Weinstein and Heying are encouraging their followers to forego the safe and extremely effective COVID-19 vaccines in favor of a drug with no proven effectiveness at all:
After their resignations, Weinstein and Heying entered the opinion business full-time and with both feet. They began promoting ivermectin this spring, and interviewed Kory on their podcast in early June. Kory claimed that public health bodies are ignoring the potential uses of ivermectin in the fight against COVID-19, perhaps deliberately. Striking the same conspiratorial tone that often arises in conjunction with flimsy medical claims, he speculated that a World Health Organization committee was “told they can’t come out of that room with a recommendation” for ivermectin. Kory and Weinstein both agreed that COVID-19 vaccines are being promoted at the expense of other treatments, seemingly for the benefit of the same sinister Theys whom, they imply, control the WHO and other health agencies. Another podcast featured Weinstein literally taking ivermectin on air. “We are not going to make any recommendations as to what you should do,” Weinstein said, shortly before downing the drug. “And we are not going to say anything conclusive about what the data say, because the data are not themselves conclusive. However, it doesn’t mean the data don’t imply things.”
Weinstein went on to add that neither he nor Heying had been vaccinated “because we have fears, as we have discussed at length on this podcast,” and that “given the apparent effectiveness at ivermectin in preventing COVID,” he felt that taking ivermectin would be appropriate for him as a prophylactic. “Cost-benefit for me, it makes sense.” Heying compared it to taking anti-malarial drugs, but declined to take it on air when Weinstein did.
In and of itself, this may just make them cranks doing limited harm, but of course their claims are being promoted by every alt-right-curious yoyo with a ShakeShack or podcast:
They were able to further amplify those claims in an interview Weinstein did with longtime Rolling Stone journalist and current Substack personality Matt Taibbi, who decried YouTube’s current policy on discussing ivermectin, which holds that videos can be removed for encouraging people to use the drug to treat COVID-19. (“YouTube is making the FDA’s current position a mandatory element of any public discussion,” Taibbi wrote.) Taibbi also interviewed Pierre Kory, who told him that he thought YouTube was inappropriately moderating scientific discussions: “You have these ideas about the need to censor hate speech, calls for violence, and falsity,” Kory told Taibbi, “and they’ve put science on the same shelf.” (Taibbi couldn’t be reached for comment.)
Inevitably, Joe Rogan is also involved. He said in a conversation with the comedian Dave Smith in April that he’d been listening to Weinstein and Heying. (In the same, widely-criticized episode, Smith and Rogan also agreed that COVID vaccines weren’t necessary for everyone and that encouragement to get them constituted mere “virtue signaling.” Rogan added, “If you’re like 21 years old and you say to me, ‘Should I get vaccinated?’ I’ll go, no.” Rogan later walked back those comments, calling himself “a fucking moron.”) More recently, Rogan hosted both Weinstein and Kory on the first-ever “emergency” episode of his podcast, where Kory said that when ivermectin was tested on monkey kidney cells in a lab test, “the virus was essentially eradicated.” (Wired published an interesting article in 2020 about whether Vero cells, the monkey kidney cells often used by virologists in research, are the right choice; Vero cell results often can’t be replicated, for instance, in human lung cells.)
Finally, the cause has also been taken up by former New York Times opinion editor and current Substack personality Bari Weiss—writer of the Times story that named and defined the IDW—who, as is her wont, responded with an even more thundering level of alarmist metaphor. “How have we gotten to the point where having conversations about important scientific and medical subjects requires such a high level of personal risk?” she wrote. “How have we accepted a reality in which Big Tech can carry out the digital equivalent of book burnings? And why is it that so few people are speaking up against the status quo?” (It’s unclear what, in this strained metaphor, would constitute the book-burning in question.)
As Merlan says, this is all part of a particular longstanding bullshit-libertarian movement:
What seems to really be at work here, in the end, is a political battle, not a medical one. The laetrile wars of the 1970s also launched what’s known as the “health freedom” movement—a libertarian-tinged social tendency that holds Americans should have unrestricted access to alternative treatments—into the spotlight. (The National Health Federation was first founded in 1955, and the first thing its founder promoted were “radionics,” devices whose promoters claim to treat serious illnesses with electromagnetic waves. The NHF was also intensely involved in the battle over laetrile.) In the same way, the promoters of ivermectin have been embraced not just by the IDW, but by conservative lawmakers. In December of last year, Kory testified at the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security Hearing on Covid-19 Treatments, at the invitation of Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who praised his bravery. Kory called ivermectin “miraculous”; he reportedly resigned from the University of Wisconsin not long after doing so, and subsequently resigned from the job he got after that at Aurora St. Luke’s, saying “the hospital wanted to limit his freedom to speak.”
At any rate, people are free to lie about ivermectin being more effective and less dangerous than the vaccines — although it would be best to waive this right! — but nobody is obligated to publish or host them.