Governor Ron DeSantis is relishing in the fallout of Sunday’s 60 Minutes story on Florida’s allegedly corrupt vaccine rollout, in which correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi insinuated there was a connection between the state’s vaccination partnership with Publix and campaign contributions the Florida-based grocery store chain made to DeSantis just prior to the deal—a link since debunked by multiple Democratic officials. During a press conference on Tuesday, the governor, punctuating his rant with distinctly Trumplike non-verbal cues, decried CBS as “smear merchants” who have been “caught red-handed” promoting “a fake narrative” emblematic of the liberal media at large. “You can’t trust them,” the Florida Republican said. “They will lie…And then they just move on to the next target and think they’re going to get away with it.”
The newsmagazine has come under fire for the allegation, a would-be bombshell made in passing and without firm evidence aside from public finance records and editing that has been criticized as misleading—not least by DeSantis himself, who on Tuesday claimed the show “cut out everything that proved their narrative was a piece of horse manure.” The night before, he appeared on Fox News, telling Tucker Carlson that the report “is a baseless conspiracy theory” deployed “with malicious intent and a reckless disregard for the truth.”
Among the elected officials who have come out against the segment is Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, a Democrat, who said on Monday that 60 Minutes’ “reporting was not just based on bad information” but was “intentionally false” given he had “offered to provide my insight into Palm Beach County’s vaccination efforts and 60 Minutes declined.” According to Kerner, the county, not the governor, was the driving force behind the state’s expanded partnership with Publix—information he said the network excluded “because it kneecaps their narrative.” Publix, too, denounced the “irresponsible suggestion” as “absolutely false and offensive.” A 60 Minutes spokesperson defended the story in a statement on Tuesday, noting that DeSantis had declined an interview request and, contrary to Kerner’s statement the day before, spoke to Kerner on the record for the piece.
Here is a new, much lengthier statement from a "60 Minutes" spokesperson defending the newsmagazine's much-criticized story on Florida's vaccine rollout. pic.twitter.com/n6IR51Vy8a
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) April 6, 2021
That DeSantis has found himself at the center of a murkier media controversy—compared to, say, former President Donald Trump baselessly labeling unflattering (and accurate) news reporting as “fake”—is a lucky break for his political ambitions. The governor, who is up for reelection next year and who’s widely seen as frontrunner in 2024’s Republican primary, has used his on-camera appearances to boost his already climbing approval ratings. According to a Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey, DeSantis’s approval rating last month was 53 percent—a jump from his 45-percent rating in July. “It certainly has given him yet another reason to appear before a national audience that leans conservative,” Florida-based Republican consultant Shawn Frost told The Hill, venturing that “attacking Publix is the biggest mistake [the media] can make in Florida,” given that the chain is “the fourth estate here, honestly.” In short, DeSantis is poised to capitalize on a tactic honed by the former president. “If there is anything that Trump taught us, it’s that culture wars and fighting with media are winning fights for Republicans,” said former Trump administration official Alexei Woltornist.
DeSantis himself seems well aware of this. “You come down to our state and you try to smear people, we’re going to fight back and we’re going to hold you accountable,” he said on Tuesday, wasting no time pitting “New York corporate media” against the Florida-based chain in an ostensible attempt to present himself as a man of the people and a Trumpworld torchbearer. “Becoming a major contender for a presidential nomination requires skill, yes. But it also requires being in the right place at the right time,” CNN’s Chris Cillizza notes. “DeSantis couldn’t have written this script any better.”
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