For Fauci to go on record this way, knowing how it’s destined to piss Trump off, there must be tremendous pressure on him from the rest of the feds’ coronavirus-response bigwigs. There was a story last week that Deborah Birx was “distressed” by Atlas’s growing influence within the task force, to the point where she’s reportedly considering stepping down. Just this morning, an NBC reporter overheard CDC chief Robert Redfield saying of Atlas, “Everything he says is false.” Remarkably, when asked by the reporter to confirm that that remark referred to Atlas, Redfield did so.

The infectious-disease experts in the federal government have clearly had enough of being publicly contradicted by a radiologist who is where he is because he used to appear regularly on Fox News. If Fauci’s now willing to publicly identify Atlas as a problem, which he did today in an interview with CNN, I’m guessing it means either (a) he really is worried that Birx and/or others are ready to quit and is staging a sort of intervention or (b) he’s been asked by others within the government to use his credibility with the public to alert them to a problem with Atlas.

Something’s got to give. If the knives are out like this, it’s hard to believe the team will remain intact for much longer.

And given Atlas’s habit of affirming Trump’s instincts about the pandemic and how to respond to it, we may be headed next month for a surreal showdown in which Atlas demands publicly that the FDA approve a vaccine for emergency use immediately while Fauci, Birx, and Redfield warn the public that the data just isn’t there yet. Would Atlas go so far as to back Trump up on his claims that the FDA has a “political” motive in taking its time with the vaccine? If he did, would any of the other doctors resign in protect? No outcome is too outlandish with President Chaos in charge.

“I’m concerned that sometimes things are said that are really taken either out of context or actually incorrect,” he added, referring to Atlas. The “incorrect” information he has in mind is, I assume, the talking point about “cross-immunity” that Atlas keeps pushing, which got picked up by Rand Paul in his exchange with Fauci last week. Fauci believes that’s being overhyped and that in any case there’s not enough immunity out there to spare us from a nasty second wave of COVID this winter. Insofar as Atlas and Paul are implicitly encouraging people to let down their guards in the belief that they’re already immune to the disease, they’re putting lives at risk.

This comment by Fauci elsewhere in the interview surprised me, not because it’s wrong but because you’d think he’d go out of his way not to further antagonize Trump in an interview where he’s criticizing Atlas:

“The public really needs to know the facts, some of the media that I deal with really kind of — I wouldn’t say distort things but certainly give opposing perspectives on what seems to be a pretty obvious fact,” Fauci said, before directly singling out one network. “If you listen to Fox News, with all due respect to the fact that they do have some good reporters, some of the things that they report there are outlandish, to be honest with you.”

To Trump, criticizing Fox News primetime must be like criticizing Ivanka. You just can’t do and remain in his good graces.

Which makes me wonder: What happens if Fauci, Birx, and Redfield approach Trump and say, “It’s either Atlas or us”? Trump’s instinct would be to say “bye” and send them off, but given that the public trusts them a lot more than him (or Atlas) on handling COVID, a mass firing or mass resignation could be a serious blow to his reelection. It’s one of the few things that really might move the needle at this point, especially if their departure were followed by an increase in cases nationally next month. I don’t think he could afford to shake the public’s confidence by letting them leave.

It’s ironic that Fauci criticized Fox because reportedly, at some point, some people at Fox decided that Atlas’s “expertise” on COVID was too shoddy to keep having him on regularly:

According to three people familiar with the situation, Fox News producers have been instructed in recent weeks to take extra care when inviting Atlas onto the network to discuss the pandemic, which is rapidly approaching a U.S. body count of 200,000. Some Fox staffers involved in the network’s more straightlaced daytime news programs have been increasingly reluctant to book him altogether.

Among the “hard-news” division shows at Fox, Atlas is viewed with skepticism by senior staff at many of the programs, as they view him as lacking credibility during the coronavirus crisis, and as someone who isn’t even a medical expert in the relevant field.

“Atlas has a background in radiology, not infectious diseases,” one of the sources said. “It makes no sense to have him on to discuss a contagious respiratory virus that continues to spread through parts of this country like wildfire.”

Atlas used to work at Stanford Medical School with a specialty in neuroradiology. If you need a MRI of your brain, he’s the man to see, not Anthony Fauci. And yet Atlas presumes that he’s also the man to see when it comes to Fauci’s and Birx’s specialty, contagions. A few weeks ago, dozens of his former colleagues at Stanford Med signed a letter imploring Trump and the public to stop listening to this guy. “Many of his opinions and statements run counter to established science and, by doing so, undermine public-health authorities and the credible science that guides effective health policy,” they claimed, correcting Atlas on several points:

Having him as the de facto leader of the task force would be like a newly elected President Joe Biden naming a well-respected anesthesiologist to lead his COVID response because that guy happened to be super pro-lockdown. It’s idiotic. This is what we get for electing a narcissist who craves yes-men to handle things like global pandemics. It can’t continue. And, one way or another, it won’t.

By the way, Fauci and Redfield weren’t at this afternoon’s coronavirus briefing at the White House with Trump and Pence. Guess who was.