After he was exposed as publicly playing down the seriousness of the virus even though he knew it was highly contagious and dangerous, Trump said that he only did so so as not to create panic. That explanation has been blasted as dangerous by creating a false sense of complacency at a time when accurate information was essential so that steps could be taken to minimize the spread.
But it appears that even now his administration is trying to minimize the danger by pressuring the scientists who work for the Centers for Disease Control to change their reports to comport with his optimistic statements.
The health department’s politically appointed communications aides have demanded the right to review and seek changes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly scientific reports charting the progress of the coronavirus pandemic, in what officials characterized as an attempt to intimidate the reports’ authors and water down their communications to health professionals.
In some cases, emails from communications aides to CDC Director Robert Redfield and other senior officials openly complained that the agency’s reports would undermine President Donald Trump’s optimistic messages about the outbreak, according to emails reviewed by POLITICO and three people familiar with the situation.
CDC officials have fought back against the most sweeping changes, but have increasingly agreed to allow the political officials to review the reports and, in a few cases, compromised on the wording, according to three people familiar with the exchanges. The communications aides’ efforts to change the language in the CDC’s reports have been constant across the summer and continued as recently as Friday afternoon.
The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports are authored by career scientists and serve as the main vehicle for the agency to inform doctors, researchers and the general public about how Covid-19 is spreading and who is at risk. Such reports have historically been published with little fanfare and no political interference, said several longtime health department o
But since Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official with no medical or scientific background, was installed in April as the Health and Human Services department’s new spokesperson, there have been substantial efforts to align the reports with Trump’s statements, including the president’s claims that fears about the outbreak are overstated, or stop the reports altogether.
One of the best ways to create panic during a public health emergency is for the government to get caught lying to people because then they will not believe anything you say and will switch to other sources of information that do not have the authority of science behind them and thus can indulge in wild speculations.