Any Republican anointed an enemy of the Fourth Estate needs to be prepared for a tsunami of fake news, a bombardment of deceptive editing practices, and an ample supply of antipathetic opinion pieces. Unless your name is Jim Acosta, the establishment press has temporarily moved on from former President Donald Trump and turned its sights to other GOP folks who could succeed Trump as the anti-establishment candidate. Now the alphabet soup of cable news networks has placed a bullseye on the back of Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis. Will the big-box media successfully take him down ahead of the 2024 presidential election, or will he arise to pummel the fake news industrial complex into submission?
Journalism Malpractice in 60 Minutes?
Last month, DeSantis held a press conference regarding the state’s coronavirus vaccination program’s rollout. He took questions from the media, including reporter Sharyn Alfonsi. The two had a testy exchange after Alfonsi suggested that the biggest supermarket chain in Florida, Publix, participated in a pay-to-play scheme with the governor. Alfonsi pointed to the grocery store giant’s $100,000 donation to his political action committee, contending that DeSantis rewarded the contribution with a contract to offer inoculations.
CBS’ 60 Minutes ran a segment on April 4 that deceptively edited the back-and-forth on how DeSantis explained what occurred and how he and his administration made decisions on vaccines. The clip showed less than a fifth of DeSantis’ response to “How is that not pay-to-play?”
The segment on the long-running program received widespread criticism, including from David Kerner, the Democratic mayor of Palm Beach County. He accused the network of running an “intentionally false” report that omitted information “that kneecaps their narrative.”
“I know this because I offered to provide my insight into Palm Beach County’s vaccination efforts and 60 Minutes declined,” Kerner added. “We have confronted this pandemic for over a year. Our residents, like all Americans, are tired. And the media is making it worse. They are hellbent on dividing us for cheap views and clicks. ’60 Minutes’ should be ashamed.”
So, what is the real story?
‘I Just Disabused You of the Narrative’
In December, the governor gave CVS and Walgreens access to the vaccines since these pharmacies launched a long-term care mission. A month later, Florida wanted to expand its efforts into communities, so DeSantis contacted other retailers, including Publix and Walmart. Once CVS and Walgreens completed their long-term care vaccinations, they would be part of the updated campaign.
According to the governor, Publix was ready to go, and the government initiated a trial in three counties, including Palm Beach. This is crucial information, too: 90% of seniors in the counties live within a mile and a half of a Publix. DeSantis further explained:
“So, we did that, and what ended up happening was, you had 65 Publix in Palm Beach. Palm Beach is one of the biggest counties, one of the most elderly counties, we’ve done almost 75% of the seniors in Palm Beach, and the reason is because you have the strong retail footprint. So our way has been multifaceted. It has worked. And we’re also now very much expanding CVS and Walgreens, now that they’ve completed the long-term care mission.”
However, CBS homed in on one low-income community in Palm Beach that is 25 miles from the closest Publix to portray some quid pro quo affair – with a little bit of racist flavor added to the mix.
Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat and director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management who oversaw the state’s COVID-19 response, also rejected the premise of the program’s story. He tweeted that Publix was recommended because other pharmacies were not ready to begin, calling the reporting “absolute malarkey.”
It should be noted that Publix has also donated money to President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and a Democratic congressional committee. Forty-seven percent of its political contributions go toward Democrats. But Publix has been making fewer political donations over the last couple of years to avoid backlashes and public relations risks.
A Successful Strategy?
Are mass vaccination sites or smaller retail pharmacies better for jabbing the public quicker? Politico published new federal data to highlight that the retail pharmacy program, like the one rolling out in the Sunshine State, can reach more Americans in a shorter period than a federal vaccination location. FEMA numbers confirm that Americans are more willing to walk to their local pharmacist than line up at convention centers, arenas, and stadiums to receive a vaccine.
As a comparison, immense vaccination hubs have administered fewer than two million doses, or 67,000 shots per day, over the last two months. The federal retail pharmacy program delivered close to one million doses in a single day (March 11). One senior Biden health official told Politico:
“It’s clear that Americans feel comfortable relying on their local pharmacies for the vaccine. The retail pharmacy program will keep growing and I think you will begin to see more people going down the block to CVS to get the shot than driving maybe an hour to the federal sites to get it.”
Ron DeSantis: Public Enemy No. 1
Despite having one of the oldest populations in the United States and keeping its economy relatively open, Florida has done a better job than jurisdictions that have imposed stiff and prolonged lockdowns. It has reported fewer deaths than New York and California, and Florida ranks in the middle regarding coronavirus infections on a per capita basis. Rather than placing everyone under house arrest, free movement was ubiquitous across the state. And this is what bothers the media wing of the Democratic Party the most – more than airing a commercial that supported Trump: DeSantis refused to heed the destructive recommendations of the doom-and-gloom merchants, the Listen to the Science(TM) crowd, and the “Give It Two Weeks” folks. And DeSantis could garner a few more enemies in the Swamp for his refusal to facilitate a “papers, please system” – COVID passports or movement licenses – in the state.
Could this be the first salvo in a coordinated attempt to derail potential GOP Big Beasts in the run-up to 2024? If so, how much longer until DeSantis and others start facing the gauntlet of unrelenting Fourth Estate shenanigans?
Read more from Andrew Moran.