Are the emails a "smoking gun" of guilt?
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.
Today’s read: 11 minutes.
A look at the story around Dr. Fauci’s emails, a question about new election security proposals, and a story about recent Texas elections.
In Friday’s newsletter, where I revisited my writing on critical race theory, I accidentally referred to a “Richard Loury,” who does not exist. In fact, I meant to reference Glenn Loury. Richard Lowry is a conservative writer for The National Review whom I frequently cite in Tangle. Glenn Loury is a prominent Black academic who has written skeptically about critical race theory and anti-racism work. And I am apparently reading too much political news. My wires simply got crossed.
This is the 39th Tangle correction in its 93-week existence and the first since May 3rd. I track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize my transparency with readers.
- Facebook said it will keep former President Trump banned from its platform for two years. (CNBC)
- The FBI is investigating Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in connection with his political fundraising. (The Washington Post, subscription)
- President Biden rejected the latest offer from the GOP on an infrastructure bill, which amounted to about $50 billion more in new spending than their latest $257 billion offer. The White House pushed Republicans to come up to $1 trillion in new spending. (Politico)
- U.S. employers added 559,000 jobs last month, a mixed jobs report that has set off more partisan fighting about the next steps in the recovery. (Wall Street Journal, subscription)
- Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (West Virginia) said he would not support the party’s voting rights bill, a major blow to the Democratic agenda. (The Washington Post, subscription)
What D.C. is talking about.
Dr. Anthony Fauci’s emails. Last week, The Washington Post and BuzzFeed News obtained more than 3,200 pages of Dr. Fauci’s emails via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. You can read the emails yourself here. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was one of the early leaders of the pandemic response — and his emails are a look into exactly how his public and private comments lined up. Many of the emails are partially redacted, which raises further questions and offers an incomplete view of what happened.
Inside the hundreds of pages of emails were private correspondences from Fauci to representatives of other governments, leaders in the U.S. military, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, team members of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and even members of the NFL. The contents of the emails spanned everything from the origins of the coronavirus to the efficacy of masks to whether hydroxychloroquine may actually be a worthwhile treatment.
Since the release of Fauci’s emails, a debate has exploded about what they tell us regarding his forthrightness with the public, his expertise, and the mistakes that were made early on in the pandemic. Below, we’ll take a look at some reactions from the right and left.
What the right is saying.
The right says the emails show Fauci was an inconsistent leader who was dishonest with the public.
In The Federalist, Georgi Boorman said it’s clear Fauci has been “just as mendacious as some of his worst critics have alleged.”
“On Jan. 1, 2020, Fauci received a credible warning from a professor at the Scripps Research Institute, Kristian Anderson, that some of SARS-COV-2’s features ‘(potentially) look engineered’ and that she and her colleagues ‘all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.’ Fauci later blasted the ‘lab origin theory’ as completely uncredible, leading the entire media-industrial complex to deride theories of bio-engineering or even the idea the virus might have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Boorman wrote. “His assurance, despite now finding it safe to backtrack on saying he’s ‘not completely confident’ of SARS-2’s natural origin, was doubtless a major factor in Facebook banning posts supporting the lab origin theory.
“Besides his lies about the well-supported lab origin theory for COVID, Fauci misled the public about asymptomatic spread being a major driver of the outbreak, as a Feb. 4, 2020 email revealed,” she wrote. “He lied about masks working, as ‘the virus is small enough to pass through the material,’ according to a Feb. 5, 2020 email. He admitted outright he moved the goalposts on herd immunity based on what he thought the public was ‘ready to hear,’ and he continues to lie about herd immunity being a necessity given that vaccine’s purported efficacy, much less a goal that must be achieved through mass administration of an experimental vaccine.”
In The Hill, Joe Concha wrote that the media continues to have little interest in challenging Fauci in any way.
“Those emails reveal several things that should be of interest to a free press, yet most in the media are ignoring these revelations, despite huge domestic and worldwide implications,” Concha wrote. “One email from February 2020 shows Fauci stating that retail masks aren't really effective in protecting people from contracting COVID-19. ‘The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit [to] keep out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you.’
“The public, or at least some of it, appears to be growing wise to him: A recent Rasmussen poll showed that nearly two-thirds of voters — 65 percent — say politics have influenced Fauci's decisions and statements to the media about COVID-19,” Concha wrote. “Only 11 percent — just more than 1 in 10 — believe Fauci hasn't been influenced by political considerations. Fauci once was the most trusted man in America on all things COVID-19. That's clearly no longer the case.”
In The Wall Street Journal, Nicholas Wade wrote that the emails “bolster the lab leak theory.” In particular, Wade pointed to a letter from five virologists on March 17, 2020, in which they shot down any laboratory based spread as not plausible.
“But that’s the exact opposite of what these experts thought after taking their first look at the virus,” Wade wrote. “A large batch of emails exchanged with Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was made available this week to BuzzFeed and the Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act. For the most part the emails concern meeting arrangements or messages from cranks and have been redacted of any meaningful information. But one significant email escaped the censor’s black marker.
“On Jan. 31, 2020, shortly after the SARS-CoV-2 genome had been decoded, Kristian Andersen, the five virologists’ leader, emailed Dr. Fauci that there were ‘unusual features’ in the virus,” he wrote. “These took up only a small percentage of the genome, so that ‘one has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered.’ Mr. Andersen went on to note that he and his team ‘all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.’ It isn’t clear exactly what he meant by this striking phrase. But anything inconsistent with an evolutionary origin has to be man-made.”
What the left is saying.
The left says the emails are being blown out of proportion when there aren’t actual bombshells — just more questions.
CNN’s medical analyst Megan Ranney cautioned everyone “to remember that these are errors only in hindsight; at the time, no one knew what was the truth.”
“Like all of us, Fauci thought early on that the disease spread primarily through droplets from symptomatic individuals,” she wrote. “He, like the rest of us in science, took a month or so to understand that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread was another primary means of transmission, that the disease spread through aerosols as well as droplets and that masks are essential regardless of whether someone has symptoms.
“Fauci's emails reveal that by early April he was responding to a question about why face coverings were not being advised with: ‘That recommendation is in the works.’ I celebrate his willingness to say in March of 2020, ‘Will have to check,’ in response to a question from a follow doctor about post-infection immunity,” she wrote. “Equally worthy of attention are Fauci's clear leadership skills. Over the course of these 3,200+ pages, we can watch him manage a tremendous bureaucracy and its intersection with the executive branch. These emails show a man who is trying to move quickly but accurately. He maintains an impressive curiosity and willingness to at least stay aware of out-of-the-box ideas.”
In The Washington Post, Aaron Blake said the emails are not the “smoking gun” conservative media says they are.
Blake wrote that “conservative news coverage of Fauci’s emails has often stretched beyond the idea that [the lab-leak theory] was undersold to the assertion that Fauci was provided real evidence of a lab leak and completely disregarded it (or worse). In a Feb. 1, 2020 email — very early in the virus’s life in the United States — immunologist Kristian G. Andersen wrote to Fauci stating that the virus had limited “unusual features” that might suggest manipulation in a lab.
“It is this point that conservatives hang their argument on, but there is more to the story,” Blake wrote. “Andersen offered that his team look into the issue. And they did, but they concluded several weeks later that the lab leak theory was indeed implausible. ‘Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory theory or a purposefully manipulated virus,’ the study said, while adding that ‘it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin described here.’ Apart from that, some have highlighted Fauci’s sharing information that pointed to the virus occurring naturally as some kind of proof that he was overly invested in that theory.”
In Mashable, Matt Binder said “sorry, there are no COVID bombshells” in Fauci’s emails.
“What the conspiratorial thinkers going through Fauci's emails don't seem to realize (or at least won't acknowledge) is that many of these documents are not authored by Fauci himself,” Binder wrote. “The email release includes messages that were sent to him as well. It's with those emails, the ones that were written by others and sent to Fauci, that the lab leak theory is mentioned and where the misinformation originates.”
As for the masks, Fauci’s explanation that they were intended for infected people to not spread the virus “was not exactly a secret,” Binder wrote. “This was the CDC's official public position on mask wearing in the early days of the pandemic. As time went on and scientists learned more about COVID-19, the efficacy of mask wearing became clear and the CDC very publicly changed their stance. Dr. Fauci and other officials were slightly unclear in their initial messaging on masks because they wanted to keep PPE available for medical workers when masks were hard to find in the earliest days of the pandemic. But, again, that failure was already known about.”
Let’s start with the good: First off, kudos to The Washington Post and BuzzFeed for getting these emails. For all the criticism of “the media,” it was reporters from those two outlets who FOIA’d those emails and made them public for all of us to read. It’s rather laughable to use these emails to hammer the mainstream press when it was good old fashioned reporting that made them public (and, for what it’s worth, this is true of Hillary’s emails and Hunter Biden’s emails as well, all of which became public thanks to The New York Times and The New York Post, respectively).
Second, kudos to Dr. Fauci for his effort. This trove of emails is bonkers — it shows him responding to regular old people who managed to find his email and are asking him for advice on how to conduct their day to day lives, and it also shows him responding to those people in between emails to Mark Zuckerberg or the president’s chief of staff. He was frequently writing emails after midnight to strangers, doing his best to offer whatever information he had as he got it.
I also found him a lot more open-minded than I had expected. Far from shooting down bizarre theories (like indigenous people who were eating bat excrement being immune from the virus) or politically popular ideas like hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, Fauci was actually encouraging more research and scientific inquiry into just about every potential idea that was presented to him. One of the few things he actually seemed to ignore or dismiss was an emailer who suggested that dog cones could be a substitute for personal protective equipment (probably a good idea to ignore that one, frankly).
So what’s all the hubbub about? Well, for one, it’s clear that the lab-leak theory was percolating very early on from respectable sources. I’ve noted before that Fauci’s entanglement with virology research is a clear conflict of interest, and his emails show a peculiar lack of interest in whether the virus emerged from a lab. Fauci never ruled the lab-leak theory out, but he seldom gave it any credence publicly. And he was also careful about it, as evidenced by his response to get on the phone with a researcher suggesting the hypothesis (rather than respond in writing via email).
Other parts of the noise around the misnamed “Fauci leaks” (they were not leaks, but requested documents) concerned mask-wearing. But little news was added there. We already know that Fauci flip-flopped on the efficacy of masks and on whether the public should use them. He has repeatedly explained that he was worried about a shortage for health care workers. Whether that’s a good rationale for discouraging the public to wear masks is another debate, but Fauci said as recently as June 3rd that if he had all the information he had today a year ago, he would have acted much differently. We’ve also known that store-bought masks were far less effective than N-95 or medical-grade masks, and that masks were generally thought to protect other people from the person wearing them. None of that is news.
USA Today put together a very helpful graphic lining up Fauci’s public and private comments. It’s clear he was least consistent about the origins of the virus, which is no small thing. His public and private comments were mostly identical about masks, though his perspective on face coverings changed over the pandemic. He also maintained — publicly and privately — that the White House was not “muzzling” him, as many on the left alleged throughout the pandemic. Even on hydroxychloroquine, Fauci was saying privately and publicly he wanted randomized, controlled trials to determine if it was an effective treatment — and consistently labeled success stories as little more than anecdotal.
If you’re making me choose between the partisan, concocted “these emails are a smoking gun” or “these emails show Fauci did a great job” messaging, I’d quit your silly game. The truth is the emails show Fauci was working his tail off while being non-committal on some of the most touchy subjects. Some may view that as him being wishy-washy or bad at his job, but I think the emails just illustrate how little we knew about coronavirus early on — and how unprepared everyone was to address it.
Fauci got a lot of things wrong, and he’s clearly too close to the research being done in places like the Wuhan Institute of Virology to offer an unbiased opinion on whether Covid-19 started in a lab. Writers like Josh Rogin and Marc Thiessen are continuing to make the case that we have far more evidence for a lab-leak than Fauci’s proposed natural jump. But I still don’t see the “bombshell” here that many have framed this to be.
Frankly, the most interesting parts of this trove of emails were redacted, which leaves me with more questions than answers. Unfortunately, without those key elements of these emails, it seems as if the documents were destined to reinforce the beliefs that individuals already hold about Fauci and do little to move the prevailing opinion in any one direction.
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Your questions, answered.
Q: Everyone born as a US citizen gets a social security number, right? And most people coming into the United States who are working get one too. You don't need one to get a license, so other people can get drivers licenses. If it is easy to get one or the other, why is it considered restricting when proposed that people need them to vote?
— Anonymous, Orlando, Florida
Tangle: It’s a good question. Funnily enough, social security cards as voter IDs was actually once a Democratic proposal — as recently as 2014, during Barack Obama’s presidency. The idea was to put photos on social security cards, give one to everyone, and call it a day. A lot of people viewed this as a clean solution to photo ID laws, since nearly everyone gets a social security card automatically (versus a license, which you have to apply for). For a trip down memory lane, check out these opinion pieces in The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post that criticized the plan.
The criticisms then are largely in line with those we hear now. For one, social security cards are probably harder to get than a driver’s license if you lose or misplace yours or are a newly minted citizen (I recently lost my passport, and then went on a goose chase for my social security card, neither of which I’ve been able to find). That being said, the new laws like the one in Texas don’t call for your card — just to include your social security number when you apply for and return your mail-in ballots.
Still, opponents of these laws would say even a law like that is more likely to make it difficult on low-income or immigrant populations to vote. Given how much better Democrats perform with voters making less than $100,000 a year and immigrants, it’s easy for them to connect the dots and say this is an attack on their voters.
As it happens, though, most states already require you to provide your SSN to register to vote, which is why Republicans view it as a relatively low bar to ask for something like your last 4 digits when you send in a ballot. To me, the biggest risk is simply that people will misremember their number, write it out in an illegible way, or otherwise sully their ballot over it. If even 0.1 percent of voters did that it could swing elections in a big way. If one percent did that it could have a massive impact.
On the other hand, this is not one of those regulations I really object to. Usually, it is turned into a huge deal because it’s part of a larger bill, and opponents of those bills are worried if they give an inch they’ll have a mile taken. Again, to use Texas as an example, asking for the last 4 digits of your SSN on a mail-in ballot is not a big deal to me. But in the context of banning drop boxes, Sunday morning voting, unsolicited mail-in ballots, and making it easier for one party to overturn election results, one can also reasonably suspect it’s a measure Republicans are pushing because they think it’ll help them in elections.
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A story that matters.
Republicans in Texas swept a host of elections this weekend that point to their continued dominance in the state — and their growing support among Hispanic voters. In McAllen, Texas, a border city of 150,000 where 85 percent of the population is Hispanic, Republicans easily elected their first mayor since 1997. Voters in Fort Worth, Texas, also elected a Republican mayor, as did voters in Arlington, a Dallas/Fort Worth suburb of 400,000. The spate of wins comes after Democrats failed to flip a single seat in the state in the 2020 congressional elections. (The National Review)
- 25 million. The first round of allocations for extra Covid-19 vaccines announced by the White House.
- 19 million. The number of vaccines that will be distributed by COVAX, an international vaccine effort spread out across Latin America, Asia and Africa.
- 6 million. The number that will go to specific allies in crisis, including Canada, Mexico and South Korea.
- 33.2%.The percentage of 16 to 19 year olds who are now employed, the highest level since 2008.
- 10,000. The approximate number of volunteers for next month’s Tokyo Olympics who have quit amid rising worries about holding the event during the pandemic.
- 80,000. The total number of volunteers who had originally stepped forward for the Tokyo Olympics.
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Have a nice day.
Lithium is quickly climbing as one of the most vital elements in the world. It helps power batteries that are used in electric vehicles, and demand for lithium is skyrocketing as a result. But with rising demand is a rising concern about how much lithium reserves planet earth has, and the process for extracting it. Some experts estimate we will run out of lithium by 2080. All that makes new research from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) even more important. KAUST researchers say they have developed an economically viable system to extract high-purity lithium from seawater. Our oceans contain about 5,000 times more lithium than the land. (EurekAlert)