Sprinkles from the Left

The Left generally contends the document dump reveals Dr. Fauci to be a relatable, committed leader guiding America through the early days of the pandemic.

Emails sent by Dr. Anthony Fauci in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic offer a glimpse into how the nation’s top infectious disease expert communicated with senior U.S. officials and his overseas counterparts as events unfolded at a rapid pace.
On some issues, such as mask wearing and whether he was being muzzled by the Trump administration, Fauci’s comments evolved over time, according to a USA TODAY review of the hundreds of documents, first obtained by The Washington Post and BuzzFeed News through the Freedom of Information Act.
In the early days, Fauci said both publicly and privately that not everyone needed to wear a mask. Later, he emailed that new information indicated that “perhaps universal wearing of masks in (sic) the most practical way to go.”
There were also instances when what Fauci wrote privately synched with his public comments – and times when it didn’t.
In an email exchange with the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Fauci struck a collegial tone. “We’ll get through this together,” he wrote in response to the Chinese official’s concern that he’d offended Fauci by being quoted in a news article faulting the U.S. handling of the pandemic.
Publicly, though, Fauci was critical – though polite – that the Chinese had not been forthcoming when the virus first emerged…
On hydroxycholorquine, the anti-malaria drug that former President Donald Trump touted as a treatment for COVID-19, Fauci’s private emails were in line with his public statements. Fauci was initially interested in the potential but always hedged that more data was needed.
And on some issues, particularly the origins of COVID-19, it’s impossible to tell what Fauci thought. He didn’t offer an opinion when emailed in February by a professor concerned that the virus could have leaked from a Chinese laboratory. He did respond to a note from the head of the National Institutes for Health who had passed along a news article about the lab leak theory under the subject line “conspiracy gains momentum.” But Fauci’s response was redacted before the email was released to the media.

Ryan W. Miller, Maureen Groppe and Javier Zarracina, USA TODAY

Here are five takeaways from Fauci’s emails.

1. Fauci stayed far away from any Trump-bashing…

2. Fauci didn’t like the public adoration…

3. Fauci accepted a sort-of apology from the director of China’s public health agency…

4. Fauci defended himself to colleagues…

5. Fauci corresponded with a wide array of people.

Paige Winfield Cunningham, Washington Post

Like all of us, Fauci thought early on that the disease spread primarily through droplets from symptomatic individuals. He, like the rest of us in science, took a month or so to understand that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread was another primary means of transmission, that the disease spread through aerosols as well as droplets and that masks are essential regardless of whether someone has symptoms.

Fauci’s emails reveal that by early April he was responding to a question about why face coverings were not being advised with: “That recommendation is in the works.” I celebrate his willingness to say in March of 2020, “Will have to check,” in response to a question from a follow doctor about post-infection immunity.

Equally worthy of attention are Fauci’s clear leadership skills. Over the course of these 3,200+ pages, we can watch him manage a tremendous bureaucracy and its intersection with the executive branch. These emails show a man who is trying to move quickly but accurately. He maintains an impressive curiosity and willingness to at least stay aware of out-of-the-box ideas…

Throughout, his on-paper voice sounds just like his television voice. He is humble, curious and committed. My takeaway? He is just like us — or, at least, he’s how most of us like to imagine ourselves to be, on our best days.

–Megan Ranney, MD, MPH, is an associate professor of emergency medicine; co-founder of GetUsPPE; and a CNN medical analyst.

Sprinkles from the Right

The Right generally contends the document dump reveals Dr. Fauci carries certain biases and prejudices that were harmful to the U.S. response to the pandemic.

In any case, like most data dumps that have careful redactions, the Fauci email trove has no smoking-gun evidence of wrongdoing. You could make the case, as I and others have, that Fauci had certain prejudices and dispositions that were deeply unhelpful in his leadership of the pandemic response — and you’ll find evidence of those here. He had a very strong bias against existing drugs and for new and experimental ones. He has been slippery on masks and clearly was willing to say things in public that he thought “helped” the response even if they weren’t strictly true.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review

How did Fauci go from being one of the few unifying figures of the past year to just another political punching bag? Some of it wasn’t his fault. The polarization predated him. The mandatory masking and forced business closures were always going to be controversial policies. And it was precisely the people who were most skeptical of Donald Trump who were going to look to Fauci, venerating him as a secular saint until he was a devil to the other side.

But Fauci did seem to enjoy his fame, however much the pandemic weighed on him, and over time embraced his role as long-suffering straight man to Trump’s bleach-drinking routine. Trump couldn’t have been easy to work for and was clearly chafing under the restrictions that ruined the economic boom that gave him the best chance of being re-elected. Yet Fauci’s media approach was inevitably going to alienate millions of Trump supporters, whose cooperation on things like the vaccine was necessary.

Fauci also dispensed advice like a parent who doesn’t tell a child the whole story but rather a simplified version to motivate correct behavior — a strategy that is effective until the holes in the story become apparent. Information changes, but Fauci relied on people seeing science as wisdom passed on from authority figures rather than a discovery process. “The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus,” he privately wrote in February 2020. Months later he would attribute his public insistence early in the pandemic of the same idea to worrisome PPE shortages, not his own changing mind.

To many conservatives, America’s doctor quickly became just another bureaucrat who couldn’t shoot — or talk — straight.

W. James Antle III, politics editor of the Washington Examiner and the former editor of The American Conservative (published in The Week)

Fauci’s about-face on masks was not without controversy, but it had some excuse given its context. A public health official lying to the public he is responsible for protecting (for whatever the reason) is no small matter. But one could also see Fauci’s explanation as a “noble lie” designed to make sure the people who needed masks most would get them.

Newly released emails, however, suggest that when Fauci said in March that there was no reason for healthy individuals to wear masks, it wasn’t to prevent a mask shortage—it was because he believed it…

Masks became so politically polarizing that even top government officials could be hit with a social media ban for posting that masks were unhelpful. Indeed, this is precisely what happened to Dr. Scott Atlas, who at the time was a top member of the White House coronavirus task force. In that environment, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Fauci flip-flopped to “fall in line” for the sake of his political career.

To be clear, we don’t know for certain what motivated Fauci’s decisions… What we do know is that public choice theory can help us better understand what motives besides public health may have helped Fauci change his mind (consciously or subconsciously).

It shows how political incentives can often be at odds, not only with the public good, but with truth itself.

Jonathan Miltimore, FEE.org