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The Coronavirus Comment: To Err Is Human, Even For Dr. Fauci

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Anthony Fauci, dir. of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases
Sarah Silbiger via Getty Images

Let's talk about Dr. Fauci, a knowledgeable, experienced scientist, a reliable voice and a man I admire and trust. I hope the president feels the same way about Fauci and listens to him in the coming weeks more than he listens to his Wall Street pals and economic advisers.

I hope our governor does the same. Public health depends on it. Lives depend on it. Our future as a state and nation depends on it.

We can't rebuild the economy until we slow the dying, reduce the spread and figure out how to identify, treat and prevent COVID-19, with plenty of the right equipment and the right medical facilities. Right now, washing hands and physical separation are two of the most important tools, and they are being pushed above all else as essentials by Fauci and others who are most knowledgeable about the virus.

I believe him. You should, too.

Still, as a Fauci fan, I was surprised when I started seeing references to this statement, attributed to Fauci, about the coronavirus, which conservative website started using recently in their efforts to discredit the internationally respected disease expert: "This is not a major threat to the people of the United States and this is not something that the citizens of the United States should be worried about right now.”

I was immediately suspicious. So, I checked and found the video from Newsmax -- a conservative "news" outlet that I don't entirely trust -- in which Dr. Fauci spoke that quote during an interview on Jan. 21 with Newsmax’s Greg Kelly. It was edited, of course, and Kelly was clearly pushing hard to get Fauci to respond to questions in a way that diminished the threat of the virus to the U.S. in some way.

It’s important to note that prior to that quote in the video, Fauci also said we must take the virus seriously and follow CDC and Homeland Security recommendations. The conservatives left that out in many of the diatribes when they used the "not a major threat" comment.

So, there was some manipulation going on, but not total manipulation or outright fabrication. The "not a major threat" comment seems to be real. It’s on video. And almost three months later, Fauci hasn't denied it.

As much as I respect Fauci, I can't imagine how someone so experienced and so wise on viruses and how they work could say those words at a time when the virus was killing people overseas and would soon be killing people by the thousands here in our nation. It seems like a rare blunder but a big blunder, and one that will give the Trump administration some cover for its own political gamesmanship, failures in leadership and early denials of the seriousness of the coronavirus.

This Fauci quote is small stuff compared to the daily misinterpretation and distortion and denial of facts, and sometimes outright fabrications, that President Trump engages in. It's a rare blunder by Fauci. But it's a blunder.

And it shows, as much as anything, how complicated this all is and how challenging it is to be on camera and under interview pressure constantly. It also shows human beings make human errors.

That’s true even of human beings as extraordinarily gifted as Dr. Anthony Fauci.