It was just last month when Donald Trump decided he no longer wanted to listen to the nation's preeminent voices on epidemiology during the pandemic. Instead, the president turned to Dr. Scott Atlas, a Fox News regular and a leading voice at a conservative think tank.
As we've discussed, there was no great mystery behind the decision: Atlas has pushed to re-open schools, downplayed the need for broader coronavirus testing, and criticized lockdowns intended to stop the pandemic's spread.
The radiologist has "no expertise in public health or infectious disease mitigation," he hasn't practiced medicine in nearly a decade, and he's demonstrated a habit of echoing unscientific claims, but Atlas nevertheless had something more important: an eagerness to tell the president what he wants to hear.
Others appear to be far less impressed. Two weeks ago, several dozen researchers and doctors from Stanford Medical School called out Atlas for spreading what they characterized as "falsehoods and misrepresentation of science." (Atlas is a senior fellow at Stanford University's conservative Hoover Institution.)
What's more, as CNN reported last week, "Inside the White House, Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci have struggled to compete with the growing influence of Trump's new favorite coronavirus adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no public health or infectious disease expertise whose views are wildly out of step with leading public health experts."
And today, NBC News lowered the boom, reporting that the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has grown "increasingly concerned" that the president is sharing incorrect information about the pandemic with the public as a result of Atlas' influence.
Dr. Robert Redfield, who leads the CDC, suggested in a conversation with a colleague Friday that Dr. Scott Atlas is arming Trump with misleading data about a range of issues, including questioning the efficacy of masks, whether young people are susceptible to the virus and the potential benefits of herd immunity. "Everything he says is false," Redfield said during a phone call made in public on a commercial airline and overheard by NBC News.
A CDC spokesperson emphasized in a statement that Redfield was having a "private phone conversation" and "a private discussion." The statement did not, however, deny the accuracy of the quote about Atlas.
One of the most important dynamics in any White House is whom a president trusts and turns to for guidance. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, this president trusts and turns to a radiologist, whom he saw on Fox News, and who's apparently seen by his colleagues as peddling nonsense.
It'd be funny if so many lives weren't at stake.