From panama city news herald
Evidence of how far America’s premier science offices have fallen from grace in the Trump era came this week when a top U.S. health official accused scientists at the 74-year-old Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of sedition.
Seriously. Trump loyalist Michael Caputo — named in April as chief spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC — used a Facebook video to claim that federal scientists are plotting rebellion against the president.
It remains unclear what to make of Caputo and his bizarre conspiracy theories (which included warning about a post-election armed leftist revolt). But his rant is the latest chapter in a campaign by the Trump administration to politicize the CDC and its sister agency, the Food and Drug Administration.
Why do that? Because with the U.S. coronavirus death toll approaching 200,000, the president is left with either touting a series of overblown science accomplishments, or undermining scientific proof of his mismanagement.
It’s true that both agencies stumbled at the pandemic’s outset. But their research and expertise remain vital for understanding how best to respond to a deadly virus and treat its terrible sickness.
The White House has undermined both agencies.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, was largely muzzled after presciently warning in February that Americans might have to social distance and “disruption of everyday life might be severe.” Later, Trump mocked the CDC’s recommendation of wearing masks and, in April, pressed states to reopen despite their failure to comply with careful guidelines for doing so.
The agency has bent to Trump’s pressure tactics. After the administration publicly trashed its guidelines for re-opening schools, the CDC dutifully watered them down. And after Trump called for less coronavirus testing, the CDC in August altered its guidelines in a way that would result in that very thing.
Meanwhile, Caputo — a political operative lacking in scientific training — set himself up as a gatekeeper between the agency’s top health officials and major media organizations trying to inform the public.
More recently, Caputo and others at HHS demanded the right to review, alter or block release of highly respected CDC research known as Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports that have tracked COVID’s spread and discussed a questionable treatment promoted by Trump.
The FDA also has not escaped White House meddling. Ever eager for a pandemic quick-fix, Trump began pushing the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as “game-changer” therapy in March. Days later, the FDA approved the drug for emergency use, only to reverse itself later when studies showed the drug of no benefit against the virus and potentially harmful.
In August, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, Trump pressed for and received emergency authorization for convalescent plasma as a COVID-19 treatment to promote “a historic breakthrough,” despite lingering concerns among government scientists about its effectiveness. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn hailed the therapy with grossly overstated statistics, for which he later had to apologize.
The president’s win-at-any-cost playbook is shredding the reputations of two vaunted government science offices, just when Americans have to rely on those agencies to make the best, science-based decisions about the approval and distribution of life-saving vaccines and treatments.