When a Doctor Claims He Was Fired Politically Over HCQ the Press Leaps to His Defense Without Checking the Facts

AP Photo/John Locher

A doctor opposing President Trump is just too good of a story for the media to check.

It is the kind of story that the media was just waiting to come out. A prominent doctor working on a coronavirus cure with a government research group says he was fired for pushing back against President Trump’s allegedly reckless claims about the drug hydroxychloroquine. It sounded so perfectly in line with the media narrative that vetting the details was not apparently needed.

The report surrounds Dr. Rick Bright, who was Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness. He declared that he had been reassigned to a lesser position in another department, something he says was a result of his insisting the organization resort to safe and scientifically verified solutions, ‘’not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit.’’

He also claims this was directly attributable to his stance on resisting the use of HCQ, and the demotion was the result of ”politics or cronyism.’’ The New York Times has a detailed rundown of Dr.Bright’s claims, as did Politico. CNN’s Jake Tapper also weighed in with a lengthy and detailed Twitter thread, giving Dr. Bright every chance to get his views out to the public.

Dr. Bright points specifically to his resistance to using HCQ.

Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the Administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit.’’

His explanation of things is peppered throughout with claims that his demotion is entirely rooted in political motivations. Jake Tapper played along, adding a separate tweet that was designed to put a bow on the accusations.

The telling part is in this doctor describing a drug that had been on the market for 60 years as ‘’unproven’’. It smacks of an individual intent on framing HCQ as a wildcard medication based simply on the fact that President Trump recommends it. HCQ has been made available since the 1950s. It is a known commodity and is mass-produced in generic form by numerous drug makers.

Even the use of this malarial drug for other maladies is not unknown. It is frequently prescribed for over a dozen other off-label applications. Millions of patients take this regularly, to the extent we have heard of threats to the supply chain if applied to the viral outbreak. This is not a mysterious medication, and a doctor suggesting that a drug decades on the market needs to be submitted to clinical trials is employing misdirection.

One brief indicator that something more is afoot, the doctor, who was an Obama administration appointee, has already lawyered up due to the demotion. He has taken as his counsel the DC-based law firm Katz, Marshall & Banks. This is the firm that represented Christine Blasey-Ford during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. But there are more glaring details to suggest that more than political expediency might be at play.

Politico managed to include this telling passage in describing the decision to remove Dr. Bright– ”The move was more than a year in the making — Bright had clashed with department leaders about his decisions and the scope of his authority.’’ This would indicate an individual who had established a confrontational relationship with the heads in his department, and not some outside political pressure.

Then we get, in relation to the decision that was now made, more details that justified the decision.

“BARDA was not as responsive during the crisis” as it could have been, said one former official. “Rather than prioritizing therapeutics that could be available in weeks, Bright focused on products that would take weeks or months.” For instance, BARDA didn’t make what’s known as a broad agency announcement to solicit potential investments in diagnostics, vaccines or treatments until March, five weeks after HHS Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency over the COVID-19 outbreak.

This would seem to indicate either bureaucratic foot-dragging or politically motivated obstinance. Whichever can be pointed to, in a time of crisis it indicates actions (or more specifically, inaction) which runs contrary to finding a solution. Certainly, a doctor who is steadfastly against the use of a drug that is a long-known quantity while it has been not only vetted but endorsed by scores of doctors across the globe is a sign of a problem.

If there is a political component here it would appear to rest with Dr. Bright. That the press did not see — more likely did not look for — the details behind the removal of the doctor indicates more political motivation. It is darkly ironic that in a story about a drug not being properly vetted the press saw little reason to engage in vetting their facts. It only adds to the growing list of unprofessional stances we have seen from the press during this pandemic.