In a new book, former Trump adviser Scott Atlas blames Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci for “headline-dominating debacles” about quack cures for Covid-19 – but omits to mention the chief proponent of snake-oil treatments, including hydroxychloroquine and disinfectant, was the US president he loyally served.
Atlas, a radiologist, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, California, specializing in health care policy. He became a special adviser to Donald Trump in August 2020, five months into the pandemic, but resigned less than four months later after a controversial spell in the role.
His book, A Plague Upon Our House: My Fight at the Trump White House to Stop Covid from Destroying America, will be published on 7 December. Its publisher is Bombardier Books, an imprint of PostHill Press, a conservative outlet that will also publish a memoir by Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s fourth press secretary.
Speaking to Fox News, Atlas promised to “expose the unvarnished truth” about Trump’s Covid task force, including “a shocking lack of critical thinking about the science … a reckless abuse of public health and a moral failure in what should be expected from public health leaders”.
Birx, an army physician, is a longtime leader in the fight against Aids. Fauci has served seven presidents as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Both were senior members of Trump’s Covid task force. Atlas’s book is replete with attacks on both.
Describing the fight against Covid before he came to the White House, Atlas accidentally sideswipes Trump when he writes: “Birx and Fauci stood alongside the president during headline-dominating debacles in the Brady Press Room about using hydroxychloroquine, drinking disinfectant, ingesting bleach and using UV light to cure the virus. They were there as the sole medical input into the task force, generating the entire advisory output to the states.”
Hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial, was touted as a Covid treatment by non-governmental voices including two billionaires, Elon Musk and Larry Ellison.
Fauci said repeatedly such claims should be treated with caution. But Trump himself proved an enthusiastic advocate, disagreeing with his senior scientist and asking the public: “What do you have to lose?”
Atlas’s reference to “drinking disinfectant, ingesting bleach and using UV light” is to the events of a memorable White House briefing when again it was Trump’s pronouncements that went wildly awry – not those of his officials.
On Thursday, 23 April 2020, William Bryan, undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, discussed a study of effects on the coronavirus from sun exposure and cleaning agents – as applied to surfaces, not the human body.
Trump said: “And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that, so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.
“So, we’ll see, but the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute. That’s pretty powerful.”
As the Guardian reported, Birx “remained silent. But social media erupted in outrage”.
Trump asked if sunlight might work, saying: “Deborah, have you ever heard of that? The heat and the light relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?”
Birx said: “Not as a treatment. I mean, certainly fever is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But, I’ve not seen heat or light as a –”
Trump interrupted: “I think that’s a great thing to look at. OK?”
The president subsequently claimed to have been “sarcastic”.
In his book, Atlas treats Birx and Fauci’s work for a task force he says Trump “never once” met or spoke to with sarcasm, criticism and disdain.
He accuses Birx of “volatile behavior” and “interrupting all who challenged her” but says vice-president Mike Pence decided removing her was “simply not worth the risk to the upcoming election”.
Among criticisms of Fauci, Atlas echoes Trump in complaining about his profile.
“Dr Fauci kept on interviewing, of course,” Atlas writes, “positing the ever-present, potentially negative turn of events that never happened.”
A year after Atlas’s resignation, more than 772,000 Americans have died of Covid-19.