Doug Mills / The New York TImes

Dr. Anthony Fauci ranked first in his class at Weill Cornell Medicine, graduating in 1966.

April 4, 2020

Fame and Fauci: An Unlikely Rise to Public Prominence

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Three months ago, Anthony Fauci M.D. ’66 was just the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Now, he’s a household name.

Fauci has worked under six U.S. presidents. He’s won the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And yet, the defining moment of his career — at least to most Americans — is right now. Never has he seen more praise; never has he seen more backlash.

Due to the historic national shutdown caused by COVID-19, the former Cornell Medical School graduate has emerged as America’s most trusted disease expert. His sudden fame has brought him to national prominence, which has provided him newfound platforms to spread his message, but has also opened him up to greater criticism and opposition.

The source of Fauci’s rise to fame was his daily quotes at White House press briefings regarding the COVID-19 outbreak. Through his pleads for people to wash their hands and to take the virus seriously, Fauci entered the public sphere — and with his contradictions to President Donald Trump, the political one as well.

Read: How Cornell’s Dr. Anthony Fauci Became America’s Most Trusted Disease Expert

Now, Fauci is starting to spread his message in ways that infectious disease experts typically do not. He has appeared in other news-related settings, such as Zooming onto Anderson Cooper’s show on CNN or getting a feature interview on The New York Times podcast “The Daily.”

Even beyond news stations, Fauci has started making guest appearances with celebrities, such as comedian Trevor Noah, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and basketball star Steph Curry, allowing him to spread his message to new audiences.

On Noah’s The Daily Show, Fauci discussed why COVID-19 is “the worst nightmare you could have” with an infectious disease.

“When people used to ask me over the years ‘What is it that [you] most worry about with regard to emerging infectious diseases?’” Fauci said on The Daily Show. “[It] is a respiratory-born illness that easily spreads from person to person but has a high degree of morbidity and mortality.”

On an Instagram Live interview with Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, Fauci spoke on a number of topics, including COVID-19 test availability, the timetable for a vaccine and the impact that the summer heat may have on the virus.

“I’d like to get people in the country to realize that we are dealing with a serious problem,” Fauci told Curry and his followers. “We’ve modified our lives. It’s not convenient for you not to be playing basketball. But we’re going through a period of time now where we’ve got to, as a country, pull together.”

On the balance between the economy and public safety, Fauci said “it’s not an all-or-none process.”

“I think there are places in the country now where you want to look carefully and maybe you want to pull back a little bit on the restriction, so long as you don’t let it rip and say ‘I don’t care what happens,’” Fauci added. “You treat New York City a little bit different than the way you treat Nebraska.”

Fauci’s newfound fame isn’t all acclaim, though. Because he has made comments opposing statements by Trump, especially regarding the extent that he believes the economy will be shut down, some of the president’s supporters — and maybe even Trump himself — have begun to turn on Fauci.

Posts over social media have questioned Fauci’s recommendations. A hashtag of #FauciFraud has spread throughout Twitter, questioning the director’s desire for extended economic shutdowns because of the pandemic.

This has led to him to recently receive enhanced security due to government officials “concerned about Dr. Fauci’s safety,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

When speaking of his work and legacy coming out of this moment, Fauci wants to let the people know that he’s giving it his all.

“I just would hope that I’m remembered for what I think I’m doing, [which] is that i’m doing the very best that I possibly can,” Fauci told “The Daily” host Michael Barbaro.“I’ve been a public servant all my life, and this is right now the epitome of being a public servant, trying to mitigate against a terrible disease that afflicted us.”

His hosts do seem to value his time.

“I appreciate you coming on. I know you are a busy man,” Curry told Fauci. “I appreciate your commitment to protecting the masses and bringing all your expertise and knowledge of how this virus spreads and informing the people how we should take this seriously,”