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Tag: michael caputo

Fox Promotes Disgraced Trump CDC Appointee Who Minimized Covid Crisis

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

In the last few months, Fox News' Laura Ingraham has repeatedly hosted Paul Alexander, former science adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services under President Donald Trump and key aide to Trump loyalist and former HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo. While working for Caputo at HHS, Alexander sought to politicize public health guidance from inside the government bureaucracy, seeking to alter reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which reflected poorly on the Trump administration.

Politico reported in September 2020 that Alexander "was effective at delaying the famed Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports and watering down guidance" from the CDC. (The reports are a key CDC communications product that provides updates on the state of the pandemic, among other things.) In one email reported by Politico, Alexander wrote, "Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk….so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected." This strategy is deadly flawed, to say the least.

The erroneous political hackery of Alexander makes him the ideal guest for Ingraham, Fox's worst COVID-19 misinformer. In fact, Alexander has pushed misinformation during every one of his seven appearances on The Ingraham Angle:

  • On February 23, Alexander claimed Dr. Anthony Fauci "has shifted from becoming a scientists physician and more towards a political physician."
  • On February 25, Alexander claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine is "not entirely effective" and will not prevent "moderate to severe illness or even death." He also suggested that wearing a mask is "actually harmful."
  • During the March 5 edition of The Ingraham Angle, Alexander said that mask mandates are "very ineffective."
  • On March 12, Alexander claimed that kids "don't spread" COVID-19 to parents and teachers.
  • During the April 1 edition of The Ingraham Angle, Alexander purported that vaccinating children is "incredibly dangerous."
  • On April 22, Alexander said the CDC's guidance on mask-wearing "is about driving fear and obedience" and again claimed that masks are "ineffective."
  • On May 4, Alexander appeared on The Ingraham Angle to cast doubt on the efficacy of the vaccine, describing it as "experimental" and "highly untested as to safety."

As far as medical expertise goes, Alexander and Ingraham are a perfect match: According to The Washington Post, Alexander, who is not a physician, was "an unpaid, part-time health professor" at a Canadian university prior to joining HHS, while Ingraham has a history of pushing misinformation about all aspects of the pandemic -- attacking masks, vaccines, and social distancing, pushing unproven therapeutics, undermining public health experts, platforming quacks, and promoting a so-called "herd immunity" strategy that would lead to millions of unnecessary deaths.

It's nearly impossible to picture someone with Alexander's disgraceful background of lying to the public about the pandemic appearing anywhere else on cable news, but that hasn't stopped Ingraham from inviting him seven times to spread COVID misinformation on Fox prime time.

Research contributions from Katherine Abughazaleh

Trump Officials Boasted Of Distorting CDC Reports On Pandemic Spread

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

It's not certain that Donald Trump did everything wrong when it comes to handling COVID-19, but he certainly tried. Not only did Trump promote false cures and downplay effective strategies, he deliberately avoided creating a national testing plan because he thought this would lead to a greater number of deaths in Democratically controlled states. That action alone meets the U.N. definition for genocide, and researchers have set the number of unnecessary deaths in the U.S. at 400,000.

But Trump didn't do it alone. At every step, he had the assistance of Republicans inside and outside the White House who worked with Trump to downplay the threat, misdirect public concerns, and mock serious efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19. That included not just sidelining serious officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci and inserting unqualified Trump supporters like Scott Atlas, but forcing officials within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies to either suppress information or alter statements.

A year later the House select subcommittee on the pandemic and its handling is finally getting a look at some of those internal calculations and decisions. The Washington Post has acquired copies of documents before that committee showing Trump officials pressured agencies and scientists to change their reporting to the public. Then those officials celebrated the fact that the nation had been duped.

In particular, the emails between former Health and Human Services (HHS) Public Affairs Chief Michael Caputo and former Science Adviser Paul Alexander show these officials working to force the CDC to make changes in reports on how COVID-19 spread. Then they celebrated their victory with a "yippee." Alexander also managed to make changes in the "sacrosanct" Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR) to tone down the apparent damage done by COVID-19.

Even then, the changes to some reports—in particular one about how the disease was spread among young people—weren't enough to make Alexander and Caputo happy. So they worked with Atlas to create op-eds to "preempt the story" and promote the idea that schools could be opened safely. That included a fishing expedition in which they sought to throw out unfounded numbers about how closing schools was causing more death than it was preventing.

"I know the President wants us to enumerate the economic cost of not reopening," wrote Caputo. "We need solid estimates to be able to say something like: 50,000 more cancer deaths! 40,000 more heart attacks! 25,000 more suicides!"

There does not appear to be any factual basis behind these numbers. Alexander, Caputo, and Atlas understood Trump's goal: He wanted the schools open no matter what, so they created a stream of fear, uncertainty, and doubt for the purposes of justifying that action.

In September of 2020, The New York Times reported on how Caputo and Alexander worked together to bully and silence scientists. For example, when 32-year CDC veteran Dr. Anne Schuchat made an appeal to Americans to wear masks, saying, "We have too much virus across the country," Alexander went on the attack. In an interview with The Journal of the American Medical Association, Alexander claimed that Schuchat's real goal was to embarrass Trump. Alexander called her "duplicitous," said that the threat of COVID-19 to children was "zero," and stated of Schuchat, "She has lied." Working together with Caputo, Alexander attempted to stifle Schuchat by threatening to hang all the deaths connected to the H1N1 virus on her decisions.

Select Committee Chair Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC has written to both Alexander and Atlas stating: "Our investigation has shown that Trump Administration officials engaged in a persistent pattern of political interference in the nation's public health response to the coronavirus pandemic, overruling and bullying scientists and making harmful decisions that allowed the virus to spread more rapidly." The committee is now seeking testimony from both Alexander and Atlas.

Caputo—a nonscientist whose work as a media adviser included a stint in which he was hired to improve the image of Vladimir Putin—put himself on medical leave in September. When he did so, he apologized to many members of the HHS staff and admitted that he had not read some of the reports he had pressured people to alter. However, this did not come before Caputo posted a Facebook video in which he claimed there were "hit squads being trained all over this country" for an armed revolt against Trump's second term. He also claimed those hit squads were going to come after him personally. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with throat cancer. It's unclear whether Caputo will be asked to testify.

During the 2016 campaign, Caputo worked for Trump while maintaining offices in both Miami Beach, Florida, and Moscow, Russia. He previously worked for Trump in creating an AstroTurf campaign to make it look as if people wanted Trump to buy the Buffalo Bills.

Clyburn has requested that Alexander and Atlas appear before the committee by May 3. Considering the documentation shows they deliberately sought to alter scientific reports and pressure scientists into providing the answers they wanted, it would not be surprising if getting Alexander and Atlas to show requires a court fight.

What's both amazing and distressing is how all of these men took their obligation to support Trump to be greater than their obligation to protect public health, even when they knew the scope of the threat. Trump said many times that he sought personal loyalty above everything else. He got it.

Kremlin Assets Aided Pro-Trump 2020 Documentary Featuring Caputo, Nunes

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Russian government proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network" as part of the Kremlin's wide-ranging effort to influence the 2020 presidential election by falsely accusing President Joe Biden of corruption in Ukraine, the U.S. intelligence community revealed in a report Tuesday.

The report does not explicitly identify the documentary or network in question. But the timeline and subject matter match The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder, which the pro-Trump One America News Network aired in late January 2020. Former Trump aide Michael Caputo hosted that one-hour special, which featured separate interviews with a former Ukrainian official later sanctioned by the federal government for his role in a Russian influence operation and with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), at the time the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

According to the report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized Russian influence operations aimed at undermining Biden's campaign and supporting then-President Donald Trump during the 2020 election cycle. The report assesses that Russian intelligence services and their Ukraine-linked proxies -- including "Russian influence agent" Konstantin Kilimnik and Ukrainian legislator Andriy Derkach -- sought to use U.S. media outlets and prominent Americans to launder allegations of corrupt ties between Biden, his family, and Ukraine, and to falsely accuse Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The report does not specify which Americans or media outlets were caught up in the Russian plot. But it's clear to anyone who followed political news in 2019 that the intelligence community is referencing Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's anti-Biden disinformation campaign. Giuliani sought to bolster Trump's reelection by working with shady Ukrainians, some with links to Russia, to dig up dirt on Biden and then spread itthrough right-wing writer John Solomon, Fox News, and OAN. The effort blew up in Trump's face when the then-president's corrupt effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into the Bidens became public, triggering his first impeachment by the House of Representatives later that year.

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as part of the effort by Kilimnik, Derkach, and their associates to use U.S. media outlets to damage Biden's political standing on behalf of the Russian government, the Russian proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020."

That timeline matches the release of The Ukraine Hoax, which first aired on January 25, 2020. Moreover, the content of Caputo's film echoes the Kremlin-backed narratives described in the report, as well as other Russian government talking points.

OAN CEO Robert Herring Sr. described the special as "exactly what our One America News Investigates series is all about" in a press release announcing its premiere. That's undoubtedly true -- in keeping with his network's general aesthetic, The Ukraine Hoax is an hour of conspiracy theories united by slavish devotion to Trump. Caputo argues that Trump's impeachment is an unjust persecution that emerged from U.S. meddling in Ukraine, corrupt dealings by the Bidens, and joint efforts by Democrats and Ukrainians to stop Trump's election that resulted in Robert Mueller's special counsel probe. He concludes, "as Democrats pursue Trump, they're destroying America and Ukraine."

Caputo denied Russian government involvement in his film and said he had not talked to Derkach or Kilimnik, the proxies named in the report, in an interview with Mother Jones.

But Caputo's star interview is with Andrii Telizhenko, a former low-level Ukrainian diplomat and Giuliani ally who the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned in January for his role in a "Russia-linked foreign influence network associated with" Derkach.

Treasury's press release describes Telizhenko as a member of Derkach's "inner circle" and states that he participated in Derkach's disinformation campaign aimed at influencing the 2020 U.S. presidential election. According to the release, Telizhenko "orchestrated meetings between Derkach and U.S. persons to help propagate false claims concerning corruption in Ukraine." Telizhenko previously sought to distance himself from Derkach.

In his interview with Caputo for OAN, Telizhenko falsely claimed that the Ukrainian government, with the encouragement of the Obama administration, interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.


Telizhenko became a fixture in right-wing media circles for that allegation because it allowed Trump propagandists to argue that Clinton, and not Trump, had been the real beneficiary of foreign interference in the 2016 election. The intelligence community report released Tuesday describes the effort to "falsely blame Ukraine for interfering in the 2016 US presidential election" as one of the aims of the Russian proxies.

The documentary also features an interview with then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Nunes. Nunes was one of several Trump allies that congressional Democrats said received materials from Derkach aimed at smearing Biden during the impeachment push.

In his interview, Nunes criticized pro-democracy organizations backed by American philanthropist George Soros, saying that they "have agendas" and that Soros "is extreme left-wing and he supports extreme left-wing causes." He apparently agreed with Caputo's claim that Soros was "building an extreme left-wing government" in Ukraine. Nunes also lashed out at "the Russia hoax," saying that "if people are not held accountable, you're going to have generations of Americans, part of the Republican Party, who will never trust the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA."

Elsewhere in the film, Caputo described the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, in which protesters ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, as a violent coup instigated by the U.S. government and Soros.


The description of the revolution as a U.S-backed coup echoes language used by Putin in defending Russia's invasion of Ukraine later that year, while the Russian presidentand Russian-backed governments have for years targeted Soros over his pro-democracy efforts.

Caputo also revived the false right-wing smear that as vice president, Biden improperly pushed the government of Ukraine to fire Viktor Shokin, the country's prosecutor general, to stop the investigation of a Ukrainian company and benefit his son Hunter Biden. The Ukraine Hoax includes clips from Shokin himself making that claim.

In fact, Shokin had been widely faulted by Western governments and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists for failing to prosecute corruption, including corruption by the company's founder; the probe had reportedly been "shelved" under Shokin; and his successor acknowledged that there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. The intelligence community report appears to reference this false claim, stating that the Russian proxy network "sought to discredit the Obama administration by emphasizing accusations of corruption by US officials."

After producing a pro-Trump documentary, allegedly with Russian assistance, Caputo went on to bigger and better things. Less than three months after OAN aired his special, Caputo joined the Trump administration as assistant secretary for public affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services. He subsequently drew criticism for politicizing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about the coronavirus pandemic, and took a leave of absence after his Facebook video accusing CDC scientists of "sedition" became public.

In an interview promoting his special with OAN correspondent and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, Caputo bemoaned that some of the people he wanted to interview "ghosted" him during the filming process. But apparently he found help from other sources.

Why Cognitive Dissonance Makes Trumpsters Flee To Their ‘Bizarro World’

Reprinted with permission Alternet

One of the most jarring aspects of watching Fox News or One America News Network is the mental gymnastics President Donald Trump's supporters must perform in his defense. Being a Trump supporter often means defending the indefensible. Journalist Anne Applebaum describes those extremes in an article published in The Atlantic, stressing that their defenses of the president require a total defiance of logic and reason.

Applebaum cites Trump loyalist William B. Crews as one of the wildest examples. Crews, Applebaum notes, was an employee of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is headed by expert immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci. Crews, the Daily Beast's Lachlan Markey recently reported, was angry because Fauci's messages on the coronavirus pandemic sometimes conflicted with what Trump had to say — and Crews responded by attacking Fauci on the Red State website using the pen name "Streiff."

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Following Paranoid Facebook Rant, HHS Flack Caputo On Leave

The Trump administration health official embroiled in a furor over political meddling with the coronavirus response is taking a leave of absence, the government announced Wednesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that Michael Caputo was taking the time "to focus on his health and the well-being of his family."

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Busted For Abusing His Position, HHS Flack Caputo Launches Disturbed Facebook Tirade

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A top spokesman for the Trump administration's Department of Health and Human Services broadcast a disturbing and conspiratorial video on Facebook this Sunday, undermining his official role as a government communicator and stoking fears of imminent violence.

Michael Caputo was a longtime Trump loyalist who was brought into the administration in April in a clear attempt to wrest control over messaging about the coronavirus. President Donald Trump has consistently twisted the truth to fit his own preferred narrative and contradicted the experts who work for the federal government. Multiple reports last week revealed that Caputo had been at work doing exactly what critics had assumed: corrupting the scientific agencies meant to communicate clearly about public health, pressuring them to change messaging to fit the president's rhetoric.

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Public Health Experts Stunned By Trump Flack's Attempt To Censor CDC Reports

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Days after President Donald Trump admitted to knowingly downplaying the Covid-19 pandemic in his statements to the public, new reporting late Friday revealed that Trump political aides have been reviewing—and in some cases altering—weekly CDC reports about the deadly virus in an effort to bring them into closer alignment with the president's false narrative and claims.

Politico reported Friday evening that the Health and Human Services Department's politically appointed communications aides, led by former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo—a Republican strategist with no medical expertise—"have attempted to add caveats to the CDC's findings, including an effort to retroactively change agency reports that they said wrongly inflated the risks of Covid-19 and should have made clear that Americans sickened by the virus may have been infected because of their own behavior."

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HHS Flack Caputo’s Podcast Praised White Nationalists, Spread Conspiracy Theories

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

In a podcast unearthed by Media Matters, Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo spread baseless conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, praised white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos, and said Democrats are "counting" on COVID-19 fatalities in order to win the election against President Donald Trump.

On his now-defunct show Still Standing with Michael Caputo, the current HHS spokesperson pushed the debunked conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was invented "in a bioweapons facility in Wuhan," used racist terms to refer to the virus, and said Democrats are calculating how long they can "actually keep the coronavirus concern ball in the air" in order to win the election. He also praised various white supremacist and "alt-right" personalities, including neo-Nazi Milo Yiannopoulos and Pizzagate conspiracy theorists and "alt-right" Twitter personalities Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec. On his podcast, Caputo also pushed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about billionaire progressive donor George Soros paying anti-Trump protesters and other conspiracy theories about Democrats, the media, and the Mueller investigation.

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