The entire story needs to be retracted. But Rolling Stone hasn’t. Why should it? Who is going to hold the publication accountable? Not its colleagues, for sure.
The news media have disgraced themselves. Again.
Rolling Stone magazine published, and then heavily amended, a viral report this weekend alleging gunshot victims in Oklahoma have been put on the back burner as “horse dewormer overdoses” have “overwhelmed” hospitals in rural areas.
The story is complete nonsense, of course, but this apparently doesn’t matter to the broader press, especially insofar as the coronavirus pandemic is concerned. The facts aren’t the point. It’s all about the narrative. Point and laugh at Rolling Stone all you want, but its failure this weekend is indicative of a far greater, systemic sickness in the news business.
Tales of overrun Oklahoma hospitals appeared first in the pages of the Tulsa World. Oklahoma City-based NBC affiliate KFOR then pushed a similar story. The network affiliate ran the following on-air headline during its report, reading, “PATIENTS OVERDOSING ON IVERMECTIN BACKING UP HOSPITALS, AMBULANCES.”
The story soon made its way to Rolling Stone, where it went viral in the corporate press, aggregated by major newsrooms, and amplified by cable news anchors. The Rolling Stone article cites a single source, Dr. Jason McElyea. This should have been the first red flag for everyone who jumped on the story. Considering the lack of proper sourcing didn’t set off alarm bells at the major newsrooms that parroted the Rolling Stone version of the story should tell you a lot about the current state of media.
Citing McElyea, Rolling Stone reported that Oklahomans who have taken ivermectin as a COVID-19 countermeasure have hampered the ability of rural hospitals to treat traumatic gunshot victims. The doctor said:
“The ERs are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated. All of their ambulances are stuck at the hospital waiting for a bed to open so they can take the patient in, and they don’t have any, that’s it. If there’s no ambulance to take the call, there’s no ambulance to come to the call … The scariest one that I’ve heard of and seen is people coming in with vision loss. There’s a reason you have to have a doctor to get a prescription for this stuff because it can be dangerous.”
However, it seems clear there’s nothing to back McElyea’s version of events. He works for a medical staffing organization that serves several hospitals in the state of Oklahoma. One such hospital said specifically it has no idea what he’s talking about. The other hospitals served by McElyea’s staffing group haven’t said whether his allegations are true. As for McElyea himself, he is not responding to media requests for comment.
To put it diplomatically, he is either lying or greatly misinformed.
For starters, he claims hospitals in rural areas have been most affected, meaning the victims are likewise from rural areas. However, state statistics show gunshot wounds are quite low in these areas. In one county specifically, Sequoyah, which is home to one of the hospitals McElyea’s staffing group serves, there has been a single gun-related murder for all of 2021.
Further, after the Rolling Stone report went viral, journalist Zaid Jilani contacted the Sequoyah County sheriff’s office for comment. The sheriff called the story “ridiculous,” adding:
“Other than one shooting victim that died, there has been one other gunshot victim in our county so far this year. He was treated at our hospital and released. There was no wait time at all.”
In other words, it’s almost certain Rolling Stone’s report is a hoax. But the public didn’t know this until after the article went viral, amplified and spread all over the country by an all-too-eager news media, including MSNBC, Yahoo!, the New York Daily News, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Like Rolling Stone, none of these outlets thought to pick up a phone and double-check McElyea’s story. The failure here is collective.
Rolling Stone has since updated its story significantly to walk back its most tantalizing allegations.
The headline now reads,
“One Hospital Denies Oklahoma Doctor’s Story of Ivermectin Overdoses Causing ER Delays for Gunshot Victims.” The headline originally read, “Gunshot Victims Left Waiting as Horse Dewormer Overdoses Overwhelm Oklahoma Hospitals, Doctor Says.”
The report also bears an insane editor’s note, which reads:
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.
Calling this an “update” is an insult to updates. The entire story needs to be retracted. But Rolling Stone hasn’t. And why should it? Who is going to hold the publication accountable? Not its colleagues, that’s for sure.
Indeed, the Rolling Stone debacle this weekend is just the latest in a long string of botched COVID reports, from nearly everything the New York Times’s Apoorva Mandavilli has reported to 60 Minutes’s hit job on Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis alleging he rewarded a grocery chain with a sweetheart deal to distribute coronavirus vaccines as part of a “pay-for-play” scheme involving political contributions.
These aren’t one or two isolated events. This is clearly a trend, and it’s all on behalf of perpetuating pandemic pornography. It’s the reason why the press has made saints of obvious cranks and loons, including Florida COVID-19 data truther Rebekah Jones. What Rolling Stone published this weekend is indicative of a larger problem. We live in a post-journalism world, where facts come second to the larger preferred narrative. In the case of COVID-19 specifically, the preferred media narrative is whatever favors lockdowns, government restrictions, fearmongering, and whatever makes conservatives and anyone who questions “the science” look like absolute goons, loons, and madmen.
On Tuesday, the Hill published a report bearing the alarming headline, “Ivermectin poison control calls triple in Washington state.” A close reading of the article finds there have been eight total complaints in Washington this year regarding ivermectin. Each complaint is currently under review.
It isn’t just Rolling Stone magazine. The entire industry is rotting from within.