DeSantis steps up attacks on media
A new political rival is emerging for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: The media.
DeSantis increasingly is using the press as a foil, a trait he shares with a number of Republicans but particularly with former President Trump, a potential rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
The rising Republican star has repeatedly taken punches at the “corporate press” as his national stature has grown but appeared to escalate the attacks in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian’s destruction in the state.
During an interview this week with the conservative website Florida Voice, DeSantis was asked if the press should be held accountable for reporting the forecasts that projected the storm would hit the Tampa area.
The storm shifted before it reached Florida, with the Fort Myers area taking the worst hit. This has led to debates over whether different communities, including Lee County, should have issued evacuation orders earlier. DeSantis has defended those local communities.
In the Florida Voice interview, he accused the press of rooting for the hurricane to strike Tampa.
”Quite frankly, you have national regime media that they wanted to see Tampa, because they thought that that’d be worse for Florida. That’s how these people think,” DeSantis said during the interview, held as he toured the devastation.
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“They don’t care about the people of this state. They don’t care about this community. They want to use storms and destruction from storms as a way to advance their agenda,” he said.
“They don’t care about the lives here,” DeSantis added of the media. “If they can use it to pursue their political agenda, they will do it.”
In a statement to The Hill, Bryan Griffin, a spokesman for DeSantis, reaffirmed the governor’s sentiments.
“Governor DeSantis is absolutely correct in his assertion: many people in the media have shamefully capitalized on the tragedy of Hurricane Ian to push their political agenda,’ Griffin said.
The comments were among the toughest and most pointed DeSantis has made toward the media, and part of a pattern when it comes to the hurricane and Lee County.
In an interview with CNN last week, DeSantis fired back at a reporter who asked if local officials in Florida waited too long to issue an evacuation order.
“Well did you, where was your industry stationed when the storm hit? Were you guys in Lee County? No, you were in Tampa,” he said.
The moment was highlighted on the governor’s rapid response account on Twitter.
“CNN reporter questions Governor DeSantis, hoping to push a misleading narrative about evacuation in Lee County,” the tweet read. “He shuts that right down.”
Peter Loge, the director of George Washington University’s Project on Ethics in Political Communication, said DeSantis’s media attacks could help him with the Republican base as he inches closer to a potential White House bid.
“I think the calculus is that you blame someone who is easy to blame and everyone doesn’t like,” Loge said. “It’s more at the national view, or even distracting within Florida, where it’s ‘Oh it’s those people again, who don’t trust you, don’t like you, it’s their fault.”
DeSantis is using a playbook common to GOP stars.
Before Trump, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R) called the press the “lamestream media,” a phrase that stuck with other conservatives. Trump railed over the “fake news” and “crooked” media, and even going as far as labeling the press the “enemy.”
“‘National regime media’ is just fresh nomenclature for an enduring strategy,” Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, said of the governor’s media strategy.
“The difference with the last president — which is now being adopted by others like the Florida governor — was how much more candidly, overtly, obviously and hyperbolically this strategy was enacted and communicated,” he added.
DeSantis has made it a point to go after mainstream news outlets to boost his persona as an aggressive and brash politician who isn’t afraid to defy the establishment.
Since becoming governor and entering the national spotlight, the governor has continued to escalate the attacks on a number of issues.
Last year, he blamed media outlets for causing “hysteria” around the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You try to fearmonger,” he told reporters at the time. “You try to do this stuff.”
GOP strategist John Feehery said DeSantis has figured out a way to drive his message through the press.
“These days, creating the best-earned media opportunities is the best way to raise money,” Feehery said. “DeSantis is a master at that.”
The governor has surged in recent national polls, propelled by his willingness to position himself at the epicenter of the culture wars. While Trump is still the favorite in most polls, DeSantis, who is stylistically similar, is the clear runner-up for Republicans.
“It’s hard not to look at DeSantis as the next in line were Trump not to run again,” said Brendan Buck, who served as a senior aide to former GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan. “Being the early front-runner does not always mean success.
“It’s those who often get excited about that seem to flame out,” Buck added.