Dr. Anthony Fauci’s own words buttress Senator Ron Johnson’s claim that he “overhyped” AIDS during the 1980s.
But decades after he issued them neither Rolling Stone nor the Hill nor the Daily Beast bother to question, let alone investigate, Johnson’s accusation. Instead, those publications just take Fauci’s 2021 words at face value and pretend he did not say what he said in 1983.
“By the way, Fauci did the same exact thing with AIDS,” Senator Ron Johnson told Brian Kilmeade of Fox News last Wednesday. “He overhyped it. He created all kinds of fear, saying it could infect the entire population when it couldn’t, and he’s doing, he’s using the exact same playbook with COVID: ignoring therapy, pushing a vaccine.”
To respond, Fauci retreated, for the second week in a row, to a sycophantic Sunday host.
Last week, Fauci claimed that Republicans criticize him not because of his many errors but because “I represent science.” Just as the jaw-dropping arrogance Fauci displayed on Face the Nation last week did not even raise one of Margaret Brennan’s eyebrows let alone drop her jaw, Jake Tapper seemed dismissive this week of the idea that the senator knew something that maybe a television presenter did not. Instead of digging into Johnson’s claim, he asked Fauci to respond to the senior senator from Wisconsin’s “bizarre and false assertion.”
“How do you respond to something as preposterous as that?” Fauci told Tapper. “Overhyping AIDS? It’s killed over 750,000 Americans and 36 million people worldwide. How do you overhype that?”
The way people overhyped AIDS during the 1980s involved scare stories that one could contract the disease by using the wrong pay phone or public restroom. Fauci contributed to that hysteria. He knows he did this. He knows he received criticism for doing it from many quarters, including the late Randy Shilts, a voice generally friendly toward Fauci, in And the Band Played On. He knows exactly what Johnson refers to but he feigns ignorance.
“The finding of AIDS in infants and children who are household contacts of patients with AIDS or persons with risks for AIDS has enormous implications with regard to ultimate transmissibility of this syndrome,” Anthony Fauci explained to the American public in 1983. “If routine close contact can spread the disease, AIDS takes on an entirely new dimension.”
But infants and children did not contract the virus that causes AIDS from “routine close contact.” A responsible doctor does not make such a public proclamation. A bureaucrat, more concerned with saving his job than lives, does. It struck as a typical, CYA pronouncement way back when. Beyond this, bureaucrats — whether in defense or health or welfare or education — tend to hype problems to engorge the coffers of their agencies. Fauci based his remarks on nothing scientific but instead on speculation. Thirty-eight years later, Fauci counted on his journalistic cheerleaders to forget what they probably never remembered in the first place. They came through for him.
When Fauci counseled “absolute compulsive hand-washing” and “don’t ever shake anybody’s hands” last year, it sounded to people with long memories that again Fauci followed the hysteria playbook favored by bureaucrats but frowned upon by doctors that the doctor-bureaucrat favored in the aftermath of the public discovering AIDS. Ron Johnson merely points out Fauci’s penchant for doing this.
Fauci erred all those years ago. He erred in authorizing gain-of-function research. He erred in denying under oath that he had authorized gain-of-function research. But as Senator Johnson learns from his rough treatment in the press, the one who really pays for a mistake is the one who makes the mistake of pointing out one of Dr. Fauci’s mistakes.