Trump vs. Fauci Drama: A Reckless, Ongoing Media Creation and Obsession

Posted: Apr 15, 2020 10:25 AM
Trump vs. Fauci Drama: A Reckless, Ongoing Media Creation and Obsession

Source: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Earlier in the week, the relationship between President Trump and Dr. Fauci was once again the subject of near-obsessive media coverage, after the president quote-tweeted someone who'd used the hashtag #FireFauci. This palace intrigue plot line has proven irresistible to many in the press for weeks, as some journalists actually seem eager to prod and goad Trump into severing his relationship with the eminent public health expert. Over and over again, both men say that they're on good terms and enjoy a mutually-respectful partnership -- and over and over again, efforts are made and stories are written to undermine that functional and beneficial status quo.

Yes, it's true that Trump has some supporters chirping in his ear to get rid of or sideline figures like Doctors Fauci and Birx. And no, I don't think reporters are eager to see the practical outcomes of Fauci being fired, so much as they want to write the explosive and dramatic stories of him getting axed, and to cover the political whirlwind that would follow. Fauci has explicitly appealed to the media to stop attempting to drive this wedge, to no avail. Following another round of reports and speculation, the White House felt compelled to release this statement:

Fauci's frustration appeared to flare up at Monday's briefing when he sought to clarify a CNN exchange that had been seized upon as evidence of him criticizing the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic. What he was actually arguing was that while instituting strict mitigation measures earlier would have saved more lives, that's an unrealistic hypothetical, based on the complex calculations at play. Compare "gotcha" headlines like "Fauci Admits Earlier COVID-19 Mitigation Efforts Would Have Saved More American Lives" to this portion of the transcript:

TAPPER: ...the U.S. makes up only about 4.25 percent of the world's population, the U.S. has 30 percent of the world's reported coronavirus cases and almost 20 percent of the reported coronavirus deaths. Sanjay Gupta said that's -- this is all because we got started too late in the U.S.  Is that right? Do you agree?

FAUCI: You know, it isn't as simple as that, Jake. I'm sorry. I mean, to just say this is all happening because we got started too late, obviously, if you look, could you have done something a little bit earlier, it would have had an impact, obviously. But where we are right now is the result of a number of factors, the size of the country, the heterogeneity of the country. It's -- I think it's a little bit unfair to compare us to South Korea, where they had an outbreak in Daegu, and they had the capability of immediately, essentially, shutting it off completely in a way that we may not have been able to do in this country. So, obviously, it would have been nice if we had a better head start, but I don't think you could say that we are where we are right now because of one factor. It's very complicated, Jake.

To put a finer point on it, Fauci made a statement early in the following day's task force press briefing in which he asserted that President Trump has accepted and adopted his mitigation recommendations every step of the way:

"The first and only time that Dr. Birx and I went in and formally made a recommendation to the president to actually have a, quote, really have strong mitigation...Obviously, there would be concern by some and in fact that might have some negative consequences. Nonetheless, the president listened and went to the mitigation. The next second time that I went with Dr. Birx into the president and said 15 days are not enough, we need to go 30 days, obviously there were people who had a problem with that because of the potential secondary effects. Nonetheless, at that time, the president went with the health recommendations and we extended it another 30 days."

A reporter from CBS News then asked Fauci if this was a command performance, at the president's behest. He did not take to it kindly:

"Please." I am not arguing that President Trump doesn't deserve any criticism for his handling of this pandemic -- both in the lead-up to its American outbreak, as well as in the ongoing shambolic federal response. And I think he would have been far better served to have let the Fauci moments embedded above speak for themselves, as a strong defense of his actions and a reprimand to the media from an extremely credible figure, as opposed to the aggressive, hostile, campaign-style roundhouses that followed in Monday's wild and contentious briefing. But I also understand the frustration with a press corps that is almost universally and relentlessly negative, seeking to magnify any detail or stray syllable that could be construed as internal dissension -- even in the teeth of this historic health and economic crisis.

There may well be a poor ending to the Trump/Fauci relationship, given previous patterns. But at least for now, and hopefully for as long as needed, the two men are working well together, which is good news for the country. As I said on Fox News, dismissing Fauci would be a disastrous call, both on substance and politically. But among the people beating that drum the loudest are concern-trolling journalists whose fixation on Trump seems to crowd out all other priorities. I'll leave you with perhaps the best Fauci interview I've seen lately, conducted by Jesse Watters, who politely pressed the doctor on points raised by pro-reopening critics of the administration's mitigation strategy. The questions are fair and the responses are thoughtful...and notice who shared it:

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