You may not typically see the words “social media rant” and assistant secretary for public affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) go together. But heck, it’s 2020. So why not?
Michael Caputo who has held that assistant secretary position in the Trump administration since April has had an interesting week. On Friday, a POLITICO story from Dan Diamond broke that Caputo and his team have been trying to alter scientific reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as I detailed for Forbes. As a reminder, Caputo is not a scientist. He is not a doctor. He has been a political strategist, lobbyist, and public relations consultant. According to Alex Henderson writing for Salon, Caputo has served as an adviser to Russian leaders Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin and on President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Then, as The New York Times reported, over the weekend, Caputo posted a video on his personal Facebook page that said some not-so-flattering things about CDC scientists. He claimed that they “have given up science and become political animals.” Oh, and he said that they “haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops” to plot “how they’re going to attack Donald Trump.” Although he didn’t specify why scientists wouldn’t just keep wearing sweatpants in coffee shops if that’s their normal attire.
In addition to accusing scientists of surreptitiously wearing sweatpants, Caputo also suggested that Democratic challenger Joe Biden will not acknowledge U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-election victory in November. “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin.” Whoa. That statement doesn’t quite seem to fall into the category of health and human services.
Caputo has been active on Twitter too. That is, he was active on his @MichaelRCaputo person account until his account went poof, as this Tweet thread showed:
As you can see, @EvMacks saved some of Caputo’s tweets, and they’re not exactly as innocent as cat videos or odes to mac-and-cheese. “Gas all of them,” is not a very nice thing to say unless you are working a a gas station and referring to cars. Plus, uttering such a phrase, using the term “liar scientist,” and calling people names don’t exactly ring “health and human services.”
Well, perhaps “douchebag” is somewhat of a health-related term. It can refer to a “a small syringe having detachable nozzles for fluid injections, used chiefly for vaginal lavage and for enemas,” as per Dictionary.com. Chances are, though, that Caputo wasn’t calling a person a small syringe with detachable nozzles in his tweet. It would have been much easier to just call that person a “syringe.”
This wasn’t the first time his tweets have disappeared. Back in April, Andrew Kaczynski, Nathan McDermott and Em Steck reported for CNN about how Caputo deleted tweets that he had tweeted (or twoted or twoten) about people of Chinese descent. Yep, if you were following Caputo on March 12, you may have come acorss this wonderful gem: “millions of Chinese suck the blood out of rabid bats as an appetizer and eat the (naughty word) out of anteaters.” Caputo didn’t actually tweet the words “naughty word” but instead used an expletive that rhymed with “sewer gas” or “hairy finger grass.”
OK, it’s not clear how many people of Chinese descent actually suck the blood out of bats, let alone rabid bats, or do unspeakable things to anteaters. The assistant secretary for public affairs did not provide any evidence to support his claim.
Caputo’s other responses to people of Asian-descent on Twitter have included statements like, “Don’t you have a bat to eat?” and, “You’re very convincing, Wang,” to someone who didn’t appear to be named Wang. Stay classy assistant secretary for public affairs, stay classy.
That’s not all folks. In May, Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott wrote an article for CNN entitled, “Top HHS spokesman repeatedly directed sexually crude and sexist tweets at women.” The “top HHS spokesman” is Caputo if you haven’t figured it out yet, and the title of the article sort of gives you the punch line.
And earlier this month, Madeline Peltz compiled for Media Matters various podcasts in which Caputo pushed baseless conspiracy theories and “praised various white supremacist and ‘alt-right’ personalities.”
Although Caputo’s personal Twitter account seems to have gone bye-bye, his @SpoxHHS account remains active. And it includes the following tweet:
Yes, this is the official account of the spokesperson for HHS, criticizing a journalist who wrote about “Paul Alexander, a senior adviser to Michael Caputo, HHS’s assistant secretary for public affairs, instructing press officers and others at the National Institutes of Health about what Fauci should say during media interviews.” Fauci is Anthony Fauci, MD, the Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984.
According to the HHS website, the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs or ASPA “serves as the Secretary’s principal counsel on public affairs. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs conducts national public affairs programs, provides centralized leadership and guidance for public affairs activities within HHS’ Staff and Operating Divisions and regional offices, manages the Department’s digital communications, and administers the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts.” Does this mean telling top scientists what science they can or can’t relay to the public? Does this mean editing the CDC’s scientific reports? Does this mean using official social media accounts to fight political battles? The best scientific public affairs personnel serve as conduits for scientists, helping scientists get important messages out to everyone. And that doesn’t include commenting on the wardrobe of scientists, even if it is sweatpants, not that there is anything wrong with that.