In 2004, CBS News and “60 Minutes” helped hand President George W. Bush a second term. A story about Bush’s service in the National Guard blew up in their faces when it came out that Dan Rather had relied on amateurishly forged documents.
Now, “60 Minutes” has done it again, this time with an attack on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that was so flagrantly misleading, even Florida Democrats are calling it out as a lie. Seventeen years ago, the network at least had enough shame left to push Rather out over the controversy. This time, CBS is doubling down.
The network news division that once took down Joe McCarthy now treats McCarthy’s methods as a how-to manual.
The “60 Minutes” story claimed that DeSantis, a Republican elected in 2018, gave a payoff to the Publix supermarket chain by designating it briefly as an exclusive distributor of the COVID-19 vaccine in Palm Beach County. This was supposedly payback for a $100,000 donation to DeSantis’ re-election campaign — and a burden on Florida seniors.
DeSantis, a frequent critic of corporate media, refused to sit down for an interview, so “60 Minutes” reporter Sharyn Alfonsi confronted him at an Orlando news conference. That was her first mistake, because the entire exchange was captured on local TV, not just the parts that “60 Minutes” aired.
What “60 Minutes” viewers saw was Alfonsi’s criticism and 18 seconds of DeSantis saying, “That’s a fake narrative” and offering a few words about meeting with Palm Beach officials. To the national audience, it looked at if he hadn’t offered any facts behind the decision — just “fake narrative.”
But CBS cut DeSantis’ detailed, two-minute response.
The governor explained that Palm Beach County’s mayor had told him that 90 percent of Palm Beach seniors live within a few miles of a Publix, which has 65 stores in the county; that Publix was the only chain ready to go when he tried to get Walmart involved; that CVS and Walgreens were still busy distributing vaccines to nursing homes; and that DeSantis did on-the-ground follow-up with Palm Beach seniors, got positive feedback and had already succeeded in vaccinating 75 percent of them.
CBS now says it edited DeSantis’ response “for clarity.” What clarity, indeed.
Worse, after CBS quoted DeSantis saying he had met with the Palm Beach mayor, it cut to a county commissioner saying he’d never met with her — implying that the governor was lying about meeting local officials. Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, a Democrat, says the CBS report is “intentionally false,” because using Publix was his idea, and that CBS refused to listen to him before going on air.
Jared Moskowitz, a progressive Democrat who served as the state’s emergency-management director, says, “The other pharmacies were not ready to start. Period! Full Stop! No one from the governor’s office suggested Publix. It’s just absolute malarkey.”
DeSantis’ decision made sense. Publix is a widely beloved brand with 831 stores in the Sunshine state. Many seniors already get their flu vaccines and medications there. Publix is familiar and trusted — a big consideration in getting skeptics to accept the vaccine. And it was never the exclusive distributor statewide.
But the national media decided early last year that Gov. Cuomo and California Gov. Gavin Newsom were the COVID-19 heroes — and DeSantis the villain.
So, just as in 2004, they scraped for facts to keep the Narrative alive. One attack after another against DeSantis has backfired, yet they try even harder as Cuomo faces potential impeachment and Newsom a recall. Whatever they say about DeSantis is usually true of Cuomo, Newsom or both: Newsom has faced scrutiny for giving exclusive vaccine contracts to megadonors such as Blue Shield.
DeSantis, who often chews out reporters with detailed critiques, didn’t take this lying down. He blasted CBS as “smear merchants,” adding, “that’s why nobody trusts corporate media.” It could end up convincing voters that Ron DeSantis is the shot in the arm they need.
Dan McLaughlin is a senior writer at National Review.
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