Fauci strongly rebuts media efforts to paint him as a Trump hostage

Monday’s COVID-19 press conference will be memorable because President Trump used it to slap back at the media’s attempt to rewrite his timely and aggressive response to COVID-19, even as media types were on the airwaves saying it was nothing more than a flu. What shouldn’t get lost about that same press conference is how Dr. Fauci responded to a reporter who tried to get him, not just to blame Trump, but to act as a hostage to or puppet of the administration.

The press conference that ended up shooting off so many fireworks began innocuously enough. Trump walked out and offered “condolences and best wishes” to those in the South who had experienced severe and deadly weather. Then, he stated that the number of new infections is flat and that hospitalizations are slowing in hot spots, something that is especially good in light of the apocalyptic nature of the expert predictions.

Trump next invited Dr. Fauci to step to the podium. Fauci cheerfully said that, while last week was bad, it seems as if this week we may be on the other side of the bell curve. He was also enthusiastic about his discussion with the Congressional Black  Caucus, and ways to help minority communities.

Fauci then forthrightly and gracefully addressed his Sunday interview on CNN with Jake Tapper. During that interview, he said, he was “asked a hypothetical question” and noted that these questions can create problems. Fauci explained that the hypothetical asked if earlier mitigation efforts would have helped with COVID-19's spread. His answer, he explained, was stated purely in the abstract:  In theory, the nature of mitigation being what it is, the earlier one implements mitigation, the better the outcome. However, said Fauci, that theoretical answer to a hypothetical question was taken as “maybe something was at fault here.”

The contrary is true, Fauci insisted. He told the assembled reporters that, before he spoke to the president, there had been group discussions about the pros and cons of strong mitigation at a given time, with the discussions mostly taken place between medical experts.

However, he said, that kind of discussion wasn’t at all what happened when dealing with President Trump:

The first and only time that Dr. Birx and I went in and formally made a recommendation to the President to actually have a “shutdown” in the sense of, not really shutdown, but to really have strong mitigation, we discussed it. Obviously, there would be concern by some that, in fact, that might have some negative consequences. Nonetheless, the President listened to the recommendation and went to the mitigation.

The next, second, time that I went with Dr. Birx into the President and said, “Fifteen days are not enough; we need to go thirty 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 thirty days.

So I can only tell you what I know and what my recommendations were. But clearly, as happens all the time, there were interpretations of that response to a hypothetical question that I just thought it would be very nice for me to clarify because I didn’t have a chance to clarify that.

In the sane world, that is an unambiguous statement about what he said, what he meant to say, and what actually happened. It establishes unequivocally that President Trump, whatever his instincts were, was willing to listen to and abide by expert recommendations regarding a new disease within America’s borders.

A reporter asked Fauci to specify the date he spoke to the President, which he could not remember. She asked if the mitigation at issue was the travel restrictions the President imposed. Fauci replied that the travel restrictions were something different. He then elaborated that Trump was always on board with those recommendations as well, whether for China, Europe, or England.

CBS's Paula Reid next asked Fauci about his reference to “pushback.” He quickly answered, “That was the wrong choice of words.” What he meant was that there was simply discussion – “not necessarily in front of the president” -- about different options. And that response led Reid to ask a shocking question.

But before I get to that question, allow me to digress for a moment.

During the Vietnam War, Jeremiah Denton, a Navy flyer, was shot down over North Vietnam and became a prisoner of war. He survived 7 1/2 years in the “Hanoi Hilton” despite being subject to incredibly brutal torture as well as years in solitary confinement.

In 1966, Denton was dragged out of his cell and placed before cameras to participate in a press conference. During the conference, despite having to focus so that he could respond to questions without saying something that would get him killed, Denton managed to blink his eyes in Morse code to spell out T-O-R-T-U-R-E:

With Denton’s heroism in mind, let’s return to Monday’s press conference. It’s apparent that the mainstream media has cast Fauci in the role of a prisoner of war trapped in Trump’s White House and imagines him sending out secret signals telling the truth about his captivity. How else can one explain Reid's question to Dr. Tony Fauci, a man who is guiding the president’s every step right now: “Are you doing this voluntarily or did President Trump [inaudible]?”

Even with the second part of the question inaudible, it’s evident that Reid was asking if Fauci was making his statement under duress. Her question was tantamount to asking Fauci if his blinks were spelling out “torture.” Fauci, hands raised in protest, instantly answered, “No. Everything I do is voluntary.” He then  added, “Please, don’t even imply that.” The look of disgust on his face as he uttered those words was unmistakable.

The media are out of control. A meme floating around the internet perfectly sums up what is happening:

For Republicans, virus about the virus; for Dems, it's about Trump

The media have no actual interest in COVID-19. They care about the virus only insofar as the virus is a way to undermine President Trump. In the same way, they have no interest in whether hydroxychloroquine (a drug I’ve taken myself, without even a caution from the doctor, when traveling in the Far East as a prophylactic against malaria) can help patients if they receive it early enough. Because President Trump viewed the drug with enthusiasm, the media are determined to treat it as a deadly poison, even if that attitude means that people die without it.

Dr. Fauci has made it plain that Trump has listened carefully to expert medical advice and followed it in the hope that this advice will serve America well – and the media have responded by treating Fauci has a hostage and puppet.

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