‘It’s like every red flag’: Trump-ordered HHS ad blitz raises alarms

‘It’s like every red flag’: Trump-ordered HHS ad blitz raises alarms

The $ 15 million contractAn FDA spokesman said funding for the contract was provided by HHS and the contract is being overseen by HHS.

As part of the deal, HHS recommended Atlas use a sub-contractor called DD&T, according to Atlas and the federal government spokespersons.

HHS identified DD&T “as a potential organization with the qualifications required by the government,” Weber said, declining to disclose who HHS selected the subcontractor.

DD&T is also a company run by Caputo’s longtime business partner Den Tolmor, who has now spent weeks producing the government’s videos, said five people with knowledge of the deal. Tolmor was Caputo’s customer in April 2020 and compensated Caputo at least $ 5,000 per year for his public relations work. This is evident from a copy of the Caputo Ethics Disclosure Form received from POLITICO. The two men also went into business together start a video streaming platform and other services in 2017 and 2018.

Two HHS officials said Caputo had spent weeks extolling Tolmor’s work, arguing that the Russian-born filmmaker, who was nominated for an Academy Award, had no previous experience creating U.S. publicity campaigns Health would take a new look at work and this could carry out Caputo’s vision.

When asked if HHS knew that Caputo had a longstanding relationship with Tolmor, Weber said he was unaware of the two men’s previous work.

Jeffrey Souder, who doesn’t work for HHS but held multiple roles for Caputo’s private PR firm, was also involved in the campaign planning, said three people with knowledge of the planning process.

Tolmor and Souder did not respond to requests for comment. Caputo referred questions to HHS.

HHS did not answer questions about Caputo’s role in the selection of its allies as subcontractors, but said that it “had nothing to do with the selection of Atlas Research as the prime contractor”.

The FDA’s Public Affairs Office did not answer questions about who oversaw the Atlas Research selection process at the agency and referred questions to HHS.

However, three FDA officials involved in the agency’s response to the coronavirus said they had no prior knowledge that the Caputo team had used the FDA to manage the new advertising campaign.

“You bring me news,” said one officer.

Tap into celebrities

The campaign is still recording the public service announcements that could air as short snippets or lengthy conversations, said four people with knowledge of their strategy. Trump administration officials have also visited celebrities who have said positive things about the president or who are expected to have friendly conversations for administrative officials.

In a video taped this month, infectious disease expert Tony Fauci was invited to speak with Dennis Quaid, star of “The Big Easy” and the upcoming “Reagan,” along with many other films publicly praised Trump’s handling of coronavirus earlier this year. Meanwhile, surgeon general Jerome Adams was hooked up last Friday with gospel singer Winans, who has dealt with several family members, including her well-known brother BeBe Winans, who has Covid-19.

“[A]At the request of HHS, Dr. Fauci interviewed Dennis Quaid for a PSA campaign, “said a spokesman for his agency, the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases. The spokesman said the agency was unfamiliar with further details and referred questions to HHS.

A representative from Adams did not respond to the request for comment.

The Caputo team has also considered recruiting well-known personalities such as Dr. Oz and other members of the Presidential Council for Sport, Fitness and Nutrition, an HHS-overseen advisory board made up of athletes and celebrities, said three people with knowledge of the planning. One official said that Oz would be a particularly good fit for the campaign because of his medical qualifications and previous conversations with Trump and senior officials.

Public health experts criticized Oz’s praise for hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that Trump favored despite little evidence to fight the coronavirus some of the other remarks made by the TV doctor on how to deal with the outbreak that they say is not scientifically based.

An Oz spokesman did not respond to questions about whether the TV presenter had discussed a role in the government’s Covid-19 campaign, but said on Friday that Oz “is currently not scheduled to participate”.

Officials have also discussed the participation of musician Garth Brooks, whose daughter tested positive for coronavirus this summer, for a possible role in the advertising campaign, two people with knowledge of the plan said. Brooks officials did not respond to the request for comment.

Brooks was invited to perform at Trump’s 2017 inauguration but declined the request, saying that he had a conflict with his tour schedule.

Health officials have turned to delivering the videos “like a political surrogacy campaign” aimed at attracting certain populations, said a person speaking to Caputo. For example, Caputo discussed delivering Winans videos while speaking to Adams in urban markets to shore up the government’s news to blacks. Both Winans and Adams are African American.

A Winans representative confirmed her involvement in the videos and praised Adams for his role in the interview.

“She volunteered to take part in the PSA and was happy because she has concerns about how Covid is affecting and affecting the African American community,” Chaz Corzine, a spokesperson for Winans, wrote in an email to POLITICO.

Quaid representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

The health department defended the decision to attract celebrities, and a spokesman said “the entertainment industry and news media can have a huge impact on people’s beliefs and behaviors”.

Weber, the HHS spokesman, said in a statement that “working with entertainers is a tactic used to target audiences with public health news.”

However, some current and former HHS officials said they were concerned that the ads would include political officials like Adams, who was a top health officer for then-Indiana Governor Mike Pence, before moving from Trump to U.S. Surgeon General in 2017 was appointed.

“The idea of ​​you having administrative officials in an ad that airs ahead of the election strikes me as strange,” said Peck, who directed HealthCare.gov advertising.

Peck also declined to ask if his team tried to use then-President Barack Obama or other officials Government sponsored television advertisement for the healthcare website signed by this President.

“We never tried,” he said.

Avoid experts

While the health department is pushing ahead with advertising cuts, the campaign has shunned a potential key partner: the Ad Council, the communications industry’s nonprofit consortium that has worked with the government for decades on campaigns to tackle public health issues such as AIDS, opioids and Obesity.

The council often spends weeks or months strategizing to coordinate public service announcements across multiple industries and nonprofit partners, said current and former HHS officials who have worked with the group.

While the Ad Council worked specifically with the federal government and the CDC earlier this year Promote the brand new Coronavirus.gov websitea representative told POLITICO that the Council “does not play a role” in the current campaign designed by Caputo.

The Department of Health’s failure to attract potential partners while trying to implement a comprehensive publicity plan has puzzled officials who worked on public service campaigns during the Clinton, Bush, or Obama administrations.

“I don’t know how you will spend that money until the end of the year,” said a former HHS official. “I don’t know of any other campaign HHS has ever run that has ever come close to.”

Officials said the strategy reflected Caputo’s approach, which relied on a small group of loyalists to treat what he viewed as a sensitive, high priority project. But while Caputo put half a dozen allies in roles across the health department, his oversized influence waned after he began his medical vacation last Wednesday.

HHS last week fired Paul Alexander, a friend of Caputo’s who had served as its personal scientific advisor, from a newly created position. HHS officials told POLITICO that the position was not required given the extensive scientific expertise already available at the health department. In the days leading up to his departure, Alexander had tried to stop Fauci from publicly searching for the risks of the coronavirus to children and to change the content of the CDC’s weekly reports on morbidity and mortality.

Meanwhile, a Ministry of Health Twitter account, @SpoxHHS, which Caputo took over and was used to this spring, took over Fight with reporters and Lambast Officials like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, “for killing thousands while dealing with coronavirus,” were scrubbed from his photo last week. The account has increasingly returned to provisioning short updates about the department’s media events.

Prior to the medical vacation, Caputo had insisted that the upcoming advertising campaign should be viewed as a non-partisan priority, referring to earlier calls by the Democrats for the government to communicate more about Covid-19.

“I’m not doing more than what the Democrats have asked. I’m not doing more than what the president asked me to do, ”Caputo said on his Facebook Live video on September 13th. “As God as my witness, I’m not stopping.”


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