Dr. Anthony Fauci, arguably the most trusted man in America, is practically invisible right now.
Appearances by other members of the coronavirus task force are also few and far between.
Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Robert Redfield are rarely granting interviews to national news outlets, according to a CNN analysis of the past two workweeks.
The officials have busy jobs, to be sure, but communicating with the public is of utmost importance, especially when Covid-19 cases are rising and Americans are receiving mixed messages about what to do.
CNN and other TV networks routinely ask for interviews with Fauci and other task force experts, but some of the requests have been blocked by the Trump White House.
An administration official familiar with the situation said high-profile figures from the task force, including Fauci, have been unable to secure White House permission to appear on American TV networks.
The official warned that this is exactly the wrong approach as cases are spiking across the U.S.
“Now is the time to be sending a strong public health message,” the official said, citing the urgent crisis in states across the South and Southwest.
Fauci has been able to appear on podcasts and webcasts instead – forums, in many cases, that are not as visible to the president and his aides.
His last appearance on US TV was June 12 on CNN. More recently, he has spoken with the Sacramento Press Club, appeared at a live-streamed Milken Institute briefing, and called in to a podcast called “Science Vs.”
His appearances have picked up this week: He spoke with NPR, plus a radio show in the United Kingdom and a webcast with the Journal of the American Medical Association.
He also came on CNN, indirectly, on June 28 through a webcam interview with CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen for the Aspen Ideas Festival, which was streamed on the internet. CNN then replayed part of the interview on TV.
Fauci and other government experts have been seen on camera when they’ve testified at Senate and House hearings in recent weeks.
Birx, the coronavirus task force response coordinator, and other officials have also appeared at public events with Vice President Mike Pence.
But their absence from the biggest TV stages – like ABC’s “World News Tonight” and Sean Hannity’s Fox News show – has been glaring and has prompted grumbling by network producers.
Public health experts have also said the trend is troubling.
Public health and communication “are inextricably linked,” Dr. Richard Besser, a former acting director of the CDC, said on the “Reliable Sources” podcast last month.
Besser, now the CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said there’s been “practically radio silence at the federal level from political leaders as well as public health leaders in terms of where we are and what needs to be done.”
This is partly due to the president’s denialism about the crisis.
One thing holding back Fauci is his candor. The administration source said that White House officials view Fauci as too candid during his interviews – too “doom and gloom.” Birx is seen as a more reliable team player inside the administration.
But it is Fauci’s straightforward bedside manner that has made him one of the most popular public figures in the nation.
CNN’s analysis of task force member interviews showed that Dr. Stephen Hahn, the FDA commissioner, appeared on two local TV stations earlier this week, followed by ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday. (Hahn will also be on CNN’s “State of the Union” this Sunday.)
Dr. Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, appeared on NBC’s “Today” show on Friday and dodged questions about whether it is appropriate for the president to be attending large gatherings this weekend.
“Every single person has to make up their own mind,” Adams said.
Aside from a local radio interview in late June, Adams had not been on the air in weeks. He has been posting messages on social media instead.
Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, granted interviews to CNN, NBC, and ABC at the end of June.
Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC director, has been off the air for weeks, though he held a tele-briefing for reporters on June 25.
Many of task force members were also present at the televised coronavirus task force briefing on June 26, the first of its kind in roughly two months.
There has not been another one of those briefings since.
--CNN’s Ali Main, Nicky Robertson and Sam Fossum contributed reporting.