Elinor Burkett is one of the oddest, rarest, yet most overlooked species in the journalism zoo. She is practically a holotype. Burkett started out as a history professor, a good one too, I imagine, before switching to journalism and teaming up with the now-New York Times op-ed contributor Frank Bruni. Together, they wrote a very quirky book about consumers’ rights called Consumer Terrorism and a very serious book about the Catholic Church scandal. But as Bruni swung left, Burkett swung — well, it’s hard to describe. She swung to an extreme commitment to open-mindedness which led her past ideology and conventional thinking to new insights into subjects such as the politicization of AIDS, the post-Columbine hysteria over American teens, a (relatively fair) revaluation of conservative women in politics, a biography of Golda Meir, and an utterly delightful book about her decision to travel, as an American, Jewish, woman, to the most dangerous places in the world for Americans, Jews, and women. In So Many Enemies, So Little Time: An American Woman in all the Wrong Places, Burkett visits Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, China, and Vietnam in the wake of 9/11. She doesn’t do this, or much of anything else, to make friends, which is what makes her work so honest and refreshing.
In 1995, Burkett made even fewer friends by laying bare the tragic and cynical politicization of the AIDS crisis with her book, The Gravest Show on Earth. There is no other book — on earth, as it were — more relevant to the tragic and cynical politicization of Covid-19 that we are living through right now. And when you flip through the index — lo and behold — it’s precisely the same people, screwing up precisely the same things, in precisely the same ways, for precisely the same media whoredom and political gains, as were gaining and screwing us thirty years ago. Get a copy before they’re all gone.
Smack dab in the middle of all of this medical and political whoredom in 1995 is none other than Dr. Anthony Fauci, of whom you may have recently heard.
Fauci comes across then just as he comes across now: as a morally rudderless, brown-nosing camera-chaser more interested in being on the evening news than actually running the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) like, say, a scientist. In one particularly creepy scene, professional pain-in-the-ass Larry Kramer, who had been calling Fauci a fascist for months (as Kramer did with pretty much everyone), suddenly sees in Fauci a kindred attention-seeking spirit. After Fauci and his wife attended opening night of Kramer’s 1992 play, modestly titled The Destiny of Me, Kramer “approached [Fauci] almost shyly. ‘Will you still take care of me?’ he asked. ‘Always,’ Fauci answered, ‘I’ll always take care of you.'”
As Dr. Robert Gallow, a real scientist, said of Fauci, “he likes to hog the spotlight. He always has to be in center stage.”
And as Burkett wryly observes, the exchange with Larry Kramer occurred after the playwright depicted Fauci onstage as a tormented hero, “hamstrung by red tape and apologetic for political do-nothings, but he cared.”
Fauci has been playing that very role Larry Kramer invented for him for thirty years now. His relentless need to be victim rather than medical expert has reshaped public health in America until it no longer resembles anything even vaguely scientific and is instead an extremely well-funded protest lobby wasting its talents and our money and our health on political partisanship and petty one-upmanship.
Not merely the dysfunction pouring out of Anthony Fauci could have so blighted public health. Elinor Burkett fills her morbid circus with scores of eminent virologists, international scientific entities, doltish journalists, and, especially, gay male activist organizations that covered themselves with shame throughout the early years of the AIDS crisis, making it far, far worse than it had to be.
But Fauci played a particularly central role in some bad strategic decisions made along the way. Burkett details how he single-handedly withheld money from research into mycoplasma and AIDS against the advice of experts and how he nosed close to the big pot of money and scientific prestige going towards universal use of AZT. He was far from the only person on the AZT bandwagon. But he did not play the role he was supposed to be playing: as the dispassionate head of a powerful government bureaucracy deciding how to spend money, not only on AIDS, but on a thousand less politically… let’s say rewarding … diseases and public health crises.
And the precise errors Fauci made then — looking for a magic bullet that would make him the hero of the tale, rather than focusing on available treatments and basic science to mitigate the worst aspects of AIDS infection — are all the things Fauci is doing now with Covid-19. I know as I write this that it is a gross simplification of the complex story Elinor Burkett tells, so do let her tell it in full. But the echoes of the past are just so damning. In one passage, AZT research on HIV-positive children is quickly shut down because of disastrous results:
AZT [in children] was not delaying progression to the disease; it was causing bleeding and biochemical abnormalities. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who had excitedly recommended the use of AZT to adults months before any studies were completed, said, “We don’t know what to recommend because you cannot make a recommendation based on a study that is not finished.”
Not every step Fauci took was a misstep. Some of the treatments he blocked were clearly more damaging than helpful. Some he called out were driven more by politics and ideology than science. But in other cases, he dismissed field experts for reasons that seem, in retrospect, merely personally irrational, such as the abuse of Ellen Cooper of the FDA. In contrast, he “appeased” loud and destructive activists, such as ACT-UP, whose demands resisted real prevention of AIDS transmission as they strained the public health budgets for people with other diseases. Fauci’s pandering eventually led to AIDS being treated in a diamond-crusted category of its own, as people with other health problems and disabilities saw their budgets slashed in order to meet ACT-UPs every demand, no matter how fanciful — or destructive.
What we are seeing now is late-stage Fauci, turning on American people whose behavior (not wearing masks, refusing untested vaccines) pales in comparison to the allowances Fauci made to AIDS activists who insisted that he not shut down the bath-houses where gay men engaged in anonymous sex with dozens of anonymous partners every night, who allowed exceptions to AIDS victims from every rule governing other venereal diseases regarding contacting with intimate partners to warn them of risk, who supported a platinum-plated cesspool of “education programs” that showered money for so-called AIDS education on the least trustworthy, best politically connected people in some of the most endangered communities in America, including African-American women, who have suffered mightily from Fauci’s choices.
Read the book. It is a roadmap to what we need to do now, before the next pandemic hits.
First, fire Fauci. Two strikes and you’re out.