On CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday morning, host Margaret Brennan gave viewers an unusual peek behind the booking curtain. “We think it’s important for our viewers to hear from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control,” she said to the camera. “But we have not been able to get our requests for Dr. Fauci approved by the Trump administration in the last three months, and the CDC not at all. We will continue our efforts.” CBS isn’t the only media outlet with this issue: Fauci and other key health-policy figures on the administration’s coronavirus task force have been largely pulled from the airwaves in recent weeks while cases surge nationwide. Their absence makes sense, though, when you realize that even in the midst of this deadly pandemic, the administration’s top priority is the president’s image.

With new coronavirus cases at 50,000 for four straight days, a normal administration would be flooding news programs with medical experts to tell Americans to wear masks, practice social distancing and otherwise fight the virus’s spread. But the Trump White House is doing the opposite. As CNN reported Friday, Fauci hasn’t been on U.S. television in three weeks, even though the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is one of the few leaders that most Americans trust right now. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the administration’s coronavirus response, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have also been conspicuously absent. What clips Americans have seen of Fauci & Co. have come from congressional hearings, which the administration has less control over.

Instead, this Sunday, the administration dispatched Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, to represent the White House. It was a telling choice: Hahn can point to decades of experience as an oncologist and cancer researcher — and many donations to GOP causes — but unlike other recent FDA heads, Hahn has no background in health policy.

Yet the politically savvy Hahn no doubt understood that his job Sunday was to deal with the president’s claim on Saturday that “99 percent” of coronavirus cases are “totally harmless.” Not surprisingly, Hahn dealt with such a gobsmacking claim by dodging it entirely. When ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked for “any evidence that is an accurate statement,” Hahn immediately pivoted to case numbers. When CNN’s Dana Bash pointed out that the CDC estimates that “only about a third of coronavirus cases are asymptomatic” and the World Health Organization estimates that 20 percent need hospital care or oxygen, Hahn said, “I totally support the CDC and the information that they’re putting out with respect to this pandemic.” And when Bash directly asked whether the president was wrong, Hahn said, “I’m not going to get into who is right and who is wrong.”

In explaining Fauci’s absence from television, an administration source told CNN that Fauci’s interviews had too much “doom and gloom” to fit the Trump view that everything is fine. And it seems even other public health experts such as Birx and Redfield, who have more often toed the president’s line, have also deferred to reality too many times for the administration’s liking. So it’s not hard to imagine why this White House wouldn’t want them commenting on the president’s latest irresponsible statements. This White House’s goal, after all, is not public safety but to avoid making the president look bad — no matter the cost.

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