What the Fauci Emails Reveal
Thousands of emails involving Dr. Anthony Fauci — the head of NIAID — and Dr. Francis Collins — the head of NIH — have been released due to FOIA requests. Thousands of pages in all, some of them heavily redacted, are available at BuzzFeed, and they are somewhat of a Rorschach test. Having recently written “The Fall of St. Anthony Fauci,” I read many of these emails and thought they were rather damning of the man and our response. But, clearly, the Washington Post sees in them a man who is simply overwhelmed by what’s unfolding around him and who works around the clock to keep the information flowing.
Do we have any clues on the lab leak in this document dump? Well, yes. We have evidence that can be interpreted in a number of ways.
For instance, a January 21, 2020, email from Kristian G. Anderson looks for “clues to the outbreak” and doesn’t rule out lab leak. But since that time Anderson and his team have become much more skeptical of a lab-created hypothesis. Peter Daszak, the leader at EcoHealthNYC and an advocate for gain-of-function research, is now something like a hype-man for the paper that Anderson’s team produced.
A February 2, 2020, change of emails between Fauci and Collins references a ZeroHedge article sensationally hyping fears that insertions of HIV show that COVID-19 is an artificially created bioweapon. Fauci asks to take the conversation to a phone call. This is the story that got ZeroHedge banned from Twitter.
A February 17, 2020, email by Collins to Fauci has a link to a Fox News story on the idea of a lab leak. Fauci’s response is entirely redacted. The subject line is “conspiracy gains momentum,” suggesting perhaps that both men were treating such things as such. But other emails in which this theory comes up show a desire by the participants to take the conversation off email and into phone calls.
A flurry of inquiries from journalists and eagle-eyed Twitter users are pouring in to Fauci’s correspondents to determine what their emails meant and give broader context to understanding them.
There are lots of emails that may look incriminating at first glance but have innocent explanations. For instance, an email on February 4, 2020, from Trevor Bedford, a scientist at Fred Hutch, seems to say that certain evidence on offer about natural emergence or lab leak is inconclusive, though he rules out lab created. He then suggests to his correspondent that they move to “more secure forms of communication.”
Asked about this on Twitter, Trevor said he feared selective leaks to the press, or possibly the spying of Chinese intelligence. That’s not unreasonable.
We also, however, have an email from Daszak — whose own firm subcontracted to the Wuhan Institute of Virology — sent to Fauci in February thanking him for lending his credibility to the case against the lab leak theory. Some of that email is still redacted. Daszak was already a tireless advocate against the lab-leak theory before WHO assigned him, with China’s consent, to the team investigating the origins of the virus. Still, even with every incentive in the world to foreclose the lab-leak hypothesis, WHO’s head would not rule it out. Your view of this email will turn entirely on whether you think Daszak’s views are held genuinely.
I think the most interesting email on this is from Hugh Auchincloss to Fauci on February 1, 2021, in which it looks as if NIH is trying to determine for itself if “we have any distant ties to this work abroad.” Fauci follows up later on how essential it is that he and Hugh speak over the phone that morning, and that he has tasks that must be done:
This was sent just hours after Anderson first suggested to Fauci that there were features in the virus that “(potentially) look engineered.”
Here’s one where I really think the private record will make a difference in our understanding of events. On February 5, 2020, Fauci sends an email advising against masks and gives the recommendation that the kind of mask you buy in a drug store “is not really effective in keeping out virus which is small enough to pass through the material.” This conclusion could only have been bolstered as scientists converged on the conclusion that COVID-19 was aerosolized. This was consistent with statements Fauci made in public, even on 60 Minutes, that masks might be actively harmful.
Later, when he shifted to a pro-mask position, Fauci held that he never advised the public that masks couldn’t help, only that they shouldn’t buy them. This wasn’t true. He said he gave this advice to save PPE for front-line workers. Even though we have seen lots of instances in which public-health officials deliberately lie to the public to manipulate them toward an outcome — a practice I find morally abhorrent and politically inconsistent with self-government — we find no evidence that there was a deliberate and conscious effort to protect supplies of PPE with this lie. (Although, we do find one of Fauci’s Chinese peers offering apologies for being quoted in Science calling Fauci’s position on masks “a big mistake.”)
On March 1, 2020, Fauci recommends the use of N95s while explaining that transmission is similar to influenza but more aerosol than droplets. The recommendation of N95s makes sense with his previous denigration of pharmacy-bought masks, and it follows on studies showing that some of the styles of mask popularly worn could actually increase the spread of droplets. By March 31, 2020, Fauci is buying into the less-effective masks based on “some data from NIG that indicate that mere speaking without coughing elicits aerosols that travel a foot or two.” Fauci concludes, “If that is the case, then perhaps universal wearing of masks is the most practical way to go.” I’m not sure that’s really true, as, at best, cloth masks slightly redirect the aerosols that transmit COVID-19.
However, Fauci would occasionally say things such as how he wanted masks to “be a symbol” for the type of thing you should do. That is, he seemed to betray his view of their medical utility by leaning heavily on their psychological utility. And I expect that the defense of store-bought cloth masks will retreat to this ground. Perhaps they’ll say that it’s true the virus easily gets through the mask, but the mask does some redirecting work, and that this slight utility combines with its use as a constant physical reminder of COVID mitigation behavior such as social distancing to slow the spread.
For me, one of the most interesting exchanges comes from Dr. Josh Backon of Hebrew University who became angry that Fauci had been downplaying the use of cheap, well-tested anti-viral drugs such as Chloroquine and Ivermectin to treat COVID-19. Backon sent an initial email proposing the logic behind these treatments, and then later sent the email again below a link to a study substantiating his claims, with the curtly defiant, “Continue ignoring me.” Fauci brushed him off, saying, “You’re not being ignored,” and promised someone would take a look at his research.
Then there was a long fan email from Mark Zuckerberg thanking Fauci for his leadership during the pandemic and offering to help get out good messages. One of these emails makes some kind of final appeal to Fauci that is redacted, and an offer to discuss via telephone.
There are so many little details to discover it’s hilarious. One of my favorites so far is from the veteran New York Times journalist Donald McNeil, who writes to Fauci to praise the decency and heroism of the average Chinese person in the face of COVID, compared to selfish pig Americans. This is just romanticizing a foreign country to denigrate your fellow citizens, and it’s a sophomoric view of the world.
It speaks well of Fauci that he was at least somewhat disturbed by “Fauci fever.”
In any case, like most data dumps that have careful redactions, the Fauci email trove has no smoking-gun evidence of wrongdoing. You could make the case, as I and others have, that Fauci had certain prejudices and dispositions that were deeply unhelpful in his leadership of the pandemic response — and you’ll find evidence of those here. He had a very strong bias against existing drugs and for new and experimental ones. He has been slippery on masks and clearly was willing to say things in public that he thought “helped” the response even if they weren’t strictly true.
From National Review
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