and ambulances were in such short supply that critically injured patients were having to be turned away due to lack of capacity. The reason? The ICUs were being overrun and ambulances were being overburdened with patients who had overdosed on the drug ivermectin, which has been touted online as a treatment / prophylactic for COVID-19. Rolling Stone cites an interview conducted by KFOR, a local news publication, in which Dr. Jason McElyea seems to be making the case that the reason for the ICU bed and ambulance shortages is directly linked to the ivermectin overdoses.
Problem is, the story is fabricated. Not embellished, fabricated. As in straight up fake news.
The hospital that Dr. McElyea claims to work for issued a statement that he was never an official employee of the hospital, has not worked on-site in over two months, the hospital has not received any patients suffering from an ivermectin overdose, and that their ER has not turned away any patients.
And if you think this could get any worse for Rolling Stone, well, buckle up. As Reason’s Robby Soave reports, and I can confirm after reading the original KFOR piece, Dr. McElyea never explicitly said that the ICU and ambulance shortage was directly due to ivermectin overdoses. The writer of the KFOR story, Katelyn Ogle, makes that inference at the beginning of her piece but at no point does she quote McElyea linking the two. Instead, she mashes up a bunch of quotes from McElyea on the shortages and the dangers of self-medicating with ivermectin in order to give the impression that he is saying something he isn’t.
Instead of doing any original reporting or the bare minimum of fact-checking like, oh I don’t know, calling the hospital McElyea claimed to work at to verify that the story presented by KFOR was accurate, the publication decided to run with the narrative it presented. I’ll let the update that Rolling Stone has issued on their piece speak for itself
“Update: One hospital has denied Dr. Jason McElyea’s claim that ivermectin overdoses are causing emergency room backlogs and delays in medical care in rural Oklahoma, and Rolling Stone has been unable to independently verify any such cases as of the time of this update.
The National Poison Data System states there were 459 reported cases of ivermectin overdose in the United States in August. Oklahoma-specific ivermectin overdose figures are not available, but the count is unlikely to be a significant factor in hospital bed availability in a state that, per the CDC, currently has a 7-day average of 1,528 Covid-19 hospitalizations. The doctor is affiliated with a medical staffing group that serves multiple hospitals in Oklahoma. Following widespread publication of his statements, one hospital that the doctor’s group serves, NHS Sequoyah, said its ER has not treated any ivermectin overdoses and that it has not had to turn away anyone seeking care. This and other hospitals that the doctor’s group serves did not respond to requests for comment and the doctor has not responded to requests for further comment. We will update if we receive more information.”
In other words, Rolling Stone got caught running a story that panders to the confirmation bias of its readers. Again.
There is no excuse for this kind of error, especially from Rolling Stone. Verifying a fantastical story isn’t some esoteric concept, it’s literally Editing 101. Picking up the phone and calling a source or sending them an email to verify their quotes, especially if a publication did not get them directly from the source, is basic fact-checking. It takes maybe 10 minutes and saves your writer and your publication from a world of embarrassment. Instead, Rolling Stone decided that the story was just too perfect to be fact-checked.
You already know the rest of the story — the Rolling Stone piece instantly went viral, with the usual bluecheck suspects gleefully tweeting it out as it was proof that the people they don’t like were both suffering and causing the suffering of others, other news outlets lined up to write pieces about the Rolling Stone piece (I’ll be writing more on this phenomenon in my next post), and an overall social media meltdown.
Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before. Because you have, right down to Soave doing the work that other journalists seem unwilling to do.
I have plenty to say on the media coverage on this story, enough to warrant its own post on the rise of what I unaffectionately call churnalism (stay tuned), but there is a point I want to make on the ivermectin angle; the actual story of what lengths people are going to in obtaining and using the drug is mind-melting to the point where no further elaboration is needed. There have been multiple Twitter threads of screenshots from private Facebook groups where members coach each other on how to obtain and administer ivermectin meant for horses.
If you were wondering where the “horse goo” line comes from, check out the link above. It is absolutely batshit and may cause you to lose faith in humanity, but there are tens of thousands of people trying to dose themselves with horse dewormer because they cannot get ahold of the ivermectin meant for humans.
That’s it. That’s the story. It needs no embellishment. Nobody needs to make up a shortage of ICU beds or ambulances. There are tens of thousands of people who seem to have lost their goddamn minds. You can stop right there and report on that.
Are there or will there be cases of patients going to the ER for an ivermectin overdose? Sure, humans can overdose on the drug if not under proper medical care and regiment. Are those cases accounting for the surge in ICU hospitalizations? No, that is due to unvaccinated people falling ill with the Delta variant. The desire for media outlets to latch on to unsubstantiated stories about the Bad People, however, seems to outweigh the need for any objectivity or even basic perfunctory journalism.
As mentioned above, there will be a Part Two to this story and maybe even a Part Three depending on how hard I want to go on this absolute media cluster...
The vaccinated are ending up in the hospital and dying too. Too soon to tell how well the vaccines prevented higher mortality
This is yet another golden opportunity for the media outlets and journalists who spread this flatly inaccurate story: for self-reflection, process examination, course correction, and public disclosure.
And an opportunity, as well, for the nation's community of journalists and their professional organizations to reassert best – and necessary – practices for fact checking prior to publication, and on correction v. retraction on media websites and in social media feeds.
Will any of them do so here? Past experience makes one skeptical: too many highly similar instances have occurred in recent years without any notable public reckoning.
Yet in the hopes that this high profile gaffe might have inflicted sufficient embarrassment and reputational loss, it'd be worth looking for both article corrections and social posts over the next couple of weeks from:
* The media outlets who uncritically spread this story beyond KFOR. Along with Rolling Stone, these included, but were not limited to, The Hill, the New York Daily News, Insider (formerly Business Insider), Newsweek, and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Lauren Peikoff (both via tweets), along with some local news stations.
(And in the UK, The Guardian and The Daily Mail.)
* The reporters and editors at each such outlet who either adapted and further shared, or republished, this story without doing basic fact checking.
* Professional organizations and publications, such as the Society of Professional Journalists and the Columbia Journalism Review.
As well, it'll be instructive to see which outlets formally retract the story, rather than issuing corrections. And/or take down their social posts about it, ideally also putting up new ones (referencing or screenshotting the prior, erroneous posts).