According to his nemeses, Fauci has held his position for so many decades due less to his talent as a doctor and more to his relentless media schmoozing and glad-handing. This has served him well during the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw the same media that was supposed to be covering him critically giving him tongue bath after tongue bath. The mainstream press treated him like some sort of infallible Pandemic Pope whose words may not be questioned. Not only were Fauci’s dictates not fact-checked – the media even helped him to cover up when he contradicted himself. Fauci’s pronouncements on the pandemic were true because Fauci said so, at least if you worked for Big Tech or the media.
No sooner had the blame for the newly-discovered SARS-CoV-2 been placed on some poor sick bats in a wet market in Wuhan than Fauci was trumpeting that shiny new hypothesis, taking up the time-honored tradition of blaming the gross (to Western sensibilities) live-animal butchers of Wuhan for refusing to put aside their al-fresco knife work and embrace the reign of the supermarket.
This is hardly a novel approach – every time a major epidemic hits south Asia, the WHO and other health authorities point their fingers at the difficult-to-regulate wet market industry, even if no proof has surfaced suggesting a direct line of transmission. Even with no bats sold on site, the calls for shutting down the Wuhan market linked to the coronavirus epidemic were deafening.
But Fauci would cling to the wet market hypothesis long past its “sell by” date, unquestioned by the media, even as his colleagues began cautiously distancing themselves from an idea whose only scientific merit was that it allowed for the free exercise of Western chauvinism in the guise of public health. Painted into a corner with their insistence on blaming a bat for a human’s job, the bold chief epidemiologist – with the help of a sympathetic media – merely ignored for as long as possible the lack of bats at the market, the absence of any proof of a “bridge” species that could have allowed the virus to jump to humans, and the fact that people were turning up sick prior to contact with the market.
Fauci has sparred with government figures and journalists over his difficult-to-pin-down views on Covid-19’s origins and faced confrontations over his shifting advice regarding how to avoid the virus – but the media always fall on his side, even when they have to flip-flop to do it, because hey, “who’s the doctor here, you or me?!” This crafts an untouchable quasi-religious aura around the octogenarian whom at least one publication bafflingly nominated as the year’s “sexiest man alive.”
Having gotten away with his eyebrow-raising introduction to the epidemic, Fauci went on to do further damage. An infamous 60 Minutes clip broadcast in March saw him advising the audience not to wear masks, dismissing them as mere security blankets, while insisting they be saved for the health professionals. State after state subsequently rolled out mask mandates, leaving their residents hopelessly confused. Should they listen to the nice old man on the television, or the warnings slapped on every building they tried to enter?
He told 60 Minutes in March, “right now in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks,” setting off a nationwide debate that continues over a year later, and during which he has sat, at one point or another, on every side of the fence. While Fauci later retracted his claim, qualifying it as an effort to keep ordinary Americans from using up all the PPE in the country at the time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to step in in April last year to clarify matters, making its “guidance” clear that Americans should wear face coverings.
Amid the chaos of the 2020 political election, Fauci was doing his best to prop up his credibility. When states like Florida and Texas, which kicked their mask mandates to the curb, started doing much better, coronavirus-wise, than states like New York or certain parts of California, a new narrative was needed. When the vaccine came out, Fauci saw his chance – turn down the ‘blame the bat’ act and pivot whole-hog to pedaling the vaccine. It was bold, certainly, but could it work?
Months later, Fauci’s gamble paid off well enough to give him the confidence he needed to ditch that wet market for all, ensuring no further talk of the soggy bottoms. Fauci joined a panel of well-known journalists, fact-checkers and other political figures to discuss disinformation, something he knows quite a lot about. During the panel, which other media outlets failed to cover for several days while they got their own houses in order, he dropped a major bombshell, declaring he was “not convinced” [Covid-19] had developed naturally and insisting “we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened.”
This was nearly a year after Fauci insisted there was nothing to see here, move along, regarding the supposedly natural origins and evolution of the coronavirus. Suddenly, all the information that had been swept into a corner from January through March came pouring out into the open – though there were no apologies for the scientists and writers who had been smeared for a year as cranks and conspiracy theorists.
Vox News and a handful of other publications scrambled to make their version of reality match Fauci’s, picking and choosing among the research of other journalists and real scientists as they minimized the bat factor and beefed up the possibility of a laboratory origin story. Having put so much effort into buttressing The Science™, it would not do to be seen propping up the scenery between acts – this was reality, after all, its questioning forbidden under pain of a kind of reverse-Galilean ostracism.
While it was difficult to slip reality this sort of mickey in the past due to websites like the Wayback Machine, which archives past versions of websites, over the last year that site has announced it is falling in line with the good folks at the Poynter Institute and other severely biased ‘fact checkers’, who turn facts into Facts™ and send the inconvenient ones down the memory hole. The target of its censorship would be Covid-19, because health-related disinformation isn’t safe, right, Fauci? Don’t worry, we’ll wait until you finish chowing down that bowl of bat soup for an answer.
Presumably Fauci was forced to go back to that lab-leak loose end because he and the rest of the US military-industrial complex couldn’t make anything convincing out of the bat soup foolishness. And if the investigative teams looking for any morsel of proof to prop up a blame-the-Chinese origin story can’t find one? Will they have to admit Fauci helped fund the lab, as some scientists have claimed?
In preparation for revisiting last year’s evidence as if it was shocking and new, the New York Times and Vox News (and likely many more to come) were caught quietly modifying the stories they’d written about Fauci the Great to bring them in line with the current reality, which has shifted to depict Fauci less as a hard-line Bat Souper-Man than as an open-minded scientific crusader willing to consider all options and intrepidly follow The Science wherever it may lead. These were not ordinary corrections, explained in the text with a dutiful mea-culpa as the mark of an honest journalist who got something wrong. They were the equivalent of White-Out applied speeding by at 100mph: do it fast enough, suggest you only skim the piece, and that no one ever reads the fine print. Better yet – suggest no one reads it at all. It’ll be closer to the truth.
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