On CNN’s “Reality Check” segment on Tuesday, John Avlon expressed shock and outrage over comparisons of Dr. Anthony Fauci to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Avlon made those nasty attacks on Fauci “dangerous deflections” while ignoring the countless times his own network, among others, eagerly compared Republicans to Nazis and other historical villains.
After citing two news clips, Avlon complained, “Now, for those of you keeping score at home, that's two ‘Fauci is fascist’ comparisons from Fox News hosts in one day.” Just so the record is set straight, let’s take a look at some of the Nazi comparisons CNN has articulated or encouraged over the years:
A psychiatrist guest on Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources” in 2019 called President Trump “as destructive a person in this century as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were in the last century,” continuing by wildly ranting: “He may be responsible for many more million deaths than they were.” Stelter did not push back on this absurd claim. In fact, unhinged left-wing guests on his show have a history of accusing Trump and his administration of authoritarianism.
Speaking with CNN host Alisyn Camerota in December of 2019, Anthony Scaramucci called Trump supporters in Congress “Vichy Republicans” – referring to French collaborators with the Nazis.
In a special interview with Anderson Cooper in January of 2020, singer Linda Ronstadt likened America during Trump’s presidency to the Weimar Republic, saying that Trump was “like Hitler” persecuting Mexicans, “the new Jews.” Once again, there was no pushback.
In June of that year, CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley compared Trump to George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi party.
In the wake of the 2020 election, CNN host Fareed Zakaria suggested that Trump’s refusal to concede paralleled Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. Months later, Zakaria once again compared America to Germany immediately prior to World War II, while his show ran the chyron “Republicans need an exorcism.”
Back in January, CNN’s Don Lemon went all-out in comparing not just Trump, but millions of Americans who voted for him, to Klan members and Nazis: “If you voted for Trump, you voted for the person who the Klan supported. You voted for the person who Nazis support. You voted for the person who the alt-right supports. That's the crowd that you are in.”
Stepping back several years, to 2011, Piers Morgan on CNN attempted to draw a line from the modern Tea Party to the regimes of Mussolini and Hitler.
Of course, none of this is to say that violent threats and attacks on Dr. Fauci are justified. However, attempts by CNN to claim moral high ground regarding authoritarian comparisons are simply laughable. Following this hypocrisy and selective memory, Avlon went on to blame Republicans for distrust in media, calling criticism of Fauci “an outgrowth of the disinformation industrial complex which amplifies any negative narrative about designated enemies”:
These obsessive efforts are a symptom of this environment of asymmetric information warfare, where some people profit off polarization and misinformation, while local newspapers that edit and fact check are dying on the vine. The combination seems almost designed to decrease trust in media institutions at a time when we desperately need to be able to reason together.
Avlon wonders why public trust in media is so low, while CNN contributes to the types of comparisons that host John Berman himself called “repugnant.”
This segment was sponsored by Dell and VRBO.
Read the full transcript of the segment below by clicking Expand:
CNN's New Day
JOHN BERMAN: No one is above questions and criticism. No public official, and that means Dr. Anthony Fauci too. But some of what you've heard over the last 24 hours represents new lows in gross absurdity and new highs in historical ignorance. John Avlon with the reality check.
JOHN AVLON: The partisan attacks against Dr. Anthony Fauci reached an absurd level. Yesterday on Fox News, we saw two, sick, new examples.
LARA LOGAN: This is what people say to me, that he doesn't represent science to them. He represents Josef Mengele, Dr. Josef - the Nazi doctor who did experiments on Jews during the second World War and in the concentration camps. And I am talking about people all across the world are saying this.
TUCKER CARLSON: Tony Fauci has morphed into an even shorter version of Benito Mussolini.
AVLON: Now, for those of you keeping score at home, that's two Fauci is fascist comparisons from Fox News hosts in one day. But, I gotta say, if people are actually keep coming up to Lara Logan and comparing Dr. Fauci to Josef Mengele, maybe it says something about the company she's keeping. But of course, that's kind of the point. Hating Dr. Fauci has become a hot house cottage industry on the far right. It began in the early months of COVID when polls showed that Fauci was more trusted than Trump. And this of course was an unforgivable sin and resulted in repeated attacks on the doctor by the Donald. Became a right-wing signifier with GOP fundraising off anti-Fauci swag, like Governor Ron Desantis pushing “Don't Fauci my Florida” t-shirts, as his state closed in on record COVID rates this summer. And according to data from Bully Pulpit Interactive, cited by Politico, conservatives spent $300,000 on Facebook ads targeting Fauci in the month of May alone, as the threats became more personal and conspiratorial.
You don't have to think that Dr. Fauci has gotten everything right in hindsight to see that these attacks are desperate deflections. It’s eminently possible, for example, to investigate the Wuhan lab leak theory without trying to blame the global pandemic on America's top public health doctor. But even by these degraded standards, I was still a little surprised to learn that the latest anti-Fauci outrage accused him of killing puppies, literally. In some ways, it’s actually the perfect cartoon version of negative partisanship, where, your political opponents are not merely mistaken but evil. So evil, that they would even kill puppies in their spare time. Normally, this isn't the kind of thing we'd bother to reality check, but an incisive Twitter thread by The Atlantic’s David Frum made me realize this has got real traction. It went beyond the typical grifters like Donald Trump Jr. who’s selling "Fauci kills puppies" t-shirts, to actual elected officials on both sides of the aisle. And after it spawned memes and flooded Facebook feeds, people started calling Fauci's office with death threats like these, obtained by the Washington Post:
VOICEMAIL: [ Bleep ] you, Dr. Fauci. I hope they put you in a cage with a bunch of flies and let them eat you, and then I hope they hang you from the highest tree.
VOICEMAIL: You evil [ bleep ]. Your days are numbered. Rot in hell, [ bleep ].
AVLON: Fauci responded to these attacks by telling the "Washington Post," quote, “The constant harassment in the form of ridiculous accusations and outright lies makes doing my job and that of my staff of fighting COVID-19 pandemic all the more difficult.” Well, that's clear. But where exactly did this whole killing puppies thing come from? Well, it turns out that a group called White Coat Waste Project, founded by a former Republican operative, posted blogs alleging evidence that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci runs, it spent over $375,000 funding truly grotesque experiments on dogs in Tunisia related to a disease spread by sand fleas. Except this was not exactly the case. The journal that published a study on the experiments issued a correction, saying they had not received funding from the National Institutes of Health at all. But the NIH had previously funded another study where beagles were immunized against a disease spread by sand fleas to test its effectiveness.
Look, animal experiments may not be your moral cup of tea, but as David Frum pointed out, the experiments in question, A, seem eminently reasonable to research to advance a vaccine against a serious disease and, B, had nothing to do with Dr. Fauci. Now, for their part, the White Coat Waste Project’s VP Justin Goodman told CNN that “As a single issue organization, we don’t take any stand on Dr. Fauci and the NIH’s other policies or issues – masks, vaccine mandates, the overall COVID response, or frankly anything else. We're only working to end his funding for these cruel experiments.” The group has not retracted or corrected its claims that the NIH funded the study in Tunisia. And it’s still publishing images from the study. In addition, they claim that the NIH is funding other studies where, at their conclusion, the dogs were euthanized, as the disease in the study had no cure. CNN has not been able to verify these claims. Now, I’m tempted to step back and say, the good news is that we've finally found some common ground between PETA and Trumpers, but that would be putting lipstick on a pig, to use a metaphor that I’m sure PETA would also hate.
But the larger issue is this constant drumbeat of demonizing Dr. Fauci. It’s an outgrowth of the disinformation industrial complex which amplifies any negative narrative about designated enemies. These obsessive efforts are a symptom of this environment of asymmetric information warfare, where some people profit off polarization and misinformation, while local newspapers that edit and fact check are dying on the vine. The combination seems almost designed to decrease trust in media institutions at a time when we desperately need to be able to reason together. As it stands, social media algorithms more easily spread misinformation than truth. We need transparency about how folks exploit these algorithms because right now, lies and conspiracy theories appear to be getting more exposure than actual facts. The sheer volume of disinformation is disorienting, I get it. It can cause people to lose their common sense. But these nightmare visions of negative partisanship are always ultimately nonsense. And that's your reality check.
BERMAN: You know, Lara Logan and her friends may want to go buy a book or read one on Josef Mengele before saying something like that.
AVLON: Seems like a reasonable bar to have.
BERMAN: It’s repugnant. John Avlon, thank you.