Pandemic politics: Fauci praised, slammed as he announces his exit

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Shortly after Anthony Fauci announced he would step down in December, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain congratulated the doctor:

“I can’t think of a public servant who has done as much to save so many lives over such a long period of time as Dr. Tony Fauci. And he’s a gem of a person.”

Just as quickly, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that Fauci was stepping down as President Biden’s chief medical adviser “probably to avoid being questioned by a GOP-controlled House about how he got it all so wrong for so long.”

The narratives of the duel were underway.


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Anthony Fauci.
(Getty Images)

Fauci was a constant presence on the airwaves, graced magazine covers and generally used his position as head of the institute of infectious diseases to become perhaps the most famous and controversial doctor on the planet. It was no surprise, then, that he did interviews with the New York Times and the Washington Post the night before making yesterday’s announcement.

The comparison of the two stories is quite illuminating.

The Post basically nailed it, combining both his prominence and his political battles at the helm:

“Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s preeminent infectious disease expert who rose to unprecedented fame while enduring withering political attacks as the face of the coronavirus pandemic response under two presidents, plans to step down in December after more than half a century of public service. , he announced Monday.”

The next two paragraphs summarized his tenure, which “made him an adviser to seven presidents and put him on the front lines of every modern scourge, including AIDS, the anthrax scares of 2001, Ebola, the Zika and the coronavirus pandemic.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci debates Rand Paul.

Dr. Anthony Fauci debates Rand Paul.
(Getty Images)

And then he returned to criticism:

“While Fauci is one of the most cited researchers of all time and has been widely known in scientific circles for decades, it was the coronavirus pandemic that catapulted him to global fame and drew criticism from some Republican politicians and threats from the public.”

The paper said he had been criticized in the early days of the AIDS crisis, “but the coronavirus pandemic arrived at a strikingly different time, with social media pouring fuel into baseless criticism and conspiracy aimed at Fauci and others who presided over the federal government’s response.”

The 81-year-old official acknowledged mistakes, including when he and other government scientists said in the early weeks of the pandemic that Americans did not need masks and failed to recognize that people without symptoms could spread the virus.

Those factors “made the U.S. surgeon general, the CDC, and I say, right now, you really don’t need to wear a mask, and suddenly it became Tony Fauci is the mask guy,” Fauci said. . . “Because I’m the main target of the far right, when the far right says you got it wrong, it’s not that everybody got it wrong, it’s that Tony Fauci got it wrong.”

That may be a twist, but it’s Fauci’s twist.

By contrast, the first five paragraphs of the Times article are pure praise:

After declaring that Fauci is leaving to “pursue the next chapter” of his career, the story reads:

“Few scientists have had such a large or lasting impact on public policy. Dr. Fauci joined the National Institutes of Health in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson was president; he was named director of its infectious diseases branch in 1984, when the AIDS epidemic demanded attention.

“Dr. Fauci has advised every president since Ronald Reagan, seven in all, and has been adept at navigating the nexus of science and politics. Among his proudest accomplishments, he said, was his work with President George W. Bush in developing a global program to fight HIV/AIDS, known as PEPFAR, which has saved an estimated 21 million lives. Mr. Bush — whose father, George Bush, called Dr. Fauci ‘a hero’ during a 1988 presidential debate, awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008.” Only in the sixth paragraph does the Times say this:

“But Dr. Fauci, who catapulted into the spotlight as the coronavirus began to spread in 2020, could not escape the politicization of the Trump era. President Donald J. Trump openly toyed with the idea to fire him (although that would have been difficult because Dr. Fauci is not a political appointee). Conservatives saw Dr. Fauci as a symbol of lockdowns and masks, which they fiercely resisted.”

So it was the “politicization of the Trump era” that created problems for Fauci and the views of conservatives, painting him as a victim of the right.

US President Donald Trump removes his protective mask as he poses atop the Truman Balcony of the White House after returning from being hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center for treatment of COVID-19, in Washington on October 5, 2020.

US President Donald Trump removes his protective mask as he poses atop the Truman Balcony of the White House after returning from being hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center for treatment of COVID-19, in Washington on October 5, 2020.
(REUTERS/Erin Scott/File photo)


The next paragraph said that Rand Paul and Fauci had called each other liars.

The newspaper noted Fauci’s early criticism from AIDS activists, but added, “Over time, he became friends with many of these activists.”


Then there was more praise.

One story conflates Fauci’s incredibly long record of public service with his political battles during the pandemic, the other makes those battles secondary and paints him largely as a conservative target.


According to my search for mentions of Fauci on Twitter, angry posts from the right far outnumber supportive posts from admirers. Ted Cruz, for example, plans to investigate “his dishonesty, corruption, abuse of power and multiple lies under oath. Never in the history of our nation has an arrogant bureaucrat destroyed more lives.”

I doubt Fauci expected a quiet exit, but the battle for his legacy has already begun.

Howard Kurtz is the host of FOX News Channel’s MediaBuzz (Sundays 11 a.m. to noon ET). Based in Washington, DC, he joined the network in July 2013 and appears regularly on Special Report with Bret Baier and other programs.

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