Dr Anthony Fauci is the talk of the town in Washington DC – there’s almost a folk-like nostalgia that surrounds him.
I was in the park the other day when a couple introduced their dog to me and my son.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“Fauci,” they replied, with wide smiles and even wider eyes.
He is viewed with enormous affection by his supporters, cast as a heroic voice of reason in the face on unreasonable pressure.
He’s become a figurehead to those Americans desperate for facts and concerned about science being overlooked for political expedience.
But speaking out comes at a price in this city.
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The doctor leading the US’s COVID-19 response has reportedly been held back from network TV interviews for fear he might be too out of step with the man who is meant to be running the show at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The small, sprightly looking scientist took to print instead this week becoming a cover star for InStyle fashion magazine.
He was photographed wearing sunglasses by the pool, and a title that read “The Good Doctor”.
It was a symbolic, slightly amusing ascent for the 79-year old immunologist. He’d gone from reliable uncle to pin-up.
Next up in his messaging voyage was a Facebook Live with Mark Zuckerberg.
The tech boss clearly wanted to show he is dedicated to stopping the spread of misinformation on COVID-19 by getting some hard facts and data.
He tried to achieve that by playing the role of slightly awkward reporter.
But he did get Dr Fauci to concede he had changed the way he thinks about stuff.
“You have to be humble,” the immunologist said.
Part of his evolution has been around masks.
He recently said he has “no regrets” for not forcefully pushing people to wear them at the beginning of the crisis.
But he’s clearly determined to make up for lost ground, emphatically promoting them at every turn now – convinced masks and social distancing will be critical to the US’s recovery.
This week, though, there appeared to be a concerted effort to undermine him.
In a blistering op-ed Peter Navarro, White House trade adviser, said: “Anthony Fauci has been wrong about everything I’ve interacted with him on.”
His perceived mistakes were being circulated.
And yet soon after that devastating analysis of a man who has been at the coal face of the crisis for months, he seemed fully in favour at the White House.
In his InStyle interview, Dr Fauci said he was an “apolitical person” and that the tension with President Trump is “stressful”.
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Mr Trump recently claimed the scientist had “made mistakes”, though he’s been playing down things ever since.
The fact is, he’s not an easy enemy for the president or the public.
And with the pandemic still out of control in this country, there’s not a whole lot of space to start making big changes.
Dr Fauci is far from perfect. Like everyone in this pandemic, his actions will be pored over for years to come.
But he should get kudos for his staying power – diplomatically navigating an often chaotic and at times bizarre response to COVID-19.
He has been called Dr Doom by some of the right.
His truth-telling may have got him taken off the TV, but it seems he’s considered too valuable to get rid of – however uncomfortable he makes others feel.