When Dr. Anthony Fauci and “Sunday Morning” special contributor Ted Koppel first met on camera, remote interviews were still something of a novelty, and the nation was fixated on a global epidemic called HIV-AIDS. Koppel, then of ABC’s “Nightline,” asked Fauci, “What degree of optimism do you have about some kind of vaccine?”
“Two vaccines are in phase one trials to determine safety, but it won’t be well into the 1990s, if we’re lucky enough, to have a vaccine. It won’t be at least until 1995,” he replied.
Even 33 years ago, Fauci had a wide national following, but mostly among AIDS activists who were often highly critical; and he had not yet inspired any videos, T-shirts, coffee mugs or suggestions of impending sainthood, as he has recently.
“Oh, my goodness,” Fauci said, upon being shown a particularly saintly portrait of himself. “My nuns in Our Lady of Guadalupe in Brooklyn would be turning over in their grave when they see that!”
There are also other kinds of Fauci artifacts:
And then there is a July 22 Sinclair Broadcasting video, “America This Week,” in which a former chronic fatigue syndrome researcher, Dr. Judy Mikovits, claimed, “I believe Dr. Fauci has manufactured the coronaviruses.”
“You know, Ted, I think this is a dramatic example of the divisiveness in our country,” Fauci said. “We’ve had a complete distortion and throwing aside of scientific facts and evidence. And a certain part of the country believed the hoax aspect, the fake news aspect.
“The other half was longing for clarity, longing for facts, longing for truth. So, for better or worse, for one reason or other, I became a symbol that was unrealistic. like Saint Anthony. You know, it’s kinda, OK, great, but that’s not reality.
“On the other hand, I’ve had people who have threatened my life because I’m speaking public health measures,” Fauci said.
Koppel said, “We’ve got some video of you and your wife walking with a security detail. It came to that?”
“Yeah. Yeah. It came to that. I’ve triggered such animosity that I have to have federal agents, armed federal agents, with me, like, all the time.”
“Your children have been threatened?”
“I have to tell you, I’m not afraid of myself, for myself,” Fauci said. “But the thing that really is disturbing to me is the harassment, continual harassment, of my three daughters. The crazies, you know, know who they are, know where they live, know what their telephone number is, know where they work. It infuriates me.”
Koppel said, “Let’s talk about us, America. Here we are, we’ve got 4% of the world’s population. There have been two million fatalities worldwide. If we had our share, we would’ve had 80,000.”
“That’s a lot … we have five times that number.”
“We’ve been an abject failure, Tony.”
“Uh, huh. Yeah. The reasons for that, Ted, I don’t think I can articulate all of them, but some of them stand out to me because I’ve lived through them. You can’t have mixed messaging. You cannot have the politicization of public health messages. I mean, the idea that wearing a mask or not became a political statement? That makes it beyond difficult to implement a good public health measure.”
Koppel said, “You have a very expressive face. And there is a moment – you will know instantly what I am talking about – in the press room at the White House. I want you to reveal finally what was going through your head during that briefing.”
“Well,” Fauci said, “the one I think you’re referring to is when we were in that situation where we’re talking about hydroxychloroquine”:
President Trump: “It may work, may not work. I feel good about it. That’s all it is, just a feeling. You know, smart guy.”
“And he was up there talking about it and I just, I think I went like that (puts hand up to face).”
“I instinctively did. And I just sort of was saying to myself, Oh my God!, and unfortunately that became the picture that rocketed around the world.”
“People have come to a point where they don’t understand this about President Trump: He can actually be an extraordinarily charming man,” Koppel said.
“Yes. You’re right,” Fauci said. “He’s a charismatic person. I got along very, very well with him. But I took no pleasure in having to correct clear misrepresentations in the sphere of medicine and science.”
Fauci: “I’m not totally sure what the president was referring to …”
“That annoyed, I think, his staff, his loyal staff, in some respects even more than it annoyed him. So, that’s when things started to go in the wrong direction.”
President Trump: “He’s got this high approval rating. So, why don’t I have a high approval rating with respect – and the administration – with respect to the virus?”
“So, the relationship became a bit frayed. And then, when I would see him in the Oval Office, he would act like everything was fine.
“And then, we had that famous time when people were chanting ‘Fire Fauci! Fire Fauci!’ and he said ‘Hey, that’s not a bad idea. I think I’ll do that.”
President Trump: “Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait ’til a little bit after the election. He’s been wrong on a lot. He’s a nice man, though, he’s been wrong on a lot.”
Koppel asked, ” With more consistent leadership, we could have saved a lot of lives. Is that a fair statement?”
“Yeah, I believe so,” Fauci replied. “I mean, I think if we had had the public health messages – from the top right through down to the people in the trenches – be consistent, that things might have been different. In fact, I’m pretty sure they would have been different.”
It is a measure of Tony Fauci’s durability that, at the age of 80 he has just taken on a new title, working for Joe Biden – his seventh president – as his chief medical advisor.
“What we’re gonna be seeing over the next months is much more of a coordinated, synergistic partnership between the federal government and the states,” Fauci said. “So, I believe we’re gonna see a turnaround in attitude when the federal government and the states start working together much more, as opposed to ‘You’re on your own.'”
“Yeah, but, I mean you’ve been talking already and you have experienced your own regret, the poison of the partisanship that exists. That’s not going away, Tony.”
“Well, no, it’s not. What, we’re averaging around 200,000 to 300,000 infections a day; about 3,000 to 4,000 deaths a day? I mean, you have to look at those numbers and say, ‘We gotta do something different.'”
Koppel said, “Your first great challenge is gonna be able to get the vaccines in the arms.”
“Right now things are getting better; but they’re gonna get much better because President Biden has made it very clear this is his top priority. You know the goal that’s been set, which I believe is entirely achievable, is to have 100 million people vaccinated in the first 100 days … primary and boost.”
“In 100 days?”
“You realize you’re setting yourself up for disaster if you don’t meet that goal?” asked Koppel.
“Of course, and that’s one of the things that was kind of refreshing in one of the first briefings that we had with President Biden and Vice President Harris, is that he said, ‘We might have setbacks. But you know when that happens what we’re gonna do? Is we’re not gonna point fingers. We’re not gonna blame people. We’re not gonna hide anything. We’re gonna be totally transparent and honest and we’re gonna try and fix it.'”
“We’ve had four years, Tony, of – from the top – undermining confidence in all of our institutions: intelligence, the FBI, the media, science. That’s been a pandemic of its own kind, hasn’t it?”
“It has,” Fauci said. “And we’ve gotta repair it. We have to. Because the country’s at stake.”
“You got any thoughts on how to begin? There’s no vaccination for it.”
“No, there’s no vaccination. But I think maybe we have to keep showing by example that being united is much, much better than being divisive. Because divisiveness has really failed. I mean, it has failed us in every single way.”
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Story produced by Dustin Stephens. Editor: Steven Tyler.