This morning, USA Today ran an op-ed from Peter Navarro, an assistant to the president, and the director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy. This, on its face, is unremarkable. Publications run op-eds all the time, and often from high-ranking government officials.
What makes this one different, and lethally dangerous, is that Navarro, an economist by training, spent a couple hundred words telling readers of the nation’s highest circulated newspaper that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has advised six presidents, is currently leading the fight against the coronavirus, who has been called one of the most trusted medical professionals in the country by the New York Times and The New Yorker, is not to be trusted.
We are in a precarious moment and running a hit piece can do lots of damage. As one media executive texted me this morning, “It’s irresponsible.”
But it’s a well-worn page in the Trump playbook: talk shit on your colleagues, even highly respected ones who are trying to save lives.
“So when you ask me whether I listen to Dr. Fauci’s advice, my answer is: only with skepticism and caution,” Navarro writes.
If this smells weird, where a senior administration official, one whose expertise is not about disease, takes an internal argument public to trash an actual expert on disease, then let’s hop into the Media Nut time machine and travel back to the first week of March, as this pandemic was starting to show us our future.
As the Trump administration scrambles to contain the fast-spreading infection and consolidate control under Vice President Mike Pence, Fauci's visibility has been subject to the vagaries of a president who wants to declare the outbreak under control. Over the weekend, Pence and HHS Secretary Alex Azar made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows, not government doctors or scientists.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, is widely respected for his ability to explain science without talking down to his audience — and lately, for managing to correct the president’s pronouncements without saying he is wrong.
President Trump said that drug companies would make a coronavirus vaccine ready “soon.” Dr. Fauci has repeatedly stepped up after the president to the lectern during televised briefings or at White House round tables to amend that timetable, giving a more accurate estimate of at least a year or 18 months.
Mr. Trump said a “cure” might be possible. Dr. Fauci explained that antiviral drugs were being studied to see if they might make the illness less severe. The president also said the disease would go away in the spring. Dr. Fauci said maybe so, but because it was caused by a new virus, there was no way to tell.
So now we’ll set the flux capacitor to bring us back to Monday, where multiple media outlets reported that the Trump administration was doing everything in its power to discredit Dr. Fauci.
In a statement Saturday, a White House official told CNN that "several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things." The official went on to provide a lengthy list of examples, citing Fauci's comments early in the pandemic and linking to past interviews.
The efforts to discredit Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reached a fever pitch in recent days as top White House officials criticized his statements on the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic, suggesting he has been wrong on numerous occasions.
“I respect Dr. Fauci a lot, but Dr. Fauci is not 100 percent right, and he also doesn't necessarily — he admits that — have the whole national interest in mind,” [Admiral Brett] Giroir said. “He looks at it from a very narrow public health point of view.”
The point is this: from the get go, the Trump administration has had a loose relationship with the truth, and now that a pandemic has ravaged the country, killing 135,000+ Americans, caused the economy to collapse with 40 million people unemployed, the Trump team is taking to the pages and screens of media to continue its gaslighting behavior. It’s a coordinated effort.
It’s one thing to try to convince Americans that the empty inauguration was the most attended inauguration in American history; it’s another to try to convince Americans that medical professionals are not to be listened to when it comes to a pandemic.
Multiple polls show that Americans have more faith in medical experts like Dr. Fauci than elected officials
84 percent of voters said they trusted medical scientists to provide reliable information about the virus, with 90 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans trusting the experts. Overall trust in the C.D.C. was 77 percent — 71 percent among Republicans and 83 percent among Democrats.
Recent data from The Economist/YouGov Poll indicates that about half of America (51%) still trusts Fauci’s medical advice, and Americans are more than twice as likely to trust Fauci than distrust him (21%).
USA Today should not have run this piece as an opinion, especially as Navarro et al have been attempting to drop haymakers on Dr. Fauci through their quotes to reporters. At a time when a significant percentage of Americans are choosing to ignore medical professionals like Dr. Fauci (wear your masks, people!) running an unsubstantiated hit-piece from an administration official is irresponsible at best; lethal at worst.
After several hours of the piece spreading online like an infectious disease, the White House has come to the conclusion that Americans might actually trust Dr. Fauci.
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The Rolling Stones, “Lies”
Some interesting links:
Vox Media preparing round of layoffs as business fails to improve amid coronavirus pandemic (CNBC)
Corona conversations with one of the America's richest men (Bloomberg)
This Pickle is a Cake (NYT)
Hundreds of hyperpartisan sites are masquerading as local news. This map shows if there’s one near you. (Nieman Lab)
New York Times Will Move Part of Hong Kong Office to Seoul (NYT)
Google to Invest $4.5 Billion in India’s Reliance Jio (Variety)
TikTok's U.S. users prepare for life without the video app (Reuters)