Podcast podcast
Apr 03 2024

Rob Montz joins John Tierney to discuss his documentary It Wasn’t Fauci: How the Deep State Really Played Trump.

Audio Transcript

John Tierney: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks podcast. This is John Tierney, a contributing editor to City Journal. Joining me on the show today is Rob Montz, who has just released an important and riveting documentary on YouTube. It’s about the Covid fiasco and is titled, “It Wasn’t Fauci: How the Deep State Really Played Trump.” Now, Rob was a journalist, and he’s the CEO and co-founder of Good Kid Productions. Two years ago, before the rest of the country discovered that deficiencies of Harvard president Claudine Gay, Rob wrote about it in Quillette and also released a documentary exposing how she and other Harvard officials unfairly punished and suspended Roland Fryer, a brilliant economist at Harvard, whose research on policing and schooling contradicted progressive dogma on racism. Now, Rob has taken on a much bigger scandal: the useless and devastatingly harmful Covid lockdown, school closures, and other mandates that were imposed on America and copied in the rest of the world.

I’ve written a lot about these issues at City Journal, how these terrible measures were imposed against the longstanding advice of the best experts on dealing with pandemics and against the best scientific evidence about these measures. Now, this was, I think, the costliest and worst mistake ever made in the history of public health. Probably the worst public policy blunder ever made during peacetime in America. And like a lot of people, I’ve wondered, how could we be so stupid? Well, Rob answers that question in his new documentary, and the answer will be news to the many people who put all the blame on Anthony Fauci.

Now, there’s no question that Fauci bears a lot of responsibility. He was the public face of Covid. He was the darling of the gullible reporters in the mainstream media who bought his version of “the science.” And because his agency controlled so much of the research funding into infectious diseases, scientists depended on that funding, were afraid to contradict them, and therefore there was a silence from people who knew better. But as Rob shows in his documentary, it was another veteran federal bureaucrat who actually orchestrated these terrible measures and conned Donald Trump and the White House into going along with it. Her name is Deborah Birx. Could you tell us about her, Rob?

Rob Montz: Yeah, and for most people at best, they have a vague recollection of that name because Fauci was held up as the great counterbalance to Trumpism. He’s the guy who gets all the glowing New Yorker profiles. He’s the dude who gets the Time 100 nominations. And Birx was there, and people maybe vaguely remember her scarves, and maybe they remember that she was on the receiving end of that hyper viral Trump news conference in the early stages of the pandemic in which he suggested using ultraviolet light and bleach to fight Covid. Other than that, she’s basically been lost to history, which is just so funny about the nature narrative making in politics. You really get to see how warped and artificial historical storytelling is once you actually dig into the power of things. Yeah, you’re right. I get the sense that a lot of Americans want to move on. In part they really, really, really don’t want to hear the answer to was all that sacrifice of the lockdowns worth it?

They don’t really want to be told that it actually wasn’t worth it at all. There was no nobility to it. The cousin of yours that died of a drug overdose didn’t die for a good reason. The fact that your nine-year-old still can’t read. It’s not for any particularly good reason. The fact that you had to shutter your family business, there was no good reason. So people just want to move on, even though, as I’m sure your audience knows, there’s been a lot of pretty rigorous investigations into the efficacy of the lockdowns, and they’ve essentially proven that they had no impact whatsoever on cases or death rates.

John Tierney: Just tell us a little bit about Birx’s background and what led her to adopt these policies against the advice of the best epidemiologist in the world before this. It was against the plan of the CDC and other national health agencies before the pandemic. She did all this, despite all this. So tell us a little bit about her background.

Rob Montz: And it’s so funny because the ways that lockdowns became the default policy prescription in America, it’s so pedestrian. It’s like Alex Jones-style conspiracy theorizing has all these grand forces and complicated machinery and all these complex variables, but then you dig into how Birx got power and it’s the most mundane thing imaginable, and the mistakes she made is the most mundane thing in imaginable, and that became the default policy prescription for nearly 400 million Americans. So she immediately, in the wake of Covid hitting American shores in 2019, early 2020, the White House forms a special Covid task force. Importantly, Trump gives Pence complete control of the task force. He essentially outsources the whole Covid task force portfolio to Pence. And as they’re assembling this group, they’re frantically looking around for a public health expert that can bring some level of scientific rigor to their policy prescriptions for the rest of the country. And through a complicated set of connections, someone within the Trump administration recommends Deborah Birx. Her background importantly is in fighting AIDS in Africa.

John Tierney: She was also an old crony. I mean, she’d worked very closely with Fauci and with Robert Redfield, right?

Rob Montz: Oh, yeah. They all know each other. They’ve been working together for decades. They’re all part of the same swamp stew. So her background is in HIV-AIDS. And again, the important things are, there actually was an internal inspector’s general report that came out about her management style of PEPFAR, like literally just a matter of weeks.

John Tierney: And PEPFAR was this international AIDS program to combat AIDS.

Rob Montz: And it comes out, and this thing, which is mostly based upon surveys with municipal and public health officials in African countries that have been working with Deborah Birx, is a barnburner of an indictment on her management and leadership. It’s insane. I mean, anybody can read it. It’s not difficult to find. It’s just nobody did read it because nobody’s curious about it.

John Tierney: Right. This is the first I’ve seen of it, and it really is a barn burner showing what a horrible administrator she was.

Rob Montz: Everyone’s like she’s a dictator. She doesn’t listen to feedback. She very quickly becomes myopically committed to a particular paradigm and doesn’t change it based upon the facts on the ground. She’s dictatorial.

John Tierney: Draws the wrong conclusions, you say?

Rob Montz: Yeah. She draws conclusions that lead down the wrong path. And this is the person who then gets brought up to be part of this elite group of, it’s only like 10 people that are principals on the Covid task force, and she’s the chief scientist on the task force. That’s the woman. Somehow the mechanics of history are such that she’s the person that gets to write the guidelines. And what she does, and again, I don’t want to give away everything in the documentary, I want people to have a reason to go watch it, is she essentially makes this 75 IQ instinctual parallel between Covid and AIDS. She makes a certain set of assumptions that the Covid virus and HIV/AIDS virus are the same. And from those parallel assumptions come a certain set of policy prescriptions, including getting to zero cases at any cost, treating Covid as an equal opportunity killer, focusing on children and shutting down schools. This is all based on an HIV/AIDS paradigm.

John Tierney: Right, where every case is potentially fatal.

Rob Montz: Exactly. I don’t know. This is not a hot contrarian take to be like, “Yo Covid’s not like HIV/AIDS.” Not at all. It’s extremely different. They’re radically different diseases. We get into a bunch of the particulars, not least of which, and again, it’s still shocking how few Americans seem to appreciate this. It’s mostly because of the thematic misinformation fed to them by the corporate establishment media, that there’s this really, really sharp age gradient for Covid death where it’s a serious disease if you’re 74, and it’s not a serious disease at all if you’re 20. And that reality needs to be reflected in your policy interventions. And it wasn’t. Then the central mystery also that we try to solve, Trump initially had okayed the lockdown and very famously cut off air transportation from China. He greenlit a couple weeks to slow the spread, and then a couple more weeks.

And then he pretty famously turns against lockdowns right around like June or July of 2020 and starts criticizing them. He very famously gets Covid and then afterwards tells the American public not to be afraid, doesn’t wear a mask. He berates governors for excessively, overly aggressively closing down schools. But even after the president himself turns against lockdowns, the official policy prescription from his White House all the way through the election is still pro-lockdown. And you’re like, that’s interesting. How did that happen? I don’t think the schoolhouse rock conception of American government is an efficient explanation for how it is that a president could be saying one thing and the actual policy coming from his White House could be the exact opposite. There must be some complexity or nuances here that I didn’t learn in my ninth grade U.S. government class. Deborah Birx is the linchpin for how it is that that dissidence could have occurred.

John Tierney: Right. Scott Atlas, who’s featured in your documentary, who was one of the early heroes of the pandemic speaking out, and he was invited finally, someone in the White House, Scott, he was appearing on television and saying the lockdowns are going to kill more people than the virus. The school closures are devastating. And so he got in there and he tried to do something on the task force, but he was completely stymied by Birx and Robert Redfield, head of the CDC, and Fauci on the task force were these veteran bureaucrats who’d all worked together. Fauci had worked on the failed attempt to do an AIDS vaccine, but they made a secret pact because the New York Times later revealed that if any one of them was fired, they’d all quit. So they basically knew how to play the bureaucratic game. And there was also, you point out in the documentary that Jared Kushner, he was terrified of the political implications of standing up to Fauci.

Rob Montz: But my reporting mostly indicates that she was able, Birx in particular, was able to systematically stymie and marginalized Atlas, not because of her close alliance with Fauci and Redfield, but because of her close alliance with Mike Pence. Remarkable, right?

John Tierney: And he really emerges as another villain. He was supposedly in charge of the task force, but he just bowed to her at every turn. He was afraid to stand up to her. Right?

Rob Montz: Well, it’s not exactly, I don’t really know his motivations. From a distance, before I’d gotten into this, he’d always struck me as the paradigmatic hollow man elected politician. He just seems like he was grown in a lab and is a soulless political automaton, and he just regurgitates on command GOP Christianist talking points. Are you even a person? Do you have a subjective experience of reality, or are you just a non-player character? So I don’t really know what his motivations were. I don’t really know.

John Tierney: I think Scott Atlas said that Pence just deferred to her and everything, and she basically ran the—I mean, he was the head of it, but she really, I think, set the agenda. And then, as you say in the documentary, she’s the one who was writing all the official White House guidance.

Rob Montz: Right. She was writing it almost alone. This is again, something that I think the broader American public needs to appreciate that it was a single woman with a couple of junior staffers that was writing. Again, they were recommendations, so they weren’t mandates, so governors didn’t have to follow them. But certainly in the early stages of the pandemic, governors that defied federal guidelines were risking insane legal liability, and it was just her, it was not a group project at all. And so Scott Atlas is brought in right around the time that Trump changes his mind. It turns out he was right about everything. Really everything about just the complete, the catastrophic human consequences of lockdowns and other parts of life. There’s this age gradient that needs to be taken into consideration, how shutting down schools who basically everybody now agrees it was a catastrophic event.

John Tierney: Everybody knew that early on too. I mean, it was very clear early on.

Rob Montz: He’s right about everything. But what’s funny, and this, I don’t want to give it away too much though. It’s also funny to see that Birx again is able to enact, in part enabled by Trump’s epic executive incompetence. And again, he doesn’t get off lightly in this at all. She’s able to enact this kind of casual coup of him, and it didn’t require a shot fired, and it was mostly done with an email inbox and an edit function. It’s the most pedestrian office space tactics imaginable. And it ends up having these unbelievably catastrophic consequences for hundreds of millions of people. And it’s the most casual, bland office drone stuff you can imagine in terms of what she actually has to do to circumvent a president. And again, I do want to emphasize this is a deeply anti-Trump piece as well, because stuff happened on his watch because of his incompetence and chaos. For large portions of his presidency, even before Covid, he was acting like somebody else’s president, and he was just the guy that tweeted things out.

John Tierney: Right. Scott Atlas tried, and I want to talk about what he tried to do with bringing another scientist, but a really striking story in Scott Atlas’s book about this, A Plague Upon Our House, is when he first meets Deborah Birx, he goes in and she’s pushing the mask mandate, of course. And they were even pushing the absurdity of masks outside even, and they kept that forever. But he says that he asked her, “Where do you think the evidence is for a mask mandate? Because the best remote, randomized controlled trials before it, people said, don’t have mass mandates. There’s no evidence that they work.” And she says, well, and she cites this what she called a study in one hair salon in Mississippi that was a joke. And then he realizes that she just has no conception of the science and no interest in it. He used to bring in all the studies to the meeting.

She and Fauci never looked at it, never discussed it, refused to do it. And then you show the documentary how Atlas finally tries to go around her and brings in some real scientists who actually know how to deal with pandemics. Jay Bhattacharya from Stanford, Martin Kulldorff from Harvard, and Joe Ladapo, who was at UCLA. He brings them, he arranges a White House meeting for these scientists who’d done the great Barrington Declaration saying we should protect older people, we should not be locking down, we should not be closing schools. We should focus protection. So he brings them in for a meeting, and he invites Birx with Trump, invites her there. So what happens then?

Rob Montz: Yeah, so he brings in people. This is like pre-Great Barrington Declaration, but again, a group of genuine, highly credentialed, mostly Ivy League professors of epidemiology. Again, Deborah Birx is not a researcher. She’s not even an epidemiologist. She’s a bureaucrat. She was overseeing the dispersal of AIDS medicine. She wasn’t doing foundational research into the nature of the HIV/AIDS virus or whatever. So again, real hardcore Harvard, Stanford gold-plated credentials people that are basically trying to come in to provide an intellectual architecture for Trump’s guerrilla instincts that the lockdowns are bad and are counterproductive and come with a huge human toll. Atlas puts together this meeting in the White House. It’s him and a couple of these other heavy hitters. And it’s specifically scheduled so that Deborah Birx can attend. They make a point to schedule it so that she can be there and she can make her case in front of the president. And she at the last minute says, “I’m not going to be there because it would look bad for me.” She refuses to deign to give them her attention or her time, which is the most horribly unscientific way—

John Tierney: And also because she can’t possibly argue with them because they know so much more than she does.

Rob Montz: But it’s amazing that she has since publicly admitted she doesn’t even pretend to engage with the substance of their critiques. I know this from having suffered from my sins and watched everything that she’s ever said about the time in the White House.

John Tierney: My condolences.

Rob Montz: She doesn’t even attempt to engage with it analytically. She just calls it a heresy, and then openly admits to using her bureaucratic intrigue powers to censor and silence her critics. We talk about it in the doc that she, shortly after that meeting with the president, between the president and these professors, goes to the media team at the White House and tells them, “You can’t put Scott Atlas on national news anymore.” And they say, “Yeah.” The most grotesque censorship imaginable. And she’s openly admitting to it because she isn’t thinking anything’s wrong with it.

John Tierney: She’s proud of it. One of my favorite lines, and you got some great sound clips from her talking, I think at the Aspen Institute maybe, of talks where she was speaking to a friendly audience and really opened up and admitted what happened. And one of her things, and she talked about that meeting and said, “Now you’re sort of outgunned,” she says, “if you’re against these professors from Harvard and Stanford.” But she says, “Now, but I’m not outvoiced. You just don’t allow yourself to be outvoiced.” It’s a real high point in the documentary, and that’s a bureaucrat. They may be right on the science, but I’m going to outvoice them. I’m going to do the bureaucratic channels to manipulate things.

Rob Montz: And again, Deborah Birx has been raised and thrived in and mastered like the dark arts of federal administration. I mean, she’s been doing it for decades upon decades. Her expertise is not in epidemiology or any hard scientific fields. Her expertise is in navigating bureaucracy and in kind of petty power politics in federal government. So when she’s losing clearly the scientific debate, she resorts to the tactics and the tools that she knows, which is the back end, dark arts, bureaucratic power. So she knows which levers to press and who to go to and how to talk to them to silence her critics. And that’s exactly what she does. And what that does is it enables her to continue to impose her completely garbage, broken, unscientific lockdown policies on the country well through the end of 2020 in open defiance of President Trump.

John Tierney: Exactly.

Rob Montz: But again, this is very instructive about him in that he gets labeled as a fascist. And again, I’m not going to defend Trump, but it is interesting that when he actually had power, he so willingly gave it away, and it was so easy to snatch it from him. It’s like, this is not some Mussolini dude. It’s like, you got to be kidding me. It was so goddamn easy to steal enormous amounts of power from him. And that’s not a fascist. Again, that tends to substantiate the story of Trump as more of a theater experience like a clown, like someone who can pretend to be the alpha man of action.

John Tierney: And there’s another really nice moment in the documentary where Pence is talking. You show Pence saying, “We drain the swamp, we’re going to do it.” And then you show right before that, you show how Birx, after the White House has said, “Our official policy is we’re against lockdowns,” she, the veteran bureaucrat, discovers that they don’t really read what she writes. As long as she doesn’t put it at the beginning, they just skim it. And so she basically just keeps saying, “Close bars, outdoor masks, close schools, close churches.” She just keeps putting that out as a guidance. She travels the country telling governors to do this, and nobody at the White House is stopping her. And she even goes to Pence and says, and I think you say that. She says to Pence, “You know that I’m doing exactly the opposite of what the president is saying?” And Pence just says to her, “Do what you need to do.”

Rob Montz: Ice cold, man. Ice cold, I know bro. And it’s so simple. And it’s not without a shot fired, not really some sophisticated game. If this was an episode of Game of Thrones, it wouldn’t even fill an episode, like a single episode, because there’s so few narrative storytelling points in it. It didn’t take much at all to topple a president. It was remarkably simple. And so the reason we did the documentary, and again, this is kind of the reason that our whole company exists, is to tell these stories that just get missed by corporate cathedral media. It’s remarkable that this was the biggest story in the last 50 years in America. And this one particular story about how it is that we got this particular policy response, it’s just never been told.

John Tierney: Well, it was good for you doing. I mean, it really is so telling, and it needs to be told, because the big fear, of course, is that nobody wants to admit how wrong they were. So the next time a virus comes along, it’ll be, whoa, that’s our policy. We work. And there’ll be another Deborah Birx in there who knows how to manipulate the system. So I hope the documentary gets a lot of views, that people really find out about what Birx did and how disastrous this all was. And I hope that our listeners will check this out. Again, the documentary, It Wasn’t Fauci: How The Deep State Really Played Trump. It’s available on YouTube. You can also check out my articles about Scott Atlas and about other issues that Rob covers in the documentary. You can find us at city-journal.org, also on X @CityJournal, and on Instagram @CityJournal_MI. And as always, if you like what you’ve heard on the podcast, give us five-star rating on iTunes. Thanks again, Rob, for joining us and for producing a great documentary.

Rob Montz: John, thanks so much for having me. And again, people can watch the documentary in full, at least for now, on our YouTube page at Good Kid Productions.

John Tierney: Excellent.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

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