When it comes to winning over COVID-19 vaccine skeptics, there is hardly a worse messenger than Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Republicans, who account for a large share of the unvaccinated, overwhelmingly see him as untrustworthy. And considering public trust for Fauci has slipped considerably with other groups in recent months, it makes little sense for cable and network news media to rely on the White House chief medical adviser to promote the Biden administration’s vaccination efforts.
If the press really want to get into the game of promoting COVID-19 vaccines, they should start first by finding a better spokesman to address the holdouts. At least, that’s how longtime GOP pollster Frank Luntz sees it.
“Anderson,” Luntz said this week in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “I'm going to tell you something, which probably you don't want to hear. I'd rather see [former CDC Director Tom Frieden] on the show than Anthony Fauci on this show because Fauci has become so politicized, so polarized, that every time he speaks, he actually turns off people.”
He added, “We need more people, more experts like Tom Frieden, who are active and know the data and know how to communicate it is personal responsibility, not some sort of national discussion.”
Luntz isn’t reacting suddenly to new polling data. Indeed, his findings for the past several months show Republicans strongly distrust Fauci. Rather, Luntz is speaking from a place of frustration, bemoaning the fact that the White House, CNN, and others continue to trot out the doctor to promote the vaccines, even though most of the vaccine-hesitant distrust anything he says precisely because he's the one saying it. There's a good reason for this beyond mere politics. Since the start of the pandemic, Fauci has played both sides of practically every issue regarding COVID-19, leaving many to wonder whether he has any clear idea of what he is talking about.
Just last month, he claimed he never really doubted the theory that the coronavirus escaped a facility in Wuhan, China. But, in fact, Fauci initially dismissed the hypothesis as the stuff of cranks and lunatics. And insofar as his initial knee-jerk take on the matter is concerned, it’s worth noting that he oversaw the funneling of some $600,000 to the Wuhan Institute of Virology when he served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Early on, Fauci also discouraged the use of masks, assuring the public they’d do little to protect against the virus. Later, he admitted he lied, claiming he told a falsehood to make sure hospitals and front-line workers had enough protective gear.
Fauci said the United Kingdom “rushed” its vaccine development and distribution process. Later, he walked back his comments, saying he didn’t actually mean what he said.
At one point, he even encouraged wearing not one but two masks, saying, “It just makes common sense that it would be more effective.” Later, he said, “There’s no data that indicates that that is going to make a difference.”
Fauci also defended Vice President Kamala Harris’s bald-faced lie that the Biden White House had to put together a vaccine distribution plan from “scratch.”
"I believe what the vice president is referring to is what is the process of actually getting these doses into people,” he told CNN.
Earlier, however, Fauci had said in reference to the Biden administration’s “starting from scratch” lie, “We certainly are not starting from scratch because there is activity going on in the distribution."
Fauci said, “If, in fact, you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, you are protected, and you do not need to wear a mask outdoors or indoors.” But he also said, “Even if you are vaccinated, you should wear a mask.” Regarding social distancing and children, Fauci said, “When the children go out into the community, you want them to continue to wear masks." But he also said, “Children outside … don’t have to wear a mask.”
So, yes, Frank Luntz is right. There isn’t a worse person at this moment to convince skeptics to get the vaccine. A large share of the people who haven’t gotten the shot yet simply don’t trust Fauci, and that's no one's fault but Fauci's.