Update (07/14/2020): This post has been updated with further developments.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that the Trump White House is seeking to minimize the public profile of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and even to discredit his position with the public over the coronavirus pandemic.
The Post reported: “A White House official released a statement saying that ‘several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things’ and included a lengthy list of the scientist’s comments from early in the outbreak.”
This echoes what right-wing media figures have been saying in recent days.
There has been a slow build-up of new anti-Fauci statements in right-wing media over the past two weeks, perhaps mirroring (or feeding) the White House’s critiques of Fauci’s early statements on such matters as mask wearing and person-to-person transmission.Fauci’s stances evolved over time on those matters as more information about the virus became known.
And the bottom line, according to these right-wing narratives, is that Fauci is Trump’s enemy.
On the July 2 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the eponymous host singled out a comment that Fauci had made during a January 22 appearance on Fox Business’ Bulls & Bears, telling the panel that the Chinese government was being transparent about the virus.
“Many were skeptical that the Chinese government could be trusted to describe what was really happening. But those skeptics were assured by one man, Dr. Tony Fauci,” Carlson said sarcastically — failing to note that President Donald Trump himself had repeatedly praised the Chinese government’s response for weeks after that cherry-picked Fauci comment.
On the July 5 edition of Fox News’ MediaBuzz, Fox contributor and Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway accused Fauci of inconsistency on masks:
On the July 9 edition of Hannity, Trump himself criticized Fauci, using the same narrative seen in right-wing media: “Dr. Fauci is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes. … They’ve been wrong about a lot of things, including face masks. Maybe they are wrong, maybe not. But a lot of them said, don't wear a mask, don't wear a mask. And now they are saying, wear a mask. So, a lot of mistakes were made, a lot of mistakes.”
Later that night on The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham spun a conspiracy theory that “the left started to freak out a little bit” at the prospect of the country reopening. “So how could they keep the panic and anxiety going to ensure a Biden victory?” she asked rhetorically — then showing video of Fauci recommending that states should consider locking down again if they have serious outbreaks.
Later in the program, Ingraham played another video of Fauci, and remarked: “The translation — get ready to be locked down until Biden is elected. I'm sorry, I hear that, and my blood boils.”
On July 10, The Federalist ran an article titled “Why We Can’t Trust Anything ‘The Science’ Says Any More.” While the article’s text did not mention Fauci by name, it prominently displayed a photo of him at the top of the piece:
The article complained:
In recent months, we’ve been told that “science says” so many contradictory and even flat-out false things, it’s hard to even keep track of them all.
Science says don’t wear a mask. Except that you absolutely should wear a mask. Even though it isn’t recommended by medical scientists using data from other respiratory disease outbreaks. But it’s still helpful. Or actually it’s not really, according to the Centers for Disease Control in 2017. Yet you should still wear a mask, or else. Who knows?
Also that day, Rush Limbaugh levied the accusation of inconsistency at both Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Here’s Dr. Fauci, unassailable. ‘You know, we need to think about locking down again — uh, uh, uh, no — OK, no, since the market’s tanked, we can just pause the reopening,’” Limbaugh said. “And then the CDC comes along and says it’d be safer for the kids to put them in classrooms than to keep them at home.”
On the July 10 edition of Fox host Mark Levin’s talk radio show, the host concurred with Trump’s musings for less coronavirus testing, and then added: “Dr. Fauci says, ‘Let's not look at the mortality rate, that doesn't tell us anything.’ This guy, may I say this respectfully, is becoming a quack. Did I say quack? I said quack! ‘Don’t wear masks’ — now in some states, you better wear a mask.”
Levin had also alleged the most recent CDC statistics showed only 71 coronavirus deaths for the week ending July 4 — a previous right-wing sleight of hand that involve counting only deaths for which all paperwork has been completed. (Even the specific page that Levin appeared to refer to at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics now reads at 302 deaths for that week, and the numbers for the most recent weeks will keep being revised upward as the page itself explains to people who actually read it.)
There has also been anti-Fauci comments on Twitter, by right-wing media figures both inside and outside of Fox.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany claimed on Monday, “And to the notion that there's opposition research and that there's Fauci versus the president, it couldn't be further from the truth.” But as ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl pointed out, this claim is belied by the fact that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino posted an anti-Fauci political cartoon on his Facebook account Sunday night.