Fauci’s Fierce Faith In the Facts
I would wager that a few short months ago, most of us did not know that there existed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID). I would wager even more that fewer of us knew the name of its Director, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. Dr. Fauci has been the Director of NIAID since 1984. As part of this role, he has advised Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump.
Courtesy of COVID-19 and the current pandemic, “Dr. Fauci” has become part of our lexicon. He visits us daily through briefings, appearances on cable news programs, more appearances on cable news programs, and however else he can get out messages about the COVID-9 virus. Dr. Fauci quickly rose from obscure to part of the fabric of society.
A portion, and sometimes a significant portion, of Dr. Fauci’s role has had little to do with the actual coronavirus and medical science to address it. Unfortunately, Dr. Fauci has had to address disinformation, misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19. For instance, the novel coronavirus originated in animals, most likely bats. Dr. Fauci repeatedly explained the tracing of this virus to this source in a particular region of China. Yet, a recent national poll in the U.S. disclosed that 39% of the respondents still believed that COVID-19 was human-developed, created in a laboratory (and then intentionally released by the Chinese government). As recently as February 2020, Tom Cotton, U.S. Senator from Arkansas, suggested that COVID-19 was a Chinese biological weapon.
Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, furthered this conspiracy theory in mid-March 2020 suggesting that the coronavirus was a Chinese and North Korean creation which the Democrats were using to take down President Trump. Falwell also asserted that all social distancing, hand sanitizing and preclusion of social gatherings constituted an overblown response to conditions. Dr. Fauci responded by re-emphasizing the need for social distancing and hand washing. Dr. Fauci refused to enter the briar patch of Falwell’s comments.
Perhaps most amazingly, Dr. Fauci developed a methodology to correct inaccurate assertions from Donald Trump. As we know, anyone else who dares to even suggest that Trump is wrong on any matter, grand or small, ends up out of favor, unemployed, or mocked on Twitter. But not Dr. Fauci. For example, on March 2, 2020, President Trump proclaimed that a COVID-19 vaccine would be available “in a matter of months.” Dr. Fauci advised, at that very same meeting, that development of a vaccine would take 12-18 months, at a minimum. Dr. Fauci did not proclaim: “You are wrong, Mr. President.” Dr. Fauci did not comment in any way on Trump’s proclamation. Dr. Fauci simply stated a fact: medical development of a vaccine cannot be accomplished before a certain period.
Dr. Fauci delivers information about the coronavirus in a matter-of-fact fashion. The information he provides remains supported by facts, data and science. In all these interviews and presentations, Dr. Fauci refuses the entanglements of politics. He will not rise to the bait to comment on whether the coronavirus is a “hoax”. He will not commit to supporting a specific date to return to normal conditions as the virus, and not humans, dictate the timetable. His responses universally remain grounded in the underlying science, data, and best medical approaches.
What has been the reward for Dr. Fauci? Death threats against him and his family. Dr. Fauci now has Secret Service protection. His family remains under Secret Service protection.
Dr. Fauci tells us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear. We are in the midst of a pandemic which has turned upside down societal norms. Medical services are stretched beyond their abilities, together with the medical personnel themselves. We have to address severe illnesses, or worse, deaths, from the virus. Businesses are shuttered. Tens of millions of people have instantly become unemployed. Grocery store shelves have been emptied. Almost the entire nation remains under Stay at Home orders. The future has never been more uncertain.
We want to hear that it is OK. We want to hear that it is over. We want to return to the gym and coffee shop. We want to return to our routines and sense of normalcy. But we need to hear the truth. We need to hear the horrific numbers to make certain we understand the gravity of the situation. We need to hear about the next anticipated virus hot spot to be better prepared. We need to hear whether the preventative measures are “flattening the curve”. We need to hear whether front line medical providers have the necessary support and supplies. In this crisis, we need the plain-spoken voice of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.
The mediation and arbitration side of my practice, like so many other things in society, is now a series of re-scheduling or delaying of events. Trying to remain positive, I want to use this time prudently. I can get some needed Continuing Legal Education credits (on-line, of course, as all in-person seminars have been cancelled). I no longer have excuses to avoid organization and filing – ugh. And I also can seek to continue to learn from these unique circumstances.
As a mediator, I can learn from Dr. Fauci. In mediations, many participants initially present well thought out and vetted positions. Their attorneys capably cite facts from discovery and legal precedent to bolster the cases. The parties already invested substantial sums in the litigation process and now even more in mediation.
Each party wants to hear that its case is great. Each party wants and expects to hear that its position will carry the day in court. Each party wants to hear that the adversaries now see the errors in their thinking and they want to settle. Each party arrives fully vested in its position.
In those circumstances, I have to be Mediator Fauci. I must tell the participants what they need to hear even though they do not want to hear it. Like Fauci, I will not declare: “You are wrong” in the analysis. I will not belittle the presentation. I will, however, do my best to be prepared with facts from the record, additional legal cases, and information about the court, judge or potential jury pool in order to question the strength of a claimant’s case or position. I will channel Dr. Fauci to matter-of-factly and objectively present alternatives. They need to hear it before they hear it during trial from an adversary or judge.
Note to the lawyers who represent clients in mediation: use the mediator to deliver messages your client needs to hear. One of the most fundamental challenges remains managing client expectations. Despite all your counsel, your client may arrive at mediation convinced that PowerBall-like winnings will be offered in settlement or that a complete defense victory will be in the making. The mediator is neutral and, quite often, viewed as judge-like by clients. Privately, let the mediator understand the nature of the outsized expectations so that the mediator becomes your own Dr. Fauci to more objectively tell the client what needs to be heard.
So far in my service as a mediator or arbitrator, I have not had the need of Secret Service protection. Once, while serving as in-house counsel investigating fraud, I found myself with around the clock body guard protection in a foreign country, but that story is for another article. As a nation, we remain deeply indebted to Dr. Fauci for his service on COVID-19 as well as his decades long service. Let’s learn from his example, not threaten him.