Vice president Mike Pence, who was appointed Wednesday to head the federal government Covid-19 task force as its "czar," has quickly moved to censor news about the disease that might damage the re-election chances of President Donald Trump.
On Thursday, Pence ordered all government health officials and scientists involved in the fight against Covid-19 to coordinate all statements and public appearances with him, according to several officials cited by U.S. media outlets. This move, Pence's first as head of this new bureaucracy, is a blatant attempt to control the narrative and tighten control of coronavirus messaging. It's also meant to control the flow of bad news that might damage Trump's re-election chances.
Pence also ordered Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and the face of the federal government's campaign to control COVID-19, not to make any more statements or to appear before media without his consent. Dr. Fauci has been head of NIAID since 1984 and is widely respected worldwide for his medical expertise.
Dr. Fauci confirmed the gag order, telling his colleagues the White House had instructed him not to say anything without its clearance.
In another move that politicized the membership of the task force, Pence appointed national economic council Director Larry Kudlow and treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin -- two loyal Trump sycophants -- members of the task force. Pence, Kudlow, and Mnuchin are not doctors and have no medical experience in handling any type of medical crisis.
Trump did say Pence will "coordinate" the government's response to Covid-19 when he appointed the latter to the position. Trump is also said to have appointed Pence to the position because Pence "has nothing to do," reports The New York Times.
Pence was surprised by his appointment, which means there are now two task force heads: himself and health and human services secretary Alex Azar. This conflict hasn't been resolved.
Responding to immediate criticisms of censorship, the White House alleges Pence's order isn't meant to muzzle doctors, experts, and other officials, but to make sure their efforts are coordinated. Trump's move to control all the outflow of all government information is the direct opposite of the approach taken by former President Barack Obama during the Ebola virus disease outbreak.
Ron Klain, who was appointed "Ebola Czar" by Obama in 2014, made no move to either coordinate or censor news about this medical emergency. Obama's success in helping contain Ebola is regarded as one of the greatest foreign policy achievements of his administration and has been widely praised.