On Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced his intent to retire from government work in December.
His first stop after announcing his decision? An exclusive interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
Maddow, asking about the increasingly distorted definition of “the truth,” asks Fauci what we can do in a world where “objective reality, or nuance is, by definition, the enemy.”
Fauci responded by saying that the “complete distortion of reality” we see will continue to be a challenge.
“I mean, a world where untruths have almost become normalized, how we can see something in front of our very eyes and deny it’s happening,” Fauci told Maddow. “That’s the environment we’re living in. You could look at January 6 on TV, and you have some people who actually don’t believe it happened. How could that possibly be? And it’s now spilling over in denial about public health principles.”
As the Maddow appearance underscored, Fauci is an expert communicator, having given thousands of interviews in his decades of public service. But he has become a regular presence on TV for the past two years as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold around the world.
In the depths of the pandemic, he was almost ubiquitous, appearing on every network almost daily, while also sitting down with podcasters, YouTubers, and anyone else looking for guidance around the pandemic.
In his statement announcing his retirement, he said that he plans to stay in the public sphere after he steps aside.
“After more than 50 years of government service, I plan to pursue the next phase of my career while I still have so much energy and passion for my field,” Fauci said. “I want to use what I have learned as NIAID Director to continue to advance science and public health and to inspire and mentor the next generation of scientific leaders as they help prepare the world to face future infectious disease threats.”
That will include a book, but beyond that little is known. But his appearance on Maddow, and his effortless comfort in front of the camera beg the question: Would Fauci pursue a TV deal?
TV news organizations have long showered high-profile figures with lucrative analyst deals, and Fauci would be a prized target for a medical contributor role.
Sources at two different TV news outlets tell The Hollywood Reporter they believe their networks would absolutely pursue a deal with Fauci, though they both cautioned that they were not aware of any ongoing talks (government ethics rules could limit some conversations until he officially retires, though that didn’t stop former White House press secretary Jen Psaki from feeling out the market).
No TV news outlet would comment about their interest in Fauci on the record, though multiple networks noted that they regularly look to add new contributors.
Even before the pandemic, doctors have been among the most important contributors to TV news outlets, with some, like CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, becoming anchors and correspondents in their own right.
But the pandemic underscored just how disruptive and important medicine is to the world, touching every aspect of our lives, from politics to the economy. And Fauci, with his willingness and ability to weave together medicine, science and politics would be a logical addition to any contributor lineup. (During the pandemic, Fauci has been dedicated to appearing on nearly all major broadcast and cable channels. On Monday night, Tucker Carlson compared Fauci to Fidel Castro, but on Tuesday, Fauci gamely appeared on Fox News’ Your World.)
That’s why his appearance on MSNBC Monday night was so intriguing. MSNBC has already become a landing pad for a number of Biden administration officials (Psaki, Symone Sanders), why not Fauci? And for that matter, why wouldn’t ABC, CBS or CNN have their own interest in hiring America’s most famous infectious disease doctor?
It’s that possibility that hung over the end of Fauci’s MSNBC appearance Monday.
“Thank you for a lifetime, so far, of service,” Maddow said. “I can’t wait to see what you do next.”