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Media continues to lionize Anthony Fauci, despite his damning emails

It's official: Anthony FauciAnthony FauciThe tale of the last bipartisan unicorns Delta variant's UK dominance sparks concerns in US Overnight Health Care: FDA says millions of J&J doses from troubled plant must be thrown out | WHO warns Africa falling far behind in vaccinations | Top CDC official says US not ready for next pandemic MORE is Teflon, at least when it comes to an American media that seems mostly petrified of challenging him in any way despite ample material with which to work. 

Exhibit A comes after emails from and to Fauci — who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) as well as President BidenJoe BidenBiden prepares to confront Putin Ukrainian president thanks G-7 nations for statement of support Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting MORE’s coronavirus task force — were revealed via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Those emails reveal several things that should be of interest to a free press, yet most in the media are ignoring these revelations, despite huge domestic and worldwide implications. 

One email from February 2020 shows Fauci stating that retail masks aren't really effective in protecting people from contracting COVID-19. "The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit [to] keep out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you."

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Another email reveals that Fauci was made aware that a leak of COVID-19 by a research lab in Wuhan, China, was entirely possible, courtesy of Kristian Andersen, a professor with Scripps Research, in a Feb. 1 email.  

“On a phylogenetic tree the virus looks totally normal and the close clustering with bats suggest that bats serve as the reservoir,” Andersen wrote. “The unusual features of the virus make up a really small part of the genome (<0.1%) so one has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered.”

Fauci came to a different conclusion, however, during a May 2020 interview with National Geographic magazine. "If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what's out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated," he argued. 

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Even on Thursday — more than a year later and despite growing evidence the virus may have come from the lab, following a Wall Street Journal report indicating three lab workers got sick in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 — Fauci remained primarily steadfast in his belief the virus was not man-made while adding that he is keeping an open mind. “I have always said and will say today to you ... that I still believe the most likely origin is from an animal species to a human,” Fauci told CNN. “The idea, I think, is quite far-fetched that the Chinese deliberately engineered something so that they could kill themselves, as well as other people. I think that’s a bit far out.” 

It should be noted that novel viruses have escaped from labs before, including SARS from a Chinese lab in 2004 and anthrax from a Soviet lab in the 1970s. So there is precedent here. Yet, on cue, many in the media labeled those who even broached this possibility — including Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Austin and Milley talk budget, Afghanistan, sexual assault and more at wide-ranging Senate hearing Cotton, Pentagon chief tangle over diversity training in military Media continues to lionize Anthony Fauci, despite his damning emails MORE (R-Ark.) and then-President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden prepares to confront Putin Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting Senate investigation of insurrection falls short MORE — as conspiracy theorists.

But perhaps the most potentially damning part of the Fauci emails happened in two instances when he shared documents related to dangerous “gain-of-function” experiments at the Wuhan lab. 

"The emails paint a disturbing picture, a disturbing picture of Dr. FauciAnthony FauciThe tale of the last bipartisan unicorns Delta variant's UK dominance sparks concerns in US Overnight Health Care: FDA says millions of J&J doses from troubled plant must be thrown out | WHO warns Africa falling far behind in vaccinations | Top CDC official says US not ready for next pandemic MORE, from the very beginning, worrying that he had been funding gain-of-function research," Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFauci to Chelsea Clinton: The 'phenomenal amount of hostility' I face is 'astounding' GOP's attacks on Fauci at center of pandemic message Fox host claims Fauci lied to Congress, calls for prosecution MORE (R-Ky.), told Fox News’s Laura IngrahamLaura Anne IngrahamMedia continues to lionize Anthony Fauci, despite his damning emails Fox Nation to stream primetime Fox News shows in full DeSantis says he'll pardon people who violate mask laws MORE on Wednesday night. "And he knows it to this day, but hasn’t admitted it." Paul has repeatedly clashed with Fauci in Senate hearings. 

In an email that Paul was referencing, written to Hugh Auchincloss of the NIAID, Fauci passes along documents that pertain to gain-of-function research. “Hugh: It is essential that we speak this AM,” Fauci wrote. “Keep your cell phone on. ... Read this paper as well as the e-mail that I will forward to you now. You will have tasks today that must be done.”

More questions than answers are emerging as a result of these emails, but don't expect many in the media to pursue it, based on interviews Fauci has done following the email release. 

"The true mark of someone is if they look good even when their personal emails come out, so you pass the test very few of us would pass," MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace told Fauci in what some are describing as an interview on Wednesday.

"This correspondence offers a rare glimpse into Fauci's frantic schedule and polite, to-the-point demeanor during the time he emerged as a rare source of frank honesty within the Trump administration's COVID-19 task force," reads a CNN report that isn't labeled as the opinion that it surely is.

"Anthony Fauci’s Emails Reveal The Pressure That Fell On One Man," states a BuzzFeed headline.

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These emails come on the heels of a Fauci book that is supposed to be released in November. But after the FOIA-induced emails were released, it’s nowhere to be found on Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. Perhaps it's because the last thing a good chunk of the country wants is to read another book from another government official about a pandemic we'd all prefer to forget. 

And this goes to a criticism of Fauci that has grown louder in recent months as he continues to contradict himself while delivering ambiguous messages about the virus: He's addicted to the spotlight. He's never met a microphone he doesn't like. 

The public, or at least some of it, appears to be growing wise to him: A recent Rasmussen poll showed that nearly two-thirds of voters — 65 percent — say politics have influenced Fauci's decisions and statements to the media about COVID-19. Only 11 percent — just more than 1 in 10 — believe Fauci hasn't been influenced by political considerations.

Fauci once was the most trusted man in America on all things COVID-19. That's clearly no longer the case. 

But much of the media still largely treats him as such — even as those reading and watching at home appear to know better.

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.