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USA Today, facing backlash, says Navarro opinion piece attacking Fauci does not meet its standards

Peter Navarro, right, wrote a column for USA Today attacking Anthony Fauci, left. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Facing intense criticism on social media, USA Today has admitted errors in an opinion piece written by a White House official that attacked Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious-disease expert, saying in a post-publication note attached to the piece that it “did not meet USA TODAY’s fact-checking standards.”

Published online Tuesday evening and in print Wednesday, the opinion piece was authored by Peter Navarro, who heads the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, and was paired with the provocative headline: “Anthony Fauci has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”

On Wednesday evening, editorial page editor Bill Sternberg added a note that explained the piece’s origins as well as its mistakes.

“Navarro’s response echoed comments made to other news outlets in recent days,” he wrote, alluding to talking points critical of Fauci circulated by White House aides. “We felt it was newsworthy because it expanded on those comments, put an on-the-record name to the attacks on Fauci, and contradicted White House denials of an anti-Fauci campaign.”

But he said the piece “did not meet USA TODAY’s fact-checking standards” because of factual errors with “several of Navarro’s criticisms of Fauci.” In the piece, Navarro argued that Fauci “fought against the president’s courageous decision” to limit travel from China to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. That sentence now includes a link to an external fact-check of the claim that states that, “based on all available information, Trump was not accurate to say that Fauci criticized the president’s decision to restrict travel with China.”

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, on July 15 urged an end to the divisiveness over the country's response to covid-19. (Video: Reuters)

As part of the publication’s response to the backlash that stemmed from publication of the piece, USA Today also published a “fact check” piece on Wednesday night that concluded “Peter Navarro’s claims about Dr. Anthony Fauci are misleading, lack context.”

Sternberg wrote that USA Today “approached” Navarro to solicit the piece as part of the publication’s commitment to pairing an “opposing view” to an editorial board piece, also published on Tuesday evening, that largely hailed Fauci.

Beyond the appended editor’s note, USA Today has not commented publicly on the piece, which remains available online. A spokesperson directed The Washington Post to the revised version late Wednesday night.

Navarro has faced criticism for writing the piece attacking Fauci. President Trump said on Wednesday that Navarro “made a statement representing himself.” He added, “He shouldn’t be doing that.”