Dr. Anthony Fauci has been front and center for most of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic — but instead of listening to him, media has looked for ways to drive a wedge between him and President Donald Trump.
Fauci, who has headed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) since 1984, appeared by all accounts to be a much-needed voice of reason and expertise. But the time he took on his role in the administration’s Coronavirus Task Force, many pundits had already retreated to their respective camps — some arguing that it was no worse than the typical seasonal flu and others warning that a country-wide shutdown was inevitable.
Trump, initially, appeared to be in the former camp — Fauci, the latter. (RELATED: Dr. Fauci Says Trump Took Coronavirus Seriously ‘From The Beginning’)
And even more than Fauci’s expertise, it became immediately apparent that the media relished the opportunity to pit him against the president as it seemed inevitable that they would disagree.
Shortly after Vice President Mike Pence was named to lead the Coronavirus Task Force, he reportedly asked that all interviews given by task force members be cleared through his office. That resulted in Fauci missing several scheduled Sunday show interviews that were not reauthorized in time.
Dr. Fauci was booked on shows over the weekend but had to have those appearances reaurhorized by Pence’s office after the VP was placed in charge of Coronavirus response, a source familiar with the situation says. But the source said Fauci is not being muzzled.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) February 28, 2020
Fauci quickly — and unequivocally — refuted the claims, saying, “Let me clarify it. I have never been muzzled, ever, and I have been doing this since the administration of Ronald Reagan. I am not being muzzled by this administration. We were set up to go on some shows, and when the vice president took over, we said, ‘Let’s regroup and figure out how we’re going to be communicating.’ So I had to just stand down on a couple of shows and resubmit for clearance. And when I resubmitted for clearance, I got cleared, so I have not been muzzled at all. That was a real misrepresentation of what happened.”
In the days and weeks that followed, nearly every comment from Dr. Fauci made headlines — but especially the comments that either contradicted President Trump or at least gave the media enough cover to float the illusion of contradiction. (RELATED: Media Can’t Stop Asking Dr. Fauci Two Things And Neither Is About Coronavirus)
- On ventilators for NYC
This directly contradicts Trump.
— Zac Petkanas (@Zac_Petkanas) March 29, 2020
Reality: What Trump actually said was that he wasn’t sure whether New York would need as many ventilators as they had requested. Fauci simply disagreed.
- On ending the social distancing guidelines and putting Americans back to work
“I doubt if that would be the case,” Fauci says on CNN as he contradicts Trump when asked whether 15 day guidelines will end this week. “If we need to push the date forward we will push the date forward.”
— Hugo Lowell (@hugolowell) March 29, 2020
Reality: Trump has repeatedly made aspirational suggestions, saying that he’d like to see guidelines relaxed and America open for business. He has also qualified those statements as his hopes rather than his orders. Fauci, again, has disagreed.
- On the possibility of virtual briefings
After Fauci said he’s pushed for virtual briefings, WH contradicts him.
“I’ve never heard anyone suggest doing a virtual briefing,” said @JuddPDeere
Meanwhile Trump is clearly enjoying his newfound forum as he has been talking there now for 2 hrs
— Annie Karni (@anniekarni) March 23, 2020
Reality: But Dr. Fauci did not specify to whom he made the suggestion of a virtual briefing, and Deere may have, in fact, been unaware that the suggestion was made.
- On the potential use of hydroxychloroquine
John Roberts of Fox keeps asking about using a malaria drug to treat Coronavirus, Fauci downplays. Roberts plays up. Trump plays up. Fauci contradicts. All in real time.
— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) March 20, 2020
Reality: Trump has enthusiastically embraced the positive results of limited use of the anti-malarial drug to treat coronavirus. Fauci has agreed that the data so far is encouraging but is so limited that it demands further testing before it can be declared a path to victory.
“Mr. Trump has become frustrated with Dr. Fauci’s blunt approach at the briefing lectern, which often contradicts things the president has just said, according to two people familiar with the dynamic.” https://t.co/MCp3y0ACGS
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) March 23, 2020
Reality: According to both Trump and Fauci, although they do occasionally disagree, they are absolutely focused on the task at hand. Fauci, in a rare rebuke of the media, explained, “The idea of just pitting one against the other is just not helpful. I wish that would stop and we’d look ahead at the challenge we have to pull together to get over this thing.”
The spin room:
No matter what had last transpired between the president and Fauci, the rumors escalated exponentially if Fauci missed even a few minutes of one of the White House’s daily coronavirus briefings.
WHERE IS FAUCI? He often contradicts Trump.
— Joy Behar (@JoyVBehar) March 19, 2020
For context: This is probably the first WH coronavirus task force briefing that I have seen since the outbreak began in the U.S. that hasn’t featured the top scientists and health officials speaking in the first 30 minutes or so.
So far it’s been Pres Trump & security officials.
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) April 1, 2020
What is happening? Where is Dr. Fauci? @realDonaldTrump:
• what is the federal government doing to save lives?
• where are the ventilators?
• where are the tests?
• where are the masks? PPE?
• where are the respirators?
— Karine Jean-Pierre (@K_JeanPierre) April 1, 2020
Who is Fauci really contradicting?
From refuting media claims that he was “muzzled” by the administration to criticizing their regular attempts to drive a wedge between him and Trump, Fauci has made it clear that he is not afraid to contradict anyone he believes is distracting from the mission at hand.
And despite their continued insistence on pitting Fauci against Trump, Fauci has directly — and publicly — chastised reporters more often than he has the president.