Fauci Continues Making Public Appearances and Hasn’t ‘Disappeared’

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SciCheck Digest

Dr. Anthony Fauci has continued making public appearances, although news coverage has largely shifted away from the pandemic since Russia invaded Ukraine in February and COVID-19 cases have dramatically fallen. Some politicians and pundits, however, have suggested that Fauci has become so unpopular that he has “disappeared” from public view. He hasn’t. Fauci has made at least a dozen public appearances since Feb. 15.


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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, became a fixture in the news during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He’s been making fewer media appearances recently, though, as Russia’s war in Ukraine has overtaken much of the news and COVID-19 case counts have fallen. The seven-day moving average for new cases peaked on Jan. 15 at 809,621 and, that month, Fauci appeared on ABC’s and CNN’s Sunday talk shows as well as the New York Times’ The Daily podcast and in interviews with Katie Couric and CNN’s Anderson Cooper. He also appeared at four White House briefings on the pandemic that month.

COVID-19 cases kept declining through February and, as of March 15, the seven-day moving average had reached the lowest point since July — 30,934 cases.

But politicians and pundits have suggested that there might be something else going on.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, for example, wrote on Twitter March 2, “Where’s Fauci? Strange how he disappeared just in time for the State of the Union!” On the same day, however, Fauci had participated in a White House briefing on COVID-19. (See the accompanying image with this story.)

Will Cain, who hosted Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight on March 4, played a clip from December 2020 about Fauci’s popularity and then said, “suspiciously, this February, before the invasion of Ukraine, the mood changed. All of a sudden, our political leaders stopped worshipping Tony Fauci. Instead, now they’re pretending he doesn’t exist.”

Cain’s evidence for this was a side-by-side comparison of video interviews with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, in April 2021 and February 2022.

In April, when the state was experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths and Whitmer was being interviewed about that surge, there was a pillow depicting Fauci among the items displayed on the shelving behind her. In February, when Whitmer was being interviewed about the economic impact of the Canadian truckers’ blockade, the pillow had been replaced by Michigan-themed artwork. It’s worth noting that Whitmer had changed some other decor, too. But, more to the point, in June 2021 the right-wing outlet Breitbart had already reported that Whitmer had “ditched Fauci’s pillow.”

So, the pillow was gone about eight months before Cain’s piece aired, which makes it a stretch to claim that its removal proves, “All of a sudden, our political leaders stopped worshipping Tony Fauci. Instead, now they’re pretending he doesn’t exist.”

Conservative commentator Liz Wheeler also included the talking point on the March 10 episode of her podcast.

“The reason he vanished is because he’s very unpopular among the American people,” she said of Fauci. “Nobody trusts him anymore, even on the left.”

But that claim isn’t supported by public opinion research. While it’s true that public confidence in Fauci has declined since last spring, a January survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 65% of respondents were confident in his advice, compared to 71% in April 2021. Among Democrats and those who lean Democratic, that figure was 88%. Among Republicans and those who lean Republican, that figure was 36%. (The Annenberg Public Policy Center is the home of FactCheck.org.)

Wheeler went on to add more conspiratorial claims about why Fauci has made fewer public appearances recently, suggesting that it might be due to a widely debunked theory that the U.S. either runs or funds secret biolabs in Ukraine. As we have written, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Biological Threat Reduction Program works with Ukraine’s public health laboratories to reduce the risk of dangerous infectious disease outbreaks.

But a list of Fauci’s media appearances kept on the NIAID website shows that Fauci has been showing up on TV and in the news, albeit not as frequently.

PolitiFact addressed similar claims in a story posted on March 7 that included a list of nine public appearances by Fauci between Feb. 15 and March 6.

Since then, Fauci was quoted in a March 8 USA Today story about racial equity for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots; featured in a March 14 CNBC story about the future of the pandemic as it enters its third year; quoted in a March 15 CNN story about what rising COVID-19 cases in Europe could mean for the U.S.; and interviewed for a March 16 segment on ABC News’ San Diego affiliate about the newest variant, which Fauci said he expects will cause an uptick in cases in the coming weeks.

Also, the University of Michigan announced that Fauci would be the speaker at a May 7 ceremony for 2020 graduates who didn’t have a commencement due to the pandemic.

We reached out to the NIAID for comment and were told in an email, “Dr. Fauci continues to do media and other appearances. In general, media attention has of course shifted to the war in Ukraine, so I think you’ll find fewer media appearances by COVID experts across the board compared to what was happening prior to Ukraine.”

So, the claim that Fauci has “disappeared” doesn’t hold up. He’s still out there advising the public about health issues and the pandemic, even if other world events — such as the war in Ukraine — have been getting a bigger share of news coverage.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.

Sources

Jordan, Jim (@Jim_Jordan). “Where’s Fauci? Strange how he disappeared just in time for the State of the Union!” Twitter. 2 Mar 2022.

Annenberg Public Policy Center. “Confidence Declines in CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci.” 27 Jan 2022.

Collins, Ben and Kevin Collier. “Russian propaganda on Ukraine’s non-existent ‘biolabs’ boosted by U.S. far right.” NBC News. 14 Mar 2022.

Gambardello, Joseph. “Social Media Posts Misrepresent U.S.-Ukraine Threat Reduction Program.” FactCheck.org. 2 Mar 2022.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Anthony Fauci in the News. Niaid.nih.gov. Accessed 16 Mar 2022.

O’Rourke, Ciara. “Dr. Anthony Fauci has not spoken or appeared publicly for several weeks.” PolitiFact. 6 Mar 2022.

Barfield Berry, Deborah. “Many young people of color aren’t getting the COVID booster. Biden aims to change that.” USA Today. 8 Mar 2022.

Tirrell, Meg. “Two years into the coronavirus pandemic, Fauci hopes the world will not forget lessons from a ‘catastrophic experience.’” CNBC 14 Mar 2022.

Goodman, Brenda and Deidre McPhillips. “What rising Covid-19 infections in the UK and Europe could mean for the US.” CNN 15 Mar 2022.

Aarons, Jared. “ABC 10News Exclusive: One-on-One With Dr. Fauci.” ABC 10 News San Diego. 16 Mar 2022.

Zaniewski, Ann. “Shriver, Fauci, Klawe to speak at commencement ceremonies.” The University Record, University of Michigan. 16 Mar 2022.

Spokeswoman, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Email to FactCheck.org. 14 Mar 2022.

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