As the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in America skyrocketed over the course of this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services routinely tried to muzzle what information health officials released to the public because now even scientific facts are apparently partisan.
According to a new Politico report, confirmed on Saturday by the New York Times, President Donald Trump’s HHS goons made repeated attempts to water down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, claiming that the agency’s scientists used the reports to undermine Trump’s optimistic spin on the pandemic.
These dry summaries of the latest discoveries and recommendations from science-based research historically haven’t involved much political interference in the review process. But that apparently changed after Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official with zero experience in the medical field, was appointed as spokesperson for the HHS in April. HHS officials began pressuring the CDC to retroactively make changes and allow them to review the reports in full before publication, people familiar with the matter told Politico. Their reasoning?
“Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic—not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC,” Caputo told the outlet when asked why his team were demanding changes.
Which is just absolutely disturbing to hear from an official’s mouth. Though, I suppose it tracks given the administration’s history: Trump himself has baselessly claimed some “deep state” conspiracy at the Food and Drug Administration is to blame for the lack of a COVID-19 vaccine. Suffice it to say, this is some dictionary-level fearmongering, and a blatant attempt by Trump’s inner circle to perform damage control for his widely denounced response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In an Aug. 8 email viewed by Politico, one of Caputo’s aides accused CDC scientists of trying to use these reports to “hurt the President.” The message was addressed to CDC Director Robert Redfield and other officials and was widely circulated within the department.
“CDC to me appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration,” appointee Paul Alexander wrote. He urged Redfield to revise two already published reports, arguing that they deliberately exaggerated the risks of COVID-19 in children at a time when Trump was actively championing to reopen schools.
“CDC tried to report as if once kids get together, there will be spread and this will impact school re-opening... Very misleading by CDC and shame on them. Their aim is clear,” Alexander wrote.
Alexander went on to demand an “immediate stop” to all MMWR reports until the CDC revised its publication process to allow him to personally review each report prior to publication, rather than just receive a synopsis.
“The reports must be read by someone outside of CDC like myself, and we cannot allow the reporting to go on as it has been, for it is outrageous. Its lunacy,” Alexander said. “Nothing to go out unless I read and agree with the findings how they CDC, wrote it and I tweak it to ensure it is fair and balanced and ‘complete.’”
This level of pushback continued throughout the year, locking the HHS and CDC in a tug-of-war over basic facts. HHS officials argued that a report in May simply detailing the virus’s spread nationwide somehow criticized the Trump administration for not moving quickly enough in its response to the outbreak. Another flashpoint came in August when Caputo, Alexander, and other officials decried a report documenting the spread of COVID-19 among young attendees at an overnight camp in Georgia because it didn’t fall in line with the president’s assurances to parents that it would be safe for children to return to in-person learning in the fall.
While CDC officials have fended off attempts to retroactively change reports, they have increasingly allowed Trump’s henchmen to review the documents before they reach the public, according to people familiar with the matter. Caputo defended his team’s actions in a statement to the outlet.
“Buried in this good [CDC] work are sometimes stories which seem to purposefully mislead and undermine the President’s COVID response with what some scientists label as poor scholarship—and others call politics disguised in science,” he said.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. and infected more than 6 million, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins. I’m not sure how you can wave that off as just “politics disguised as science,” but I’m sure these slimeballs will figure out a way.