Amid reporting that President Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci are now barely on speaking terms, the top health official admitted in an interview published Friday that his reputation for truth-telling and fact-based warnings about the coronavirus outbreak is likely why the American people have not seen him very much on television recently.
“I have a reputation, as you probably have figured out, of speaking the truth at all times and not sugar-coating things. And that may be one of the reasons why I haven’t been on television very much lately,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in an interview (paywall) with the Financial Times.
Trump this week has openly criticized Fauci as having made “a lot of mistakes” when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic, a classic example of the president deflecting criticisms that he receives onto others—even members of his own administration.
According to CNN, things are potentially even worse than they appear:
With coronavirus raging, Trump and Fauci are no longer speaking. The President has taken to openly criticizing him on television. Fauci is expressing puzzlement at some of Trump’s claims.
When the coronavirus task force convened at the Department of Education this week, Fauci was told to beam in over the phone instead of attending in person.
While he’s conducted a flurry of newspaper and radio interviews, he has stopped appearing on major American television networks.
As infections cases in the U.S. continue to surge, Fauci on Tuesday said the country is “still knee deep in the first wave” of the pandemic, but Trump later that day publicly contradicted the assessment. “I disagree with him,” Trump told journalist Greta Van Susteren on her show Full Court Press. “I think we are in a good place.”
On Sunday of this week, “Face the Nation” went public with the fact they have been unable to get the White House to book Fauci, or officials from the CDC, for the last three months. Writing for the Washington Post, digital opinions editor James Downie says the absence of top officials and experts from the weekend shows and other prominent outlets has a certain logic to it “when you realize that even in the midst of this deadly pandemic, the administration’s top priority is the president’s image.”
“With new coronavirus cases at 50,000 for four straight days, a normal administration would be flooding news programs with medical experts to tell Americans to wear masks, practice social distancing and otherwise fight the virus’s spread,” writes Downie. “But the Trump White House is doing the opposite.”
While it might seem to many the definition of insanity to keep one of the most highly-trusted and expert officials in the administration out of public view when the public health risks are so high and the public hunger for guidance is a given, Downie argues that sidelining Fauci is reasonable if the White House goal is “not public safety but to avoid making the president look bad—no matter the cost.”