Whatever comes next in the pandemic, we all have cause to rejoice at the best news since the arrival of the COVID vaccine: Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, has announced his retirement. His long and singularly disastrous career ends in December.
Never in the history of the public-health profession has anyone been so richly rewarded for doing so much harm to the public’s health. Whether or not he actually helped start the COVID pandemic — by funding dangerous research in the Chinese lab that may have created the coronavirus — he promoted a series of policies in America and the rest of the world that did even more damage than the virus.
Except possibly for the Great Depression, the lockdowns were the costliest public-policy mistake ever made during peacetime in America.
Fauci got away with it by invoking the authority of science while violating its fundamental principles. Before COVID arrived, the world’s leading epidemiologists had warned that lockdowns would be futile and cause catastrophic collateral damage, but Fauci simply ignored that advice.
As evidence mounted of the policies’ failure, he persisted by deploying the skills honed during five decades in Washington: bureaucratic infighting, media manipulation and fearmongering.
In the 1980s, he made national news by warning that the AIDS virus could be spread by “routine close contact” among family members, becoming one of the early prophets of the AIDS “heterosexual breakout” that would supposedly decimate the general population. That prospect needlessly terrified the public for more than a decade, but it boosted public funding for AIDS research, including a long and costly Fauci project to develop an AIDS vaccine.
The vaccine venture failed, but it enabled Fauci and two of his collaborators, Deborah Birx and Robert Redfield, to develop a relationship that they exploited during their service on the White House COVID Task Force. Birx, the task force’s coordinator, and Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, joined with Fauci to bully the Trump administration into following their dictates on COVID.
The three secretly agreed to all resign if any of them were fired, and they never disagreed with one another at the task-force meetings, as Scott Atlas recounts in his Washington memoir, “A Plague Upon Our House.”
Atlas, a health-policy analyst at the Hoover Institution, tried getting his colleagues at the meetings to consider the evidence that lockdowns and mask mandates were not working, but the three bureaucrats had no interest in debating it — or bothering to read the studies. To his amazement, they made no pretense of conducting any sort of cost-benefit analysis of their policies and never deigned to even discuss the vast social and economic collateral damage.
They were bureaucrats solely focused on compelling the public to follow their arbitrary rules. There was no reason to force vaccinations on people who had already acquired natural immunity to COVID, but the bureaucrats were determined to punish anyone who defied their authority — and silence any scientist who criticized them.
Early in the pandemic, prominent virologists expressed concerns by email that the virus had been created in the Wuhan laboratory, but they publicly dismissed that possibility after a teleconference with Fauci and other officials who had been funding research at the lab.
When eminent researchers from Oxford, Harvard and Stanford issued the Great Barrington Declaration, calling for a traditional public-health policy focused on protecting the vulnerable instead of shutting down society, Fauci dismissed it as “total nonsense,” and the mainstream media, as usual, parroted his smears and claims.
Fauci owed much of his success to decades of cultivating the right journalists — always quick to return a phone call or email, always available for a TV appearance, always happy to provide an authoritative quotation when he had no idea what he was talking about. Above all, he was always ready to satisfy journalists’ need for scary news and doomsday predictions.
Terrifying the public was good for business. The journalists were rewarded more clicks and higher ratings; Fauci and his fellow bureaucrats amassed more power and bigger budgets.
Fauci became the highest-paid federal employee, earning more than $400,000 per year, and stands to collect a pension estimated at $350,000 a year. That’s an appalling sum, considering the lasting harm he has done to children and adults in America and the rest of the world. But it’s a small price to be rid of him.
John Tierney is a contributing editor of City Journal and a co-author of “The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It.”