‘…John Hoffman and Janet Tobias’s sober documentary study for National Geographic has a certain ‘ripped from the headlines’ quality…’

‘Yikes, how deep do you want to go?’ replies Tony Fauci when asked about his feelings re the chaotic 2020 media briefings he gave with Donald Trump. Of course, Trump never shuts up about Fauci to this day, but the doctor is a far more discreet figure, and part of the appeal of this film is figuring out exactly where Fauci’s remarkable sense of diplomacy comes from. John Hoffman and Janet Tobias’s sober documentary study for National Geographic has a certain ‘ripped from the headlines’ quality; we’re likely in the grip of a worldwide pandemic for years to come, and Fauci is still the MVP for those hoping to stop the virus in its tracks.

‘I have become a symbol for something that isn’t really me,’ Fauci reflects on a nightmare process that has made the humble doctor ‘an enemy and a rockstar’ at the same time. An non-political figure who has served Republican and Democrat presidents alike, Fauci seems to have been taken aback by the irony of reporting to an inarticulate boss with no grasp of science, morality, politics or public service. For a man like Fauci, public service is everything, and Hoffman’s documentary makes a good job of explaining what that choice means, from the personal sacrifice of working away from his beloved family, to public vilification by the angry pressure-groups he faced when searching for common ground on AIDS vaccines. Hoffman’s film constantly circles back to the 80’s and what Fauci learned from his experience as one of the ‘three musketeers of HIV’; deflating prejudice and finding common ground was a Fauci specialism until he encountered someone who specifically didn’t want to do either of these things.

‘To think that you can take care of yourself without taking care of the world is folly’ Fauci concludes, and he’s got a point; following on from the era of disaster capitalism, there’s an on-going battle to be fought against these who seek to exploit public health issues for political or financial gain. Critics describe Fauci as ‘consistently wrong’ but those following the issues on a day-by-day basis will know he’s been consistently accurate to whatever the science told us at the time. It’s easy to be consistent when you have no fidelity to facts, and the reason that Fauci has found himself the object of unsolicited hero-worship is that, as Orwell predicted, ‘speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act.’ Number-crunchers will long debate the number of Americans who died as a result of the deliberate politicisation of the virus; Hoffman and Tobias’s thoughtful documentary records that Fauci fought for every soul who saw their natural desire to protect themselves and their families become a unwanted shibboleth.

Fauci is in UK cinemas from Sept 17th 2021. Thanks to Dogwoof for advanced access.


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  1. You have some great material. An interesting share. We’re watching the outcome if the pandemic. Some scientist become mad scientist. Time will tell. Thank you again.

  2. I’ll seek this out if it streams. I remember the horrified look on his face when he had to stand with Trump when he was spouting off his nonsense at briefings. Poor bloke. Also WTF? You crack the egg at the top end!!

    • As noted in the comments elsewhere, this film makes no bones about Fauci saying that masks were not important, at a point when asymptomatic transmission wasn’t understood to be such a big deal. It takes a real pro to admit when you’re wrong, and many have seized on that, but the bottom line is we know better now. In the UK, we watched our PM set an example on tv by shaking every hand of Covid patients in hospital; not surprisingly, he ended up on a ventilator. Reading the comments under the Fauci trailer on YouTube shows how far public trust in professional figures can be eroded; my own take is, like you, that Fauci has done as well as anyone could ask to try and be above the social media noise and provide the key information to those who need it. But he can’t have imagined the way social media has made people deaf to the information that may well save their lives.

      • Yes. I give him the benefit of the doubt on the early mask guidance. Whether it was a mistake, a noble lie, etc. How many of us would come out completely unscathed if our own work was scrutinized as deeply and with as much bad faith? There are many villains in the story of the pandemic, and Fauci just isn’t among them. He’s perhaps been unjustly given sainthood status by his “fans” but that says more about our need to make everything into a political football game with two sides battling for a “win” than it says about Fauci himself.

        • ….great points. And for some reason, social media thrives on binary choices, and once people identify on one side, they seem to seek praise from their peer group by outdoing each other in extremism. It’s disheartening that someone like Fauci has to face being demonised; I doubt he wants to be a media star, but he’s dedicated to getting his message across.

          It’s a boring fact that masks don’t protect us much as individuals. But in a world where it’s impossible to know who has the virus and who hasn’t, it’s a sign of respect to others to wear one. And respecting others is just not what today’s politics is about….as you say, it’s all about the short term win…

          • Completely agree about the respect issue. I find the resistance to masks genuinely bewildering. I feel that at a minimum it’s good manners…if I come to your house and you ask me take my shoes off, I do it, even if I wear my shoes at home. I don’t start screaming about my rights being violated. To me, a store, gym, employer asking me to wear a mask is no different.

            • Agreed. Wearing a mask costs nothing and helps protect innocent people. But as Swift noted in Gulliver’s Travels, people would kill each other or be willing to die rather than be told what end to crack their eggs…

  3. I recently read Nightmare Scenario. One of the more interesting chunks of the book dove into Fauci’s background, especially his involvement in the AIDS crisis.

    The danger is that the American political environment is such that there is a big incentive to lionize the bureaucrats in service of demonizing Trump and his political appointees. But the bureaucrats failed us too. More so in the FDA and CDC than Fauci, but his statement on masks was still egregious and not at all in line with even what limited evidence we had. (The low point of Nightmare Scenario is an entire chapter devoted to defending Fauci’s bad first pitch at a baseball game.)

    Even so, and even though I am a little burned out between the daily news, Nightmare Scenario, and Michael Lewis’ Premonition (the better of the two books), I will try to see if I can try this down here in the US. But what I would really like to see is a documentary contrasting the approaches and experiences of the UK and Australia.

    • Great comment, thanks! This film goes into some detail about Fauci’s comments about masks, and that’s exactly why I my comments about the information at the time, he’s quite open about being wrong at that specific moment. It would be an easier job for Fauci if he just said what would make a crowd cheer, and adherence to science is a tough gig when the pandemic offers so many unknowns. Totally agree that there is no point in demonizing people who believe what their big tech media tell them, and believe me, if you think the FDA sent out misleading signals, the British made an even worse job. I’m not a scientist or a doctor, but what shocked me was that the politicization of masks and vaccines was deliberately drawn on political lines in the US, and I think that defusing that angle is key here…

    • Less familiar with this guy than Premonition which I thought was a terrific read and as usual with Lewis thought-provoking. Am sure at some point every country in the world will have a docu on its response to the pandemic. There’s certainly enough drama and eg-driven character – US/UK/Europe/Australia – to make a compelling narrative.

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