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Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, says the latest round of conservative attacks against him are "nonsense" attacks on science.
The doctor appeared on Rachel Maddow's show on MSNBC to discuss a trove of emails of his that were obtained by BuzzFeed News and The Washington Post that are at the heart of the recent criticisms.
"Dr Fauci is the subject — in a negative way — of every hour on Fox News prime time now, where they think he can somehow be blamed for causing Covid or something, since he's the country's lead scientist on it. Or maybe he's a secret Chinese communist. I actually can't quite follow what it is they think Fauci has done so wrong,"Maddow said.
The latest attack on Dr Fauci revolves around an email in which he mentions "gain-of-function" research regarding the coronavirus.
Fox News personalities like Tucker Carlson and Republican lawmakers – including Senator Rand Paul – have alleged that the emails prove that Dr Fauci knew the Wuhan Institute of Virology was conducting research to make coronaviruses more transmissible long before the pandemic began. They also alleged that the US funded some of that research.
Dr Fauci has denied that the government had any involvement in funding any kind of gain-of-function research at the institute and has defended the scientists there, saying they are not controlled by the government of China and have long cooperated with US scientists.
The doctor said the emails were representative of him checking to ensure that there was no gain-of-function research occurring, not that he was aware of any being done.
"First of all, let me just ask if I'm being fair," Maddow asked Dr Fauci. "Am I building you up to be thicker skinned about this than you are? Are you actually worried about this new sort of re-upping of attacks on you?"
Dr Fauci said he was concerned because "it's really very much an attack on science."
"My job was to make a vaccine and use my institute and the talented scientists we have there and that we fund in the various universities to get a vaccine that was highly safe and highly effective and we succeeded," he said. "That's what I do. All the other stuff is just a terrible, not-happy type of a distraction, but it's all nonsense."
He also discussed the origin of the coronavirus pandemic and competing theories over where the virus came from.
"You know, there's this concern, is it a natural evolution, or is it something that happened out of a lab, an accident, or what have you. It is important to understand that. But it is being approached now in a very vehement way, in a very distorted way, I believe, by attacking me," he said.
He said that the questions over the virus's origin are legitimate, but that they have been twisted to become a way for conservative media figures to paint a target on him.
"I think the question is extremely legitimate, you should want to know how this happened so that we can make sure it doesn't happen again," he said. "But what's happened in the middle of all of that, I've become the object of extraordinary, I believe, completely inappropriate, distorted, misleading and misrepresented attacks."