Fauci's Lionization Reveals a Dark Truth: Fame Has Replaced Competence | Opinion

Dr. Anthony Fauci has gotten the Disney treatment. The infectious disease expert and chief COVID-19 advisor to both Presidents Trump and Biden is the subject of a new documentary released by Disney+ and National Geographic titled simply "FAUCI." The film traces Fauci's career from the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s through the coronavirus pandemic of today, which catapulted him into Disney-worthy superstardom by turning him into a cable news fixture and household name.

But in the month since the documentary was released, few have bothered to ask the simple question of whether Fauci's merits make him worthy of such a portrayal. Elite credentials and media fame aside, Fauci's record on the coronavirus pandemic has been pretty abysmal, the story of an incompetent public health bureaucrat whose mistakes cost lives and whose mistruths have cost the scientific community much of its credibility.

It all raises the question: Who is this documentary for exactly? And the answer contains a sad truth: This marriage of scientific malpractice and entertainment star power is for the millions of Americans for whom media fame and elite credentials are not only a stand in for authority but a replacement for effectiveness—even when lives are at stake.

I, too, spent the early days of the pandemic as a senior in college listening to every public health guideline Dr. Fauci preached. When he advised Americans to refrain from wearing masks and told us to make sure we did not catch the coronavirus from surface infection, I proudly went without a mask while wiping down every surface I touched. I was so confident in Fauci's wisdom that I remember laughing at the crazy hysterics who wore N95 masks in an airport.

I dutifully followed the orders given by Dr. Fauci because I shared the feeling of most Americans, that Fauci knew what he was doing; little did we know that Fauci had been privately telling confidantes a different story and deliberately lying to the public, all of which was revealed in emails obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.

But even before the emails were published, I had begun to lose my faith. It started in earnest during lockdown. I'd listened to Dr. Fauci's advice to stay home, developing depression like so many others in my age cohort. And while I was lucky enough to get a job, the lockdown policies advocated by Dr. Fauci orchestrated the largest upward transfer of wealth in American history, which played a major role in the misery suffered by Americans in much more precarious economic conditions than my own.

Senate Hearing Considers NIH Budget And State
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 26: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee hearing looking into the budget estimates for National Institute of Health (NIH) and state of medical research on Capitol Hill, May 26, 2021 in Washington, DC. A digital highway sign was hacked to flash a message saying "Arrest Fauci" early Tuesday in Florida. Sarah Silbiger-Pool/Getty Images

Still, throughout the entire month of May, we were told that the suffering we were dealing with—the depression and loss of income—were a painful but necessary measure to eradicate the virus killing Americans in droves. We're in this together, I thought, doing my best to keep the faith.

And then the Black Lives Matter demonstrations began to take place, and public health officials decided certain situations merited defying lockdowns and COVID guidelines. To his credit, Dr. Fauci was reluctant to encourage lockdown defiance, but I was one of many people for whom the lockdowns had stopped making sense. They had started to feel arbitrary and ideological, and the suffering I and so many others were experiencing felt pointless.

We know now that high lockdown states proved unable to handle the coronavirus any better than states that remained open. But perhaps the biggest trust-shattering aspect of Dr. Fauci's coronavirus response has been his repeated public denial of the lab leak theory that has only grown in credibility over time. Even as senior Biden officials have called for investigating the lab leak hypothesis, Fauci has remained defiant. He has continued to insist that the cause of the coronavirus pandemic was natural transmission, despite the absence of an original animal who might have carried the disease—something that's usually discovered within six months of the start of a naturally born pandemic.

Maybe this is why "FAUCI" has a 2/100 audience score on the movie recommendation site Rotten Tomatoes. The question is why it was a 92/100 score from the few dozen critics have rated the film.

And therein lies the problem: For too many in the chattering class—those who make films and those who review them—Fauci's fame, born of the culture wars, is itself a kind of credential, despite all of his real-world failures. Worse, the chattering class has the ear of half the nation; according to YouGov, about half the country approves of Fauci, though a significant share of the population believes politics have played a role in his decisions.

The real message of "FAUCI," it seems to me, is that if you can't be a good COVID czar, at least be a polarizing one. People might die, but you'll be the star of a Disney movie. It's what all too many would choose in a world in which fame has replaced competence.

James Lynch is a producer at Breaking Points and recent college graduate.

The views in this article are the writer's own.