Why did the name Michael Caputo sound familiar to me?

Trump just appointed him to be…well, here’s the headline and subhead of the New York Times:

The loyalty of the longtime Trump adviser Michael Caputo helped him secure a post as the top public affairs official at the Health and Human Services Department during the pandemic.

Michael Caputo…why did that name sound familiar to me?

Just now I was doing a final read-through of my completed manuscript for How I Learned The Facts of Life: Real news vs fake news in a time of plague, injustice, gobsmacking trumpery…and whatever comes next. In Part Two: The Fakes of Life, I came to Chapter 22: The wide, wide, wide world of fakes, in which I take on the reeking exotica known as kompromat, defined thusly by Merriam Webster:

Kompromat refers to materials collected specifically for the purpose of blackmailing the target. ‘Kompromat’ is a Russian portmanteau of ‘komprometiruyushchiy’, “compromising,” and ‘material’, “material.”

Early Soviet kompromat involved photo, film, and document doctoring, and physically planting drugs or incriminating evidence on targets. In more recent decades, kompromat has moved online: in 2015, the noted Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky was arrested by the United Kingdom after child pornography was found on his computer…

The estimable journalist Gene Lyons, writing in the National Memo on January 18, 2017, flushed out the purpose of kompromat:

The real purpose of kompromat isn’t necessarily blackmail, but the promotion of discord, cynicism, and widespread disbelief in such “liberal” values as the distinction between truth and make-believe.

And when people come to assume that everybody’s crooked and nobody can be believed, the strongman always wins.

As I dug further in, it occurred to me I was seeing a pattern of contemporary kompromat: it seems regularly to involve accusations of child pornography and sexual child abuse, because there is no crime more repulsive, more stomach-turning than that. And it’s a particularly lazy, cheap, foul way of smearing an opponent. No research required, no elaborate computer hacking needed. All you have to do is sneak accusations about children into social media and voila!

Recall the Comet Pizza conspiracy nonsense that rocketed around the country toward the end of the 2016 presidential campaign?

And then I ran right into a stellar example of child pornography kompromat. Which is where Michael Caputo comes into it.

An excerpt from that chapter:

A particularly nauseating use of kompromat in upstate New York

Here’s yet another story using that same type of smear – this one directly implicating a notorious dirty trickster who, as I write this, has been convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding, false statements and witness tampering.

Brace yourselves. It’s stomach-turning:

In 2010’s campaign for New York State’s governor, the Democrat, Andrew Cuomo, ran against Republican Carl Paladino and won in a landslide.

There were, of course, other candidates. One of them, a lawyer named Warren Redlich, was running as a Libertarian.

I ran across the Redlich case when he filed a defamation lawsuit against Roger Stone over an action he asserted Stone had taken in regard to the 2010 New York State gubernatorial campaign. The allegations were shocking.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Richard F. Braun, who presided over the case, wrote a better digest than I ever could in his 2016 decision not to summarily dismiss the lawsuit against most of the defendants. I’ve bolded the key stuff:

Politics is too often a “dirty business”. The allegations by plaintiff in this action, if true, exemplify that. This is a defamation action seeking a declaration that plaintiff Warren Redlich (Redlich) was libeled particularly by a mailer and in other communications

Redlich asserts that [Roger] Stone and [Michael] Caputo hatched a scheme involving the publication and circulation of an anonymous, libelous mailer to harm Redlich’s reputation and his candidacy. Redlich alleges that defendants decided to accuse him of being a “sexual predator”, a “public danger”, and a “sick twisted pervert” in the mailer…In October 2010, the mailer was published by being mailed to numerous homes in New York State (Stone said it was reportedly sent to 150,000 households), including in Redlich’s former community, and even his mother received a copy.

One side of the mailer stated in bold type: “Sexual Predator Alert Albany Area”. The statement is repeated on the other side. Beneath the header on that side is Redlich’s photo with the statement:

[“]This man, WARREN REDLICH who resides at [redacted but his address was given on the mailer]. This man constitutes a public danger. He has exhibited irrational behavior. If you encounter this man proceed with caution. Now this sick twisted pervert is advocating his sick views running as a libertine candidate for governor, openly mocking law enforcement. Redlich hopes to win thousands of votes to endorse his sick alternative lifestyle.[“]

Beneath that text, a photo with plaintiff’s name, and the word “PREDATOR” underneath his name, the mailer states: [“]Beware of Warren Redlich! If you see this man near a public school, CALL THE POLICE! If you see this man in your neighborhood, CALL THE POLICE! If you see this man near your family, CALL THE POLICE! [“]

And that’s why I remembered the name of Michael Caputo.

After a number of years, Redlich lost his defamation case at trial. While the jury found the flyers were indeed defamatory, they did not find Redlich produced evidence putting Stone’s fingers on them.

Or Michael Caputo’s fingers. Yet they are now all over our Department of Health and Human Services.

“In a crisis, the public is looking for credible, nonpartisan voices with real expertise,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former White House communications director for President Barack Obama. “Picking a partisan loyalist with a history of promoting conspiracy theories is the exact opposite of the right thing to do but it is very much on brand.”

“Promoting conspiracy theories” is a very kind way of describing what Michael Caputo actually has done.

 

 

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