The Divergent Fortunes of Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States this spring, no two Americans jumped more quickly from relative obscurity to national fame than did Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx. As the science-side face of the White House’s COVID response team, the two public health experts helped reassure countless Americans terrified of what the future might hold that the national strategy was being overseen by capable minds. In recent weeks, however, their fortunes have diverged sharply.

A onetime fixture of the White House’s daily coronavirus briefings, Fauci’s public appearances as a mouthpiece of the administration are much diminished. The White House has moved to limit his media appearances, and when he does speak publicly these days, it’s usually with the air of a disinterested subject-matter expert rather than one with the authority of the federal government behind him: He has reportedly not briefed the president since early June.

In recent weeks, this chilly treatment has morphed increasingly into open hostility. President Trump has repeatedly called Fauci out over both his past and present assessments of the virus, even as he insists their relationship remains strong. Last week, he publicly disputed Fauci’s claim that the nation was still “knee-deep” in the virus, then took an extra potshot: “Dr. Fauci said don’t wear masks and now he says wear them. And he said numerous things. Don’t close off China. … We would have been in much worse shape.” He told Sean Hannity that Fauci “is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.” He has retweeted posts associating Fauci with the Democrats and suggesting that public health authorities have been lying about the virus.

Others at the White House got in on the action over the weekend. One administration official released what amounted to an oppo file on Fauci to the Washington Post, saying that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things” with an attached list of comments Fauci made in the early days of the pandemic. And top White House aide Dan Scavino posted a comic from alt-right cartoonist Ben Garrison on Facebook that disparagingly depicted “Dr. Faucet” leaking and pouring cold water on America’s economy.

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  • Agree that Birx plays the Trump game well, but I also think the example given is not a good example of spin or bending to Trump. The bleach comments were dumb, they were covered, but it didn't need to dominate news coverage for a week or two.

    1. I assumed that comment was featured because Dr. Birx's own real time reaction to Trump's comments about disinfectants was so obviously negative in nature (IMO more obviously so, but less meme-able than the Fauci facepalm pic), that her later comments about that moment were rather egregiously contradictory of that.

      That being said, my own pet peeve about those comments was that Trump never actually talked about bleach, just "disinfectant" in general. And he didn't actually advise anyone to go and ingest the disinfectants on their own, just that he thought scientists should go into it. So the "remember that presser where Trump advised people to drink bleach to kill the 'rona" comments that are still circulating on Twitter and elsewhere, technically is fake news.

      1. Uh, *ARE fake news. Sorry! My grammar errors and typos keep me humble, though.

  • Fauci has it right. And the people in Florida that thought this was all over-blown... well, they have Covid. And now, because of their arseholery, *I* am more at risk of getting it than I was a month or two ago. GROW UP, people!

  • Faucet was put in the position of having to give advice about a brand new virus in a rapidly developing situation. There are diseases we have had for centuries that we still know very little about. We knew next to nothing about COVID 19. He strikes me as a smart and well informed man who is giving what he believes, at the time, to be the best advice possible. It is a constantly moving target, and there is a lot of judgment involved. Anyone in his position would have been wrong many times by now.

    1. I'm gonna give you the benefit of the doubt that Fauci was autocorrected to Faucet. You don't know how many times my substitute teachers would butcher my Italian last name. Just having some fun! No one is perfect, but he's done as best a job that anyone could do in this situation. The fact that T is behaving like this is just more reasons (1 out of 1,435) that he does not deserve to be president of this country. The problem is I despise the other side too. Guess I'm voting for my wife again this year (she's Hungarian so I guess she has no shot).

  • This is interesting to see how people deal with having to interact with the President. I find it interesting as well as Dr. Birx is a retired Army Colonel so she would probably enjoy more sympathy from the public and could distance herself a little more from the administration. But it is always interesting to see how things develop.

    1. It’s kinda like pulling up a chair to watch him repeatedly shave off any credibility they have spent a lifetime earning like a mountain being strip mined to a stub until nothing remains but a book deal.

  • It is beyond stupid that the president and his administration would turn on each other like this. They need to present a united front, regardless of discussions and disagreements on the inside. Just another completely unnecessary and counterproductive self-created problem, with zero upside.

  • Fauci also speculated that AIDS might be transmissible like a respiratory virus.

    He has a long track record of being a doomsayer, and his predictions almost never come true (remember Avian Flu?).

    Fauci actually appears to be lying about lying! I urge everyone to look at the recommendations and science about masks prior to COVID. It wasn't that masks needed to be stocked up for healthcare workers - it was that the understanding was masks are ineffective.

    Even today, WHO has this to say about masks: "At present, there is no direct evidence (from studies on COVID19 and in healthy people in the community) on the effectiveness of universal masking of healthy people in the community to prevent infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19."

    And here's Finland's health authority has to say about masks in relation to COVID: "There is no evidence that the extensive use of masks by healthy people will help reduce infections." It is all speculation based on the droplet theory. And Finland isn't exactly known for Trump-style demagogues spurning science in favor of populism. Also, they aren't the only country with such recommendation - Norway and Denmark don't recommend masks either.

    Masks were not known to Fauci to work when he said they didn't work - he's trying to save face now. People believe him when he says that he was trying to protect the healthcare workers' stockpile, when in reality the history doesn't support his claim.

    And don't forget - Fauci told us that we were likely to have a vaccine by the end of the year. Now he's pushed out his projection to next year. This guy's the Director of Allergy and Infectious Disease at CDC? And he doesn't know that vaccines don't get developed in 6 months?

    Fauci should've been fired for the vaccine projection alone. I do not like Trump at all, but I believe the best thing he could do for the country is to fire Fauci.

    1. It looks like we're going to have a vaccine soon.

      1. Still very speculative at this point. And then remember that development is not the same as distribution.

  • There is no question Trump can't work with anyone. I am still waiting for him to fire his daughter and for her to publish her nasty tell all book.

    That said politicians make policy not scientists. Scientists advise about science but it is still up to the politician to sort through the possibly conflicting information and place a priority on this. This was the point Aristotle made when he said a politician needs to be knowledgeable about all areas.

    This is really more of a local question and everyone looking at Biden or Trump on this is really looking in the wrong spot. The question is what should we do for schools?

    It appears the flu is arguably more dangerous *for children* than coronavirus.

    I suspect that it will be the poorer communities that suffer the most from any school shutdown.

    I really think schools need to open. Two big questions are what about 1) kids who live with a high risk person and 2) High risk teachers.

    I think for those children in households with high risk people we can have zoom classes across the whole state or at least district - (for the children who are either afraid to go or live with high risk people.) There is no reason for every school to have to figure this out. The zoom/webex can be entered by thousands of children. Then the high risk teachers can be assigned smaller groups of at risk students and help these children further through more individualized zoom/webex tutoring. That way the vast majority of children and teachers can work as normal but the students and teachers that have concerns can be accommodated as well.

    1. My husband's a teacher in Florida and there is no way he is going back to school next month. EVERY adult is a 'high risk teacher', and our lives are more important than pretending that everything can 'work as normal'. Sorry.

  • This was an interesting analysis.

    I do personally like Dr Fauci. As time went by though, I will admit when he said last month that he lied to America about wearing face masks at the start, to prevent hospitals from running out of PPE, I sort of went, “well Doc, that stings and that’s a bad move”. It still boggles my mind that professionals at the start, could have just said “We need PPE for staff, Americans, please use a cloth or bandanna and wrap your face”.

    With that said, I don’t think Fauci should be side lined the way he is. If it is because of the many mistakes he made, ok. But this seems more petty. Again though, I am little torn, because I like Dr Fauci, he has a massive record in AIDS going back to the Reagan administration. Even if he is sidelined, there is no reason to attack him and cast stones on his splendid career. Yes, he has made unfortunate mistakes, and even told a direct lie.

    But Fauci is a man who has done so much for his country, we should not attempt to destroy his career. If Fauci, who (I am assuming here) lied for the “greater good” (I am not advocating this, just understanding it) under the believe that hospitals could be overwhelmed by the wrongly made Imperial College Data (remember they were saying 2 million deaths), maybe we can look at him and say, “Thank you for your service Dr. Fauci. Dr. Birx, carry on.”

    1. I am not trying to diminish what he did in the past or say the man is evil. But

      I am not so forgiving about the whole lying about masks bit. I think it is one thing if you just mistakenly think masks won't work either because it will lead to people touching their faces more often or whatever. I think that is acceptable. But when you are the pandemic expert and we are in the midst of a pandemic to openly lie like that means you are *definitely* sidelined. I definitely would look to the large number of other experts for advice.

      Of course Trump may be doing the opposite. He may be looking to other experts because Faucci refuses to continue to lie.

      1. No I am not going to disagree here. I think if people want Fauci sidelined, they have legitimate reasons for it. I just believe the administration is also doing it by attacking Fauci more than necessary. Let the man live with his mistakes and side line him. He was one the few doctors who was willing to tackle the AIDS epidemic during the Reagan administration, when many people ran for the hills.

        But I completely understand again, if people want him sidelined for the lying reason.

    2. I never agreed with the mask lies (and it was transparently a lie from the beginning, as every Asian government from China to Japan was recommending masks), but it's important to remember that this was a coordinated line of messaging followed by the entire Trump administration, not just Fauci. Fauci can't be singled out for this, and indeed Trump himself had to be dragged kicking and screaming to masking last week, after months of encouraging all of his diehard supports to avoid masks well after all his medical professionals started recommending them.

      Frankly, I'm not so sure that people wouldn't have rushed out and hoarded masks; we all saw the stories of folks buying up huge quantities of sanitizers, etc, and Americans don't tend to react very collectively when shopping in the run-up to disasters like hurricanes. With that said, they still should not have lied, and they should have embraced the made-at-home etsy masks much earlier than they did, following the model of nations like the Czech Republic.

      1. I agree that singling Fauci out for the mask messaging as if he was the only guilty party here is unfair & smacks of scapegoating. I recall the Surgeon General was basically screaming at people (in Tweets) NOT to wear masks. I don't recall Fauci doing that. So if he deserves to be fired or even "sidelined" just for that, then so does the SG & a lot of other public health officials.

        1. Heck, even the WHO at the time also recommended against universal masking. I believe even the government of Singapore, generally a model for effective, clear, and empathetic public health communication, also stated that people should mask only when sick.

      2. Good point John.

  • Where is a voice about fixing testing shortfalls. And after that — contact tracing.

    It seems this is what sets off the USA versus more successful COVID containment efforts elsewhere.

    How about The Dispatch following that thread?

    1. Contact tracing will never work in a country where people are so distrustful of everything around them and an inadequate testing infrastructure.

    2. I've touched on those issues in a number of other pieces. For instance:

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