With One Day Left on the Job, Fauci Still Can’t Shake Elon Musk

The billionaire CEO has nothing better to do than tweet jokes about the outgoing infectious disease expert

Elon Musk in his satanic Halloween costume at Heidi Klum’s party on October 31, 2022
Weapon of choice: dumb tweets.
Noam Galai/Getty Images for Heidi Klum

Elon Musk loves a puerile joke. Except only those he comes up with, or agrees with, or likes so much that he tweets them and pretends he came up with them. But if you so much as call the new Twitter CEO a “poopy pants” or a “bologna face,” get ready for your account to be suspended, as was reportedly the case for history professor Kenneth Osgood.

As the head of both Twitter and Tesla, Elon Musk should be too busy to have petty vendettas like that, but the 51-year-old billionaire once again proved he’s more than happy to prioritize personal feuds when he continued his campaign against Dr. Anthony Fauci on Friday, just one day before the nation’s top infectious disease expert retires from his current roles.

Yes, Fauci’s long tenure as a federal employee comes to an end on Saturday, December 31, as he is stepping down as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the White House’s chief medical advisor; but Musk, who has long criticized the 82-year-old for issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, couldn’t help but get in a few more barbs before the end.

On December 29, a reporter from the Washington Examiner, a conservative outlet, tweeted about a New York Times exit interview with Fauci, specifically quoting the first line, “The walls in Dr. Anthony S. Fauci’s home office are adorned with portraits of him, drawn and painted by some of his many fans.”

The next day, Musk responded with “creepy.” Then, an hour and six minutes later, after apparently coming up with a response he found to be too clever to keep to himself, he added, “Maybe he just loves looking at science?” (The latter is a callback to when, in the face of Sen. Ted Cruz’s accusations of lying and calls for prosecution, Fauci said, “It’s easy to criticize, but they’re really criticizing science because I represent science.” Critics ran with that quote and now pretend that Fauci said, “I am science.”) 

As is the case with most of Musk’s posts about Fauci and the pandemic, this is yet another instance of tweeting without knowing the full story. After all, if you actually read the article, you’d find that Fauci keeps the portraits from admirers because he would “feel like [he’s] disrespecting them” if he didn’t, even though he’s already been criticized as an “egomaniac” by the “far right” for doing so. 

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This is a pretty tame example of Musk’s ire. On December 11, it reached a flashpoint when he combined a joke about gender pronouns with a call to prosecute Fauci. Musk accused the immunologist of lying to Congress and “[funding] gain-of-function research that killed millions of people.” As the Hill explained at the time, Fauci has said claims that the National Institutes of Health has funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology — claims that have been promoted by Musk and Republicans — are “entirely and completely incorrect.” 

Elon Musk’s obsession with Fauci and fringe theories about COVID-19 go back to the beginning of the pandemic, when, as a simple Twitter user instead of its CEO, he posted endless streams of false and misleading information: equating COVID-19 to “the cold,” saying the “coronavirus panic is dumb,” claiming in March 2020 that we would probably be close to zero new cases by the end of April 2020, and the list goes on. He began criticizing Fauci as early as November 2021, when he suggested there should be term limits for positions like the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

When Fauci is officially no longer a federal employee on Sunday, will Musk give up his campaign and move on with his life? Not likely. After all, when he took over Twitter, Musk reportedly found a Slack channel titled “Fauci Fan Club,” but none called “Elon Fan Club.” And that’s going to haunt him until the day he dies.

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