‘Are you kidding me?’ Fauci responds to rightwing attacks over emails

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, has responded strongly to growing rightwing criticism and conspiracy theories connected to the release of thousands of his emails under freedom of information laws.

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“‘Fauci has blood in his hands’ – are you kidding me?” Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser asked in a frank interview with the New York Times on Monday. “Here’s a guy whose entire life has been devoted to saving lives, and now you’re telling me he’s like Hitler? You know, come on, folks. Get real.”

Fauci, who was also part of Donald Trump’s coronavirus taskforce, argued that those attacking him are “actually criticising science”.

Since the release of his emails earlier this month, mostly anodyne correspondence, Fauci has faced a growing range of hardline rightwing and conspiracy-tinged criticism.

Some such critics have focused on his advice, early in the pandemic, against wearing masks. Others have homed in on a series of partially redacted emails from Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, who contacted Fauci to thank him for his leadership and invite him to participate in an online Q&A.

In his interview with the Times, Fauci pushed back.

“It is essential as a scientist that you evolve your opinion and your recommendations based on the data as it evolves,” he said. “… And that’s the reason why I say people who then criticise me about that are actually criticising science.”

He added: “The people who are giving the ad hominems are saying, ‘Ah, Fauci misled us. First he said no masks, then he said masks.’ Well, let me give you a flash. That’s the way science works. You work with the data you have at the time.”

He described the email exchange with Zuckerberg as “about as friendly and innocent of an email as you could possibly imagine”, and called criticism of the correspondence “total conspiracy theory and total flight of fantasy”.

Asked how he felt when he realised his emails were to be made public, Fauci said: “Once I knew that it got out there, and it was going to get very carefully scrutinised by very far-right, radical people who clearly are trying to discredit me … I said to myself, ‘It is likely, I know, that you can pull out sentences from emails or take emails out of context or take an email that is perfectly innocent, followed up by an explanation and only show one aspect of it.’”

Fauci has served seven presidents since 1984 but the pandemic and the Trump administration’s chaotic response to it propelled him to newfound fame. He also told the Times he put “very little weight in the adulation, and very little weight in the craziness of condemning me”.

Fauci remains sceptical about claims that Covid-19 originated in a laboratory leak in Wuhan.

In May, Biden revealed he had ordered the US intelligence community to commence a closer examination on the origins of the virus, “including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident”.

Related: Did Covid come from a Wuhan lab? What we know so far

The announcement was seen by some as lending more weight to the so-called “Wuhan lab leak theory” of which Fauci, and many other leading experts, have long been sceptical.

Fauci told the Times: “I feel, as do the overwhelming majority of scientists who have knowledge of virology and knowledge of evolutionary biology, that the most likely explanation for this is a natural leap from an animal to a human.”

He described the theory as a “very, very remote possibility”, but said: “I do keep an open mind.”