Republican attacks on Dr Anthony Fauci have entered a new, more conspiratorial phase after thousands of his emails were published this week via a Freedom of Information Act request by several news outlets, including the Washington Post, BuzzFeed News and CNN.
Since the start of the pandemic last year, Fauci has become a hotbed of conservative anger despite his role as senior adviser to former President Donald Trump. But recent attacks have become more brazen and vitriolic as members of Congress and top right-wing pundits stepped up their attacks, calling for his sacking – or worse. Trump’s top aides even suggested this week that Fauci is the GOP’s new Hillary Clinton: someone loathed by the Republican base that Trump will continue to use as a punching bag at rallies.
Much of the recent criticism has stemmed from the idea that Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who served under seven presidents, failed to thoroughly investigate the theory that COVID -19 had fled from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, where the virus apparently originated. At worst, some have claimed (wrongly) that the emails contained evidence that he actively lied about the origins of the virus and the effectiveness of the masks, as a way to consolidate his political power or maintain his status as a celebrity.
The right-wing media ecosystem latched onto one of Fauci’s emails in particular, sent on February 1 – long before the virus became mainstream in the United States – as evidence of Fauci’s deception. Immunologist Kristian Andersen told him about the virus’s “unusual features”, which might have suggested human engineering.
“On a phylogenetic tree, the virus appears totally normal, and the tight clustering with bats suggests that bats serve as a reservoir,” Andersen wrote. “The unusual characteristics of the virus make up a very small part of the genome (
Many conservatives called the email a “smoking gun” and suggested that Fauci had been “warned” that the virus had been engineered – but there is more to the story. As the Washington Post notes, Andersen did thoroughly investigate the idea that COVID-19 was of human origin, and his California lab published a study several weeks later in the journal Nature concluding that the lab’s leaked COVID-19 theory was unlikely on the basis for a more complete analysis of the genetics of the virus structure.
“Our analyzes clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully engineered virus,” the study found. “It is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin described here.”
The ‘lab leak’ theory received a new round of new oxygen last month when the Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized with influenza-like illness in November 2019 , at least one month before the first registered. cases of COVID-19.
In fact, Fauci has said several times over the past year that he believes COVID-19 is more likely to spread from animals to humans, although he has never ruled out the possibility of it. a lab leak and publicly called on President Joe Biden and public health researchers to further investigate the origins of the virus.
Fauci blasted the new right-wing vitriol series during an appearance on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Friday, calling the reaction “misleading” and “inappropriate.”
“The [lab leak] The question is extremely legitimate – But what happened in the midst of it all was that I became the object of extraordinary attacks, I think completely inappropriate, distorted, deceptive and distorted, ”said Fauci. “It really is an attack on science. “
Among those attacks were major calls in both houses of Congress to dismiss Fauci. Representative Marjorie Taylor Green, the controversial member of Congress with a history of racist and conspiratorial statements, even introduced a bill, called the “Fire Fauci Act,” that would reduce the career civil servant’s salary to $ 0.
Senator Rand Paul, perhaps his most prominent critic on Capitol Hill, had within hours started using the controversy as a fundraising argument on Facebook: “Dr Fauci MUST GO,” the solicitation reads. . “He continually and deliberately deceives the audience at every turn. It’s time to FIRE FAUCI.”
In fact, Republicans and conservative interests have spent more than $ 300,000 in the last month alone to target Fauci with Facebook ads, according to data from Bully Pulpit Interactive cited by Politico.
The blitz gave a boost to right-wing media, where Fox News provocateur Tucker Carlson speculated that the redactions in the emails likely meant Fauci was already under investigation – “We don’t. can only hope, “he added.
The messages leaked through social media, with #FireFauci on Twitter for a brief moment as Reddit and Facebook users called for Fauci to stand trial for war crimes. The most viewed Facebook posts on Fauci this week include vitriolic screeds by Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, Steven Crowder and Donald Trump Jr., among others.
For President Biden and his White House, the attacks presented a growing conundrum – to tackle the attacks directly and risk amplifying them, or to ignore it and hope the narrative doesn’t spread.
Friday’s presidential press briefing ended with an impromptu exchange that highlighted tightrope walking.
“Mr. President, do you still trust Dr Fauci?” A reporter yelled at Biden to leave the room.
Poking his head around the corner, Biden said unequivocally: “Yes, I am very confident in Dr. Fauci.”
For his part, Fauci told Rachel Maddow he was focusing on the still raging pandemic and celebrating the tremendous successes the country has achieved.
“My job was to make a vaccine and use my institute and these talented scientists that we have there and that we fund in the different universities to get a highly safe and highly effective vaccine,” he continued. “We succeeded.”
“All the other stuff is just a terrible, not happy type of distraction. But it just doesn’t make sense.”