Donald Trump doesn’t like Dr. Anthony Fauci. Amidst Trump’s fumbling leadership during COVID-19, Fauci has emerged as a voice of caution and reason, tempering expectations and delivering hard but necessary truths. New polls show that Americans trust Fauci more than twice as much as Trump when it comes to coronavirus information.
For Trump, those numbers mean it’s smearing time.
Over the weekend, the White House began – or perhaps doubled down – on its attempts to discredit Fauci. Several anonymous administration officials expressed their concerns about how often Fauci has been wrong in the past and that his bad information could be endangering the American people.
White House goes after Fauci pic.twitter.com/YrKJNNMkLL
— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) July 12, 2020
The tactic isn’t new from Trump’s White House. It’s happened before with basically every official Trump has tried to blame for his failures or bad numbers all the way back to Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus. Within days, or even hours, we find out how terrible the person was, how difficult they were to work with, and how they were the ones sabotaging everything from the inside. It’s obvious garbage, but it’s the only kind of backstabbing, Machiavellian politics Trump is actually good at—and he’s only good at it because he has the media’s help.
— joe virgillito (@joevirgillito) July 13, 2020
The D.C. media writ large placates few people more than the anonymous White House official (with anonymous intelligence officials a close second). Reporters covering the White House take what the anonymous officials are saying and tweet or publish them without any vetting or seeming regard for whether it’s a bullshit narrative. On the one hand, that’s their job—a journalist covering the White House is supposed to get information from inside the White House out to the people. But when the information they’re parroting is clearly part of a coordinated partisan smear campaign against the nation’s top health official, it should give reason for some pause.
Most journalists provide context in their tweets or full stories about the myriad of reasons Trump has for smearing Fauci. Still, instant regurgitation of any information an anonymous White House official provides, be it in a tweet or a headline, is irresponsible. It puts the information Trump wants out there first—that the White House doesn’t trust Fauci and thinks he’s wrong a lot. The distinction might not matter to anyone who’s actually paid attention and understands Trump’s proclivity for lying and slandering. For non-media-saturated folks, though, it simply makes Fauci look like the ugly duckling and undermines any information he provides, no matter how truthful or helpful.
It’s beyond obvious why Trump wants to discredit Fauci. If Fauci had simply stayed silent over the past four months he’d be more trustworthy than the president, who early on said COVID-19 cases were “going to zero” and that the virus would die out in the heat of the summer months, among countless other ridiculous things. For what it’s worth, Fauci did push the now-disproven theory that masks don’t actually help stop the spread of coronavirus—an error that’s made him a right wing punching bag for months, even among the anti-mask crowd. Despite that, his frankness about America’s poor pandemic response and tempered expectations about reopening businesses and schools have provided a salve for the many people who, unlike the president and his cronies, trust medical and scientific experts and are worried about the pandemic’s potential long-term impact.
The media’s job of deciphering misinformation from fact is arguably more difficult than ever. Beltway journalists are dealing with an openly dishonest president and administration determined on bending reality to whatever half-baked narrative they’re trying to sell. They’ve also had more than three years to adapt to the bullshit and stop parroting the corrupt administration’s anonymous sources. For professional journalists, that should be more than enough time to realize you’re being used for a cynical PR play rather than being fed newsworthy information.