The noble lies of COVID-19

In March 2020, as the pandemic began, Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president of the United States, explained in a 60 Minutes interview that he felt community use of masks was unnecessary. A few months later, he argued that his statements were not meant to imply that he felt the data to justify the use of cloth masks was insufficient. Rather, he said, had he endorsed mask wearing (of any kind), mass panic would ensue and lead to a surgical and N95 mask shortage among health care workers, who needed the masks more. Yet, emails from a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Fauci privately gave the same advice—against mask use—suggesting it was not merely his outward stance to the broader public.

Although some have claimed that the evidence changed substantively in the early weeks of March, our assessment of the literature does not concur. We believe the evidence at the time of Fauci’s 60 Minutes interview was largely similar to that in April 2020. Thus, there are two ways to consider Fauci’s statement. One possibility is, as he says, that his initial statement was dishonest but motivated to avoid a run on masks needed by health care workers. The other is that he believed his initial statements were accurate, and he subsequently decided to advocate for cloth masks to divert attention from surgical or N95 masks, or to provide a sense of hope and control to a fearful and anxious public. …

One thing is beyond a doubt, however: One of those two statements did not accurately reflect the evidence as Fauci saw it. Such high-profile mixed messages in a short time frame, without substantive new data to justify the change, generated confusion and a backlash from politicians, other experts, and the general public. …

Later in 2020, Fauci participated in a second noble lie. In December, he explained in a phone interview with then–New York Times reporter Donald McNeil that he had been moving the target estimate for herd immunity based in part on emerging studies. But he also said:

When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent. Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, “I can nudge this up a bit,” so I went to 80, 85.

In his own words, he “nudged” his target range for herd immunity to promote vaccine uptake. Even though his comments were made to influence public actions to get more people vaccinated (a noble effort), the central dilemma remains: Do we want public health officials to report facts and uncertainties transparently? Or do we want them to shape information, via nudges, to influence the public to take specific actions? The former fosters an open and honest dialogue with the public to facilitate democratic policymaking. The second subverts the very idea of a democracy and implies that those who set the rules or shape the media narrative are justified in depriving the public of information that they may consider or value differently…

The fourth noble lie from government agencies and/or officials occurred more recently. On June 4, using data from February to March, the agency made the case that hospitalizations were rising in adolescents. It tweeted, “The report shows the importance of #COVID19 vaccination for adolescents.” That tweet spurred a great deal of media attention and concern. It was true that hospitalization rates had risen. However, at the time of the press coverage, hospitalization rates in this age group had already fallen again. Numerous commenters immediately pointed out that the “rise” in hospitalization statistic promoted by the CDC was out of date the moment it was highlighted and raised questions about why the CDC would promote a dated statistic, when the organization had access to up-to-date information. …

Noble lies—small untruths—yield unpredictable outcomes. Nietzsche once wrote, “Not that you lied to me, but that I no longer believe you, has shaken me.” Public health messaging is predicated on trust, which overcomes the enormous complexity of the scientific literature, creating an opportunity to communicate initiatives effectively. Still, violation of this trust renders the communication unreliable. When trust is shattered, messaging is no longer clear and straightforward, and instead results in the audience trying to reverse-engineer the statement based on their view of the speaker’s intent. Simply put, noble lies can rob confidence from the public, leading to confusion, a loss of credibility, conspiracy theories, and obfuscated policy.

The truth is there is nothing noble about lying. Even the left-wing media can clearly see how much deceit has been coming from governmental authorities around covid-19. As we explained in the July issue of the Trumpet magazine, this kind of lying is dangerous:

Lying is normal. Lying is necessary. Lying is not a problem if you know how to use it. If you really know what you are doing, you can even tell big, bold lies. We need lying to make things work: our marriages, our friendships, our businesses, our politics, our security, our international relations.

This is the standard attitude in our society. And it is a lie!

Look at the role of lying over just the past year with covid-19, with irregularities in America’s election last November, with truth and facts being censored by media and Big Tech, with leftist causes being promoted in spite of contrary facts. There is an epic amount of lying in the public sphere today. And in so many cases, life moves on; new headlines emerge and the truth is overwhelmed by deceit.

This is terribly destructive and dangerous to you and me and to our whole society.