When You’re a Star, They Let You Do It
This piece is part of a new series from TAC, “Taking the Mask Off.” For more about the series, click here.
In July of 2020, a thin elderly man threw an embarrassing baseball pitch in front of a national television audience. He looked like he was taking part in the wrong sport and that decades earlier he might have been a former high-school basketball player, albeit on an all-white team. And that, as journalists had discovered, is exactly what he was. Decades earlier, in 1958, the young Tony Fauci had played point guard for Regis High School in Manhattan, where he led his team to a single unlikely victory over Fordham Prep.
What one television journalist described as “Fauci fans” quipped that the bad throw had been deliberate, that Fauci had not wanted anyone to “catch” something. The use of the word “fans” is instructive. It is through the lens of celebrity culture, in its distinct post-supermarket checkout aisle magazine online iteration, that we can best make sense of the man now better known than the presidents and prime ministers of most of our European allies.
It was as a celebrity of sorts that Fauci, an uncharismatic career bureaucrat, emerged in March 2020. Fauci, we were told (or were we? for his bizarre rise was one of those consensuses that formed before its central ideas had even been articulated) was everything that Donald Trump was not. He was a man of science, with the respect of the Washington establishment; he was careful, deliberative, attuned to reality, and utterly non-ideological. He was, above all, someone who tells the truth.
The truth, as we learned in the early days of lockdowns, was that masks were pointless, a means of giving an excitable population something to do that could not meaningfully alter the course of the new virus; that double or triple masking was the most effective means of securing an additional layer of protection; that vaccines would mean the end of Covid-19; and that the United States “has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
That most of these things were lies has been obvious for more than a year. Now the absurd fiction (routinely accepted in polite circles now even though it was once dismissed as racist) that the virus emerged from the so-called “wet markets” of China looks increasingly unlikely. It was recently reported by the Intercept that contrary to what Fauci had told Rand Paul in sworn testimony before the Senate, the United States funded gain-of-function research designed to make viruses more transmissible carried out at the Wuhan Institute. It is possible, of course, that the research in question had nothing whatever to do with the virus that appeared suddenly in Wuhan. It is also possible that I am Arthur the Aardvark.
By any definition of which I am aware, Fauci lied. When he insisted in May that he had not been responsible for funding that had never occurred, he was not playing definitional games or equivocation. Nor was he engaged in mental reservation. It was perjury.
What are the likely consequences of Fauci’s lies in Washington, D.C., where only two years ago politicians and journalists were demanding the prosecution of minor officials and campaign functionaries for misremembering dates in conversations with the FBI? Is there any chance that this hero, the subject of dozens of fawning profiles, the superhero whose name and likeness adorn T-shirts, stickers, and bobbleheads will be held to account? What about the tenacity of the senator who exposed his perfidy?
To ask is to answer. Anthony “Chinese” Fauci, to borrow an epithet from a historical figure he curiously resembles, will not be required to answer for lying or for anything else. The celebrity culture that long ago replaced serious adult conversation about meaningful questions in American public life does not interrogate its luminaries about such things.
The latest evidence that we paid China to engineer a virus that has become the occasion for what is almost certainly the greatest folly ever undertaken by a government in modern times comes comes as the Chinese government is working to secure a concession from an enemy we spent two decades and trillions of dollars without eradicating to extract rare-earth minerals from the waste land of Afghanistan. American teenagers are addicted to Chinese spyware on their smartphones. China approves all of our entertainment products, from the latest Disney trash to the NBA, and imposes severe restrictions upon the ability of its business partners to criticize the regime, or even to acknowledge the existence of its crimes, including the genocidal campaign against Uighur Muslims.
Meanwhile, as I write this, I cannot find a reference to the Intercept’s reporting on Fauci in a single mainstream newspaper or wire service. Presumably, like the evidence of Joe Biden’s conflicts of interest in Ukraine, it does not rise to the level of what they consider the public interest, which is synonymous with what Tik-Tok influencers and HBO stars consider most horrifying about the new anti-abortion legislation in Texas.
Why would it?
Matthew Walther is editor of The Lamp magazine and a contributing editor at The American Conservative.