Less than two years ago, an outbreak of a new, flu-like virus that would eventually be known as COVID-19 began in Wuhan, China. Today, almost 5 million people globally have died from this pandemic, and we are no closer to understanding how it began.
Well, that’s not entirely true. We are closer, but only by virtue of being allowed to ask in public a rather inconvenient question: Was a foreign lab that received U.S. taxpayer funding for years responsible for the start of the spread of this pandemic?
For months, this question was considered publicly taboo, prohibited from discussion (except as a topic of derision as a wild-eyed conspiracy theory) by a group of scientists who were, incredibly, some of the same people who should have been under the most intense scrutiny. The bizarre tableau would not have played out in any other walk of life. If ExxonMobil had conducted drilling operations that resulted in a massive oil leak, the media would not have refused to investigate the cause of the leak because respected scientists who happened to be employed by ExxonMobil insisted that it was not ExxonMobil’s fault.
And yet, incredibly, that appears to be exactly what happened to the most significant question that has faced our generation. The very people who stood to lose the most were allowed to hastily exonerate themselves, and for months — when important information should have been uncovered — social media companies and the media actually covered for them and are still covering for them today.
The decision to rule this topic out of bounds was made in late January 2020, just a few days after the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Washington state. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has perhaps done more to shape coronavirus response policy than any other person in America, was a central figure in those discussions.
It is difficult, after all that has happened over the last two years, to remember a time when Dr. Fauci was not famous, but it is important to remember that when the discussions that would shape the investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic began, the men and women who conferred with him were not conferring with the celebrity who would soon come to dominate American media coverage. They were, rather, conferring with a bureaucrat — one whom a vast, overwhelming majority of Americans could not have picked out of a lineup when he was announced as a member of then-Vice President Mike Pence’s coronavirus task force on Jan. 29, 2020.
But just because he wasn’t famous doesn’t mean he wasn’t powerful. Not only is he literally the highest-paid employee of the entire federal government, but Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) provides billions of dollars for research projects in the United States and around the world. NIAID was responsible for doling out nearly $3 billion annually in federal taxpayer dollars to research scientists between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. In FY 2021, NIAID received an annual budget of $6,067,071,000. The agency plans to fund another $3.8 billion in research grants this year, 62% of its budget.
The director of NIAID wields enormous power and influence over which research projects receive that funding, which scientists will be paid to continue their work, and which therapies, vaccines, diagnostic tests, and other technologies get developed in the competitive field of infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases. And Fauci is the longest-serving head of NIAID, having been appointed director in 1984 and supervising research both within and without the agency from that position for nearly four decades since.
So, while the average American might never have heard of Dr. Anthony Fauci …