Caputo Ignites Division with Attack on the CDC


Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Michael Caputo has spread dangeorus theories about the CDC amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Noah Osborne, Staff Writer

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the relationship between the Trump administration and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has been strained. However, the tension between the two has reached a dangerous all-time high.

Michael Caputo, a top spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, has unleashed a barrage of inflammatory statements at the CDC, going as far as to state that the CDC aspires to ignite a left-wing insurrection while implying that supporters of the president bear arms to defend their conservative beliefs. On his Facebook Live video stream, Caputo also bizarrely stated that scientists are purportedly keeping Americans sick with the virus as a means to bolster the prospects of a Democratic win for the 2020 presidential election. 

Statements such as these are not only divisive, but they have amplified the national distrust already growing at an exponential rate as a result of President Trump’s blatant disregard for the pandemic, as recently revealed by American journalist Bob Woodward. It seems the distrust that Michael Caputo amplifies is bipartisan. Caputo may indeed be a stringent Republican and a staunch ally of President Trump, but his recent rantings reach across the aisle to Americans both liberal and conservative. All Americans now have more to discern at a time where overall confusion is at a peak and trust in American government is at an abysmal low. Firstly, in implying that the CDC is willingly keeping the American people sick, Americans may believe that the CDC further wishes to perpetuate the influence of the virus in the midst of vaccine trials. They could then come to think that the American government only seeks to use American citizens as guinea pigs, all in the name of a desired political end in the 2020 presidential election. This is perhaps one of the most dangerous narratives Caputo could push, as many Americans may find themselves susceptible to such unsubstantiated claims simply because of how circumstances seem at that moment. 

There is indeed an election looming on the horizon where the coronavirus response will play a role. President Trump wants a vaccine around election day, and the CDC has had a rocky relationship with President Trump. However, the rhetoric used by Caputo makes it seem as if he is attempting to frame a narrative where the CDC wants a Democrat for president and will do anything to achieve that result, including keeping innocent Americans sick. With the current standings of socioeconomic, health and political circumstances, some Americans may believe such baseless claims. It would be quite easy for them to do so, seeing how American trust in the government is reaching a new level of deterioration. 

It does not end here, however. Through such a rant, Caputo achieves another end; he energizes President Trump’s conservative base while he simultaneously casts shadows of doubt over the intent of the CDC. Caputo does this almost masterfully as he targets topics that are more likely to appeal to conservative voters, such as guns. By accusing the CDC of endeavoring to start a left-wing uprising and encouraging Republicans to buy ammunition for their guns, Caputo is seeking to awaken the Trump base two months before the election while raising questions about the integrity of the CDC — the very organization that is tasked with saving the nation from the growing numbers of death that increases daily. This statement is capable of doing the most damage to the entirety of the country, seeing as how the CDC has always strived for bipartisanship. 

Not only does Michael Caputo denigrate the bipartisan legacy the health agency strove for, he disintegrates the trust Americans have invested in the CDC to help keep them safe, now more than ever. In doing so, Caputo relays the very harrowing message that to the CDC, Americans are nothing but pawns in a political game of chess. He essentially communicates that the CDC views American lives only to be  as useful as the numbers they garner for a particular candidate. Messages like this are the opposite of what we as a nation need at this juncture. 

All of the incendiary and widely uncorroborated comments from Michael Caputo seem to hold no truth, and he has since taken a 60-day leave of absence from his job as the lead spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services. Caputo has even seemingly retracted from such claims by apologizing for his behavior. However, in an era where uncertainty reigns, that apology seems to matter less than the potentially lasting damage he could leave in the minds of many Americans, Democrats and Republicans, who are uncertain as to who or what to trust as COVID-19 continues to push the nation into further confusion. Disagreeing with the CDC is indeed troubling, but publicly seeking to tarnish the agency, and branding them as a politically left-leaning organization determined to instate a Democratic president is abhorrent. In an era where Americans struggle to know where their next meal may be coming from, when their next paycheck is coming and whether or not tomorrow is even guaranteed, it is imperative that, indiscriminate of political party, Americans can trust science. Yet Caputo’s attack on the CDC shows that in an election year, nothing is safe from attack — not even science.

Noah Osborne, FCRH ’23, is a journalism major from Harlem, N.Y.