A 60 Minutes story on Florida's vaccine rollout accused Ron DeSantis, the state's Republican governor, of making a corrupt deal with Publix to distribute the vaccine. CBS reporter Sharyn Alfonsi noted that the grocery chain donated $100,000 to DeSantis' election campaign and suggested the lucrative vaccination contract was a "pay-to-play" scheme.
It's an accusation that doesn't really stand up to scrutiny: For one thing, Publix—like many large corporations—gives money to both Republicans and Democrats. But more importantly, the decision to have Publix coordinate vaccination was not even made by the governor's office. According to Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, it was his offices that recommended Publix. Moskowitz, a Democrat, has said that Publix was the best store for the job, since it has more than 800 locations across the state.
Indeed, when Alfonsi cornered DeSantis at a press conference and asked him about Publix, he gave a lengthy explanation that largely undercut her claims. He pointed out, for instance, that it wasn't true that Publix got the vaccines first: CVS and Walgreens had already been contracted to coordinate vaccination for long-term care facilities. Here's a transcript of what the governor said:
So, first of all, when we did, the first pharmacies that had it were CVS and Walgreens. And they had a long term care mission. So they were going to the long term care facilities. They got vaccines in the middle of December, they started going to the long term care facilities the third week of December to do LTCs. So that was their mission. That was very important. And we trusted them to do that. As we got into January, we wanted to expand the distribution points. So yes, you had the counties, you had some drive through sites, you had hospitals that were doing a lot, but we wanted to get it into communities more. So we reached out to other retail pharmacies—Publix, Walmart—obviously CVS and Walgreens had to finish that mission. And we said, we're going to use you as soon as you're done with that. For the Publix, they were the first one to raise their hand, say they were ready to go.
Remarkably, CBS cut this portion of DeSantis' response. In fact, the 60 Minutes story reduced his two-minute answer to just a few seconds. The Daily Wire has a full breakdown of the sizable gap between what DeSantis actually said and what CBS included, and it's telling. This was not a case of a journalist condensing the essence of what a source told her: Alfonsi blatantly ignored the part of the governor's statement that clashed with her narrative, and instead included a brief comment that made it sound like he became combative with her for no reason.
The rest of the story is also quite flawed. It maligned DeSantis for "breaking with CDC guidelines" and prioritizing vaccination for the elderly instead of "teachers and essential workers." Since the elderly are at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19, this prioritization makes absolute sense, irrespective of the CDC's warped views on the subject.
CBS also implied that there's something sinister and unique about a Republican administration having "privatized" the vaccine rollout. (Corporations +profits = scary.) But private entities are aiding with vaccine distribution elsewhere as well: In the District of Columbia, CVS has partnered with the city's Democratic mayor to vaccinate all sorts of people.
The mainstream media seems intent on peddling a false narrative that Florida's approach to the pandemic has been uniquely bad. As Zeynep Tufekci explained in a recent article, this is an example of how "polarization has eaten a lot of our brains":
Lots of people are angry, very angry with Florida, and willing to quickly believe the worst. In reality, it's… middling. Compared with the rest of the country, Florida's record is neither stellar nor terrible. How much of this is its middling guidelines, how much of this is the weather advantage, how much of this just luck? It's not yet fully clear.…
But the polarized climate means that Andrew Cuomo—who is implicated in a large number of terrible policies—can sell a book about his pandemic leadership for $4 million dollars (even before the pandemic was over!) while people are readily willing to believe that Florida—which, from what I can tell, actually has one of the better reporting systems—must be lying and covering up its terrible numbers.
60 Minutes' report is another example of this weird fixation. Moreover, it's misleadingly clipped to deprive viewers of DeSantis' plausible explanation of the alleged controversy. No wonder that so many people—and Republicans, especially—distrust the media.
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