Another press conference updating the latest news on the coronavirus took place on March 20 2020. Dr. Anthony Fauci concealed his face with his palm as President Donald Trump uses the term “Deep State Department.” There were some definite body language cues from Dr. Fauci that can help us understand what facts might be uncovered between the lines.
People who hear bad news or witness an accident often cover their face with their hands to stop themselves from hearing or seeing the bad news. Watch videos of a major disaster taking place and you will likely see witnesses covering their mouths or their entire face.
These gestures are also associated with uncertainty or exaggeration. People who lie show more hand-to-face gestures than people who are telling the truth.
To cover up lies or deception, the face is the most used part of the body. We may be trying to use other facial expressions, but our body signals will tell the truth. Our attitudes and emotions are revealed in our faces, even if we are unaware of it at the time.
Putting on a “poker face” is a face that lacks expression and is one that is attempting to mask emotion. When we try to hide what we are really feeling, this is the technique that works best. Although not a poker face by definition, you can spot those who have blank expressions and tightened jaw muscles as emotions are being suppressed.
President Trump made some false claims about possible treatments for the coronavirus, and expert Dr. Anthony Fauci had to tamp down optimism about the treatments at a press conference. He did this with his body language and with his spoken language. His body language was being broadcast as he stood to the right of the president (from the camera’s point-of-view). When Trump joked about the State Department by calling it “the Deep State Department” — alluding to an unsubstantiated conspiracy against him by civil servants — Dr. Fauci covered his face.
When the president was talking about how much he “loved” chloroquine, a drug used to treat malaria (and other conditions), you could see Dr. Fauci glance over to him with a surprised expression that only lasted a millisecond. The truth of the matter is that this drug needs clinical trials and is not yet solid proof of its effectiveness in fighting COVID-19, and thus Dr. Fauci became very uncomfortable for a brief moment.
An eye rub, an ear tug, or a neck scratch, are other ways people express the need to block out doubt or deceit.
Dr. Fauci has to balance a narrow tightrope between telling critical health information to the public during this crisis – while at the same time showing some form of allegiance or loyalty to the president, a trait that Trump almost demands of people who surround him.
Lately, Trump has had to walk a line as well. He began his reaction to news of the coronavirus with disbelief, calling it a hoax, then finally getting more serious about the problem. That’s when he brought in his experts and panelists to join his press briefings. It wasn’t long, however, that the subtle jokes about the dishonest press began, along with some major spin attempting to tell the country, “everything is going to be okay.” Many believe that some of this is rooted in his constant challenge to suppress bad news and to look good for the coming presidential election.
And as far as touching his face goes, Dr. Fauci knows inside that this is not good behavior when trying to get control over a very contagious virus. After seeing the response to this in social media and the general press today, he’ll likely try to do it less often, or to stop doing it altogether.
Which brings up another question – why are they all standing so close together on stage? Surely they know about social distancing – not to mention modeling appropriate behavior.