A scathing op-ed article by President Trump’s top trade adviser that declared Dr. Anthony S. Fauci “wrong about everything” caused a fissure at the White House this week, with Trump aides scrambling to disavow the attack on one of the most trusted public figures of the coronavirus crisis.
Now the article, written by Peter Navarro, has generated second thoughts at the newspaper that published it, USA Today.
In a note published Wednesday evening, a day after the article was posted online, Bill Sternberg, the editorial page editor of USA Today, wrote that several of Mr. Navarro’s attacks on Dr. Fauci “were misleading or lacked context.” He concluded that the op-ed, which appeared in the paper’s Wednesday print edition, “did not meet USA Today’s fact-checking standards.”
Mr. Sternberg did not elaborate on the fact-checking process that might have occurred before publication, nor did he say how the paper’s editorial review had broken down. A spokeswoman for USA Today did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The op-ed carried a blunt headline: “Anthony Fauci has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.” In the article, Mr. Navarro, who has clashed with Dr. Fauci in meetings at the White House, faulted the doctor for past comments on the use of masks and the relative health risks of the coronavirus.
Mr. Navarro’s biting assessment drew an immediate backlash, with critics pointing to specious accusations that Mr. Navarro made about the conduct of Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a veteran government expert on public health.
USA Today appeared to side with the op-ed’s detractors. A day after Mr. Navarro’s article appeared on its website, the paper posted an extensive fact-check, written by one of its Washington correspondents, under the headline, “Peter Navarro’s claims about Dr. Anthony Fauci are misleading, lack context.”
The fact-check refuted several of the claims that Mr. Navarro made about Dr. Fauci. It also noted that Mr. Navarro had made a misleading claim about the “safety and efficacy” of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that many studies show is ineffective, and in some cases actively harmful, as a treatment for the coronavirus.
Mr. Sternberg, the editorial page editor, wrote in his note on Wednesday that the newspaper had solicited the article from Mr. Navarro as a countervailing view to a separate editorial that also ran in Wednesday’s newspaper. That article, attributed to the paper’s editorial board — and therefore carrying the institutional imprimatur — criticized Mr. Trump for sidelining Dr. Fauci and praised the doctor as a “national treasure.”
“We dealt directly with Navarro and do not know whether he spoke to anyone else at the White House about his statement,” Mr. Sternberg wrote. He said his team found Mr. Navarro’s article newsworthy, because it “put an on-the-record name to the attacks on Fauci and contradicted White House denials of an anti-Fauci campaign.”
The article did cause a stir. The White House — which has claimed to be supportive of Dr. Fauci, despite attempts by Mr. Trump’s aides to undermine him — tried to distance itself from Mr. Navarro’s view. Later, Dr. Fauci was seated conspicuously beside Vice President Mike Pence at a coronavirus task force meeting.
Mr. Navarro’s op-ed article remains on the USA Today website, with Mr. Sternberg’s note appended at the top.