Dr. Anthony Fauci has served as an infectious disease expert in the government for several decades and under several administrations, starting at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in 1968 and becoming the director of NIAID in 1984 under Reagan; but many Americans heard his name for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Fauci became the face of COVID-19 guidance for the nation and the subject of controversy throughout the pandemic as guidance changed and evolved. When Fauci announced he would retire from his government position in December to focus on other things, media outlets on the left and right reflected their bias toward Fauci through story choice, placement and spin.
- Fauci’s decades of service through many administrations
- Fauci’s Medal of Freedom for his work on the AIDS crisis
- Republicans threatening to investigate Fauci
- Fauci’s retirement pension
- Fauci’s pandemic recommendations
- Democrats’ “saint-like” praises of Fauci
- The timing of Fauci’s retirement, seen by some as an attempt to avoid a Republican-led investigation into him
What the Left Highlighted
Many left-rated outlets emphasized Fauci’s extensive experience and service before COVID-19 thrust him into the spotlight. This type of coverage encourages the reader to see him as a credible figure. Some outlets also explicitly mentioned his Medal of Freedom awarded by President George W. Bush for his work on the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The New York Times (Lean Left) published a story about Fauci’s background in public service. It also mentioned Republicans’ response to his retirement announcement, saying, “But some Republicans who consider Dr. Fauci a symbol of the Covid-19 restrictions that they have resisted vowed on Monday to investigate him — even in retirement — if they win control of Congress in November.” The use of “even in retirement” could imply that an investigation is an unwarranted and excessive move.
The NYT piece continues to try to build empathy for Fauci by saying, “His high profile came at a cost. He and his family received death threats and required a security detail.” Later the article says that “As Dr. Fauci told the story [of the AIDS epidemic], his voice cracked. The filmmakers asked why it was affecting him all these years later. He paused to gather himself. ‘Post-traumatic stress syndrome,’ he said, pausing again. ‘That’s what it is.’” By highlighting this, the article emphasized his emotions and humanity.
The NYT piece also displays bias by viewpoint placement saying, “Dr. Fauci clashed bitterly with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY),” but not quoting Rand Paul, whereas they do quote President Biden and AIDS activist Peter Staley, who made positive comments about Fauci. Adding positive quotes about Fauci’s character on multiple occasions, while having none from critics, creates a bias toward Fauci because the reader isn’t given the opportunity to evaluate why someone may oppose him. Overall, the NYT article paints a sympathetic but professional portrait of Fauci, acknowledging criticisms of him related to COVID-19 guidance, but not providing much specificity about such criticisms.
Other articles call the investigation against Fauci to the forefront. The Rolling Stone’s (Left) headline reads: “Right-Wingers Vow Retribution Against Fauci Despite Retirement.” This headline conveys spin by using the sensationalist language “Right-wingers Vow Retribution.” The article also uses sensationalist language, saying that Republican lawmakers “bashed” and “attacked” Fauci.
The Daily Beast (Left) also covered criticisms of Fauci, saying, “Tucker Carlson Blasts ‘Dictator’ Fauci After Retirement News.” Using the term “blast” in the headline and “Slamming Dr. Fauci” in the opening line of the article indicates bias through sensationalist language.
The Rolling Stone and Daily Beast articles make figures on the right appear extreme and unjustified in critiquing Dr. Fauci.
What the Right Highlighted
Both Reason (Lean Right) and Fox Business (Lean Right) published pieces regarding Fauci’s pay and retirement package. Fauci is currently the highest-paid federal official, according to Fox News (Right). This story choice, in contrast to the left’s emphasis on empathy, makes readers feel more detached from and skeptical of Fauci.
An author in Reason also criticized Fauci’s pandemic measures, accusing him of telling “noble lies” and overplaying the positive effects of mask-wearing. The article also criticizes his position on being an advocate for gain-of-function research. (Gain-of-function research is when scientists alter diseases and make them more dangerous in a lab setting in order to develop stronger vaccines and medicines.) Some proponents of the COVID-19 lab leak theory think that this is how COVID-19 emerged.
The Washington Examiner’s (Lean Right) W. James Antle III says Fauci will continue to be a political lightning rod after he retires. “The top federal infectious diseases expert and public face of Washington’s attempts to curb COVID-19 is leaving town before Republicans win a majority in the House of Representatives,” he writes, “giving them control of committees with subpoena power.” By saying Fauci is “leaving town before Republicans win,” the Examiner implies that a potential investigation is a motivator in Fauci’s decision to retire. While some have speculated about that being a motivator, journalists are not mind readers.
Antle quotes the same statement from President Biden as the NYT, but he pre-qualifies it with “President Joe Biden was fulsome in his praise of Fauci, who remains a liberal icon.” The word “fulsome” demonstrates bias through subjective qualifying adjectives. The Examiner article also later calls Fauci a “sainted figure among Democrats.”
While outlets on the left broadly conveyed Fauci as nonpartisan, Antle implies that he is politically biased, saying, “The president also relied heavily on Fauci to promote his own credibility on the pandemic, sending the doctor out to a celebratory press briefing in which Fauci repeatedly expressed what a relief it was to serve a White House that would not pressure him politically.”
Finding Balanced News
Media on the left often portrays Fauci as a nonpartisan hero while glossing over his critics. Media on the right often focuses on nothing but criticisms, ignoring his work prior to COVID-19.
This is just one of many recent examples of media bias on major stories. See our other recent media bias breakdowns of the Mar-a-Lago raid and Inflation Reduction Act coverage.
Clare Ashcraft is the Bridging & Bias Assistant at AllSides. She has a Center bias.
This piece was reviewed by Henry A. Brechter, AllSides Managing Editor (Center bias), Joseph Ratliff, Daily News Editor (Lean Left bias), and Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings (Lean Right).