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About that bonkers Madison Cawthorn speech accusing Dr. Fauci of torturing puppies
Also: Cavuto's return to Fox News served as an unintentional indictment of Fox News.
Let’s begin today’s edition of Public Notice by unpacking a 23-second clip of Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) describing Dr. Anthony Fauci as a “demon doctor” and accusing him of being involved in puppy torture — comments that speak volumes about the demented state of the right-wing fever swamp.
Fauci has been vilified by Trump supporters looking to score political points by blaming the pandemic on Democrats and/or public health experts. Cawthorn’s remarks demonstrated just how desperate these efforts have become.
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Cawthorn’s attack on Fauci came during a speech he gave on the House floor on Tuesday. I happened to catch it live and posted the clip to Twitter, where it quickly racked up more than a quarter million views.
What follows is a transcript of Cawthorn’s remarks. Suffice it to say that almost every word he uttered is a lie:
Today I am calling for the creation of a formal commission to investigate the true origin of Covid-19, the role Fauci played in its creation, the false statements he made to members of Congress under oath, and why the hell Americans are funding the torture of puppies in Africa. Americans deserve the truth, and this demon doctor must never be allowed to escape justice.
Some context: Cawthorn’s allegation that Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, helped create Covid and lied under oath are both related to a conspiracy theory that has been percolating in Trumpworld for a while about a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) purportedly funding “gain-of-function” research at a lab in Wuhan, China. (The government defines gain-of-function research as work intended to “increase the ability of infectious agents to cause disease by enhancing its pathogenicity or by increasing its transmissibility.”) The idea is that US-funded coronavirus research in that Wuhan lab culminated with the novel coronavirus either accidentally or intentionally escaping from the lab and infecting the world. Ergo, Fauci helped create Covid.
The only problem with this conspiracy theory is that there’s scant evidence to back it up. During a memorably heated July exchange with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Fauci denied the conspiracy theory, saying the NIH has never funded gain of function research.
The NIH strongly denies it as well. As FactCheck.org explains, there are disagreements among scientists about the types of research that constitute “gain of function,” but Cawthorn’s claim that Fauci played a role in Covid’s “creation” is little more than wishcasting aimed at finding a Trump critic to blame for the pandemic. (Cawthorn’s claim about Covid being created in a lab is also controversial.)
Next, let’s tackle the claim that garnered the most attention — that “Americans are funding the torture of puppies in Africa.” Cawthorn’s claim probably sounded bizarre if you aren’t swimming in the fever swamp, but as NBC’s Ben Collins pointed out, it’s been a big topic in recent days there.
Cawthorn’s claim is based on recent articles in right-wing publications like the New York Post, Fox News, Gateway Pundit, and others about the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), of which Fauci is director, providing grant funding to a lab in Tunisia that it allegedly used “to torture and kill dozens of beagle puppies for twisted scientific experiments,” as the Post put it.
But as Dana Milbank explained in the Washington Post, “the only thing being tortured here is the truth.”
It turns out that this Tunisian study was erroneously attributed to NIAID. NIAID did, however, fund different research in Tunisia — and the beagles weren’t puppies, they weren’t euthanized, they weren’t “de-barked,” and they weren’t “trapped” so “flies could eat them alive.” The dogs were given an experimental vaccine and allowed to roam. There was a very good reason for this: Dogs are the main reservoir host (and flies the main vector) of the disease that was being studied, which affects half a million people a year, particularly children, and has a 6 percent mortality rate in Tunisia.
As Milbank goes on to detail, there is actually some basis to claims that the US government has funded research that involved euthanizing dogs, but that research was for worthwhile causes.
Had right-wing outlets checked with the NIH, they would know that in another study, which didn’t involve Tunisia and didn’t involve flies, NIAID-funded researchers did indeed perform cordectomies on 44 beagle puppies and euthanized them after the study. And here’s why: The Food and Drug Administration requires researchers to experiment on non-rodent mammals for certain classes of HIV-AIDS drugs, and for this study specifically recommended dogs. It is necessary to use young dogs (six to eight months) to assess whether the drugs retard growth. It is mandatory that the dogs be euthanized so researchers can search for damage to organ systems. And it is recommended by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care that the dogs undergo cordectomies to reduce anxiety (in dogs) and hearing loss (in humans) from barking. (Beagles are used because of their uniform size.)
Above all, this is no frivolous pursuit: The drugs under study are promising next-generation antiretrovirals that can be administered to HIV/AIDS patients less frequently — potentially saving countless human lives.
As is so often the case, however, Trumpers are not about to let facts or important context get in the way of owning the libs. Predictably, Tucker Carlson ran with the “Fauci is out to kill your dogs” silliness later Tuesday.
I’ve probably devoted more words to Cawthorn’s 23-second rant than it’s worth. But it’s a good example of how elected Republicans and the right-wing echo chamber keep their base riled up by flooding the zone with barely varnished BS.
Cavuto’s return to Fox News was actually an indictment of Fox
Speaking of BS, Neil Cavuto’s return as host of his Fox Business and Fox News shows unintentionally illustrated the damage the network has done with its irresponsible Covid coverage.
After a week off, Cavuto, who said he is still positive for Covid, resumed his hosting duties from a remote location on Tuesday. He began each of his respective shows by reading emails and tweets sent to him while he was out.
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A number of these emails and tweets lashed out at Cavuto — some going as far as wishing him dead — all because he committed the sin of making a personal plea to get vaccinated in his statement announcing he had Covid. (As I wrote about last week, Fox News programming ignored Cavuto’s vaccination plea for days.)
“Keep your chubby hands off my body, you full-figure freak!” said one email read on Cavuto’s Fox Business show. “I’ll decide what I take, not some Mr. Potato Head elitist with snap-on fake hair, who’s getting paid by big pharma!”
Cavuto laughed this off, but it’s really not funny. In fact, messages like this reveal the monster Fox News has created by portraying Covid vaccines as ineffective, and vaccine mandates as a step down the slippery slope toward totalitarian dictatorship.
One emailer whose missive was read at the beginning of Cavuto’s Fox News show wished death upon Cavuto (“It’s clear you’ve lost some weight with all this stuff. Good for you. But I’m not happy with less of you. I want ‘none’ of you. I want you gone. Dead. Caput. Fini. Get it? Now, take your two-bit advice and deep-six it, and you!”). Another expressed complete confusion about the fact that getting vaccinated prevents severe cases, not necessarily contracting Covid altogether (“Hey guys I bought a new car after being told it was the best. Then it blew up after I left the cat lot. So now I’m begging everyone to please buy the same car. Sorry I’m just pretending to be Neil Cavuto.”).
Cavuto’s coverage of Covid has been more responsible than most other Fox News hosts. But even his show on Tuesday highlighted how the network continues to politicize basic public health and science.
Immediately after the show opened with emails and tweets wishing harm upon Cavuto because he spoke out for vaccines, the show transitioned to a segment about “VACCINE MANDATES TRIGGERING PROTESTS” — the exact type of story Fox News has been hyping for months as a way to undercut efforts to get more people vaccinated and end the pandemic.
Fox News has primed its audience to believe that the vaccines don’t work and that government efforts to get more people protected from Covid is tyranny. So is it really a surprise that viewers lashed out when Cavuto spoke out on behalf of science and public health? This, after all, is just a result of viewers buying what they’ve been selling.