How Dr. Deborah Birx is risking her ‘hard-won professional reputation’ by not calling out Trump’s ‘cringeworthy remarks’

How Dr. Deborah Birx is risking her ‘hard-won professional reputation’ by not calling out Trump’s ‘cringeworthy remarks’
President Donald J. Trump listens as White House Coronavirus Task Force Response Coordinator Deborah Birx delivers remarks during a coronavirus update briefing Thursday, April 16, 2020, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

Dr. Deborah Birx, like fellow medical expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, has found herself in a challenging position. On one hand, she doesn’t want to be fired from President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force. But on the other hand, she has been criticized for not calling Trump out when he says something asinine — for example, the president’s recent suggestion that ingesting household disinfectants like bleach might offer protection from coronavirus. And reporter David Smith, in an article for The Guardian, asserts that Birx’s reputation is on the line.

“The cringeworthy remarks about disinfectant and ultraviolet light compounded fears that Birx, the lead advocate of social distancing, has been somewhat less successful at critical distancing from the president,” Smith reports. “Like other White House officials before her, she is said to be sacrificing a hard-won professional reputation at the altar of Trump’s vanity.”

The household disinfectants "debacle," Smith notes, was by no means the first time Birx didn’t call Trump out when he said something ridiculous.

“Critics note that Birx has repeatedly failed to speak out against the president’s false and potentially dangerous claims when the occasion demands,” Smith explains. “Worse still, in an apparent attempt to stay in his good graces, the 64-year-old doctor and diplomat has praised Trump and even sided with him in jabbing at the media.”

Like Fauci, Birx obviously reasons that she can do more good during the coronavirus pandemic if she doesn’t alienate the notoriously thin-skinned Trump. But as Smith points out, some of Birx’s Trump-related assertions have been attacked as flat-out obsequious. Birx recently told the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) that Trump has “been so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data. I think his ability to analyze and integrate data that comes out of his long history in business has really been a real benefit during these discussions about medical issues.”

Smith cites former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart as an example of the “backlash” against Birx: on March 27, Lockhart tweeted, “I, for one, am no longer interested in hearing from Dr. Brix. Her vouching for Trump's vast scientific abilities from his business background was the breaking point. Stepford Doc.”

New York Magazine’s Emily Nussbaum was equally critical of Birx in an April 26 tweet, posting, “Dr. Birx is going to leave a horrible legacy. It’s one thing to be a cynical paid fixer. It’s worse, in my eyes, to be the expert who props up the mad king. I get that it’s an emergency & I understand the theoretical strategy she may think she’s pursuing, but it’s a moral horror.”

However, Never Trump conservative Charlie Sykes has expressed sympathy for the position that Birx and Fauci are in. In an April 10 article for the conservative website The Bulwark (which Sykes founded with fellow Never Trumper Bill Kristol), Sykes wrote, “It’s a trade-off, and I don’t envy her position. If she had said, ‘This is terrible, and the president put people in danger,’ she’d be gone and replaced by someone even less willing to speak truth to power.”

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card


Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.