State Watch

Media shut out of DeSantis elections bill signing

ORLANDO, Fla. - Local reporters were barred on Thursday from witnessing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) sign a controversial elections bill, sparking outrage from journalists and critics of the Republican governor. 

Journalists gathered outside the Hilton Airport Hotel in West Palm Beach, Fla., early Thursday morning to cover the governor's signing of Senate Bill 90, a sweeping election-related measure that, among other things, creates ID requirements for mail-in voting and restricts the use of ballot drop boxes.

But multiple reporters claimed that they were barred from entering the event, while Fox News would be allowed to cover the bill signing as an "exclusive."

"NEW: News media is barred from entry at Gov. Ron DeSantis' signing of controversial elections bill, SB 90," Steve Bousquet, a columnist at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, tweeted. "DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske says bill signing is a 'Fox exclusive.' "

"We've been at the Hilton since 4 this morning, only to be told we can't go in to hear the governor speak or sign the elections bill," Madeline Montgomery, a reporter for West Palm Beach-based CBS 12, tweeted.

A photo posted online by Bousquet showed reporters huddled outside the Hilton and peering through a window to try to catch a glimpse of the bill signing inside. Spokespeople for DeSantis did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the event.

Shortly after reports surfaced that members of the media had been shut out of the event, Fox News aired footage of DeSantis signing S.B. 90 into law. The governor's office also sent out a press release touting the new elections measures. 

A spokesperson for Fox News said that the network did not request that it be given exclusive coverage of the bill signing.

"FOX & Friends did not request or mandate that the May 6th event and interview with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) be exclusive to FOX News Media entities," the spokesperson said.

The decision to bar most reporters from attending a bill signing, while allowing a friendly outlet to cover the event exclusively, marks a major break with precedent in a state that has long touted its reputation for transparency and open government. 

The move also drew immediate criticism from journalists and DeSantis's political opponents. Jonathan Chait, a writer for New York Magazine, compared the decision by the DeSantis administration to allow Fox News to cover an official government event to the use of state-sponsored media. 

"A 'news organization' that gets exclusive rights to cover official government business is the definition of state television," Chait tweeted.

Florida state Agriculture Commission Nikki Fried, the only Democratic statewide elected officeholder and a potential challenger to DeSantis next year, accused the governor of "turning Florida into" Fox News. 

"We have to have to have to stop @GovRonDeSantis in 2022," she tweeted. "He's turning Florida into @FoxNews."

Jay O'Brien, another reporter at CBS 12 in West Palm Beach, said that by blocking most reporters from viewing the bill signing, DeSantis had simultaneously cut off vast swaths of the public from witnessing official government business.

"This isn't a story about the press being locked out of an event. It's about Floridians who had their eyes and ears in that room cut off," O'Brien tweeted. "@GovRonDeSantis signed a law today that will impact ALL Floridians. And only some viewers were allowed to see it. That's not normal."

The Lincoln Project, a Republican-led political action committee critical of former President Trump and his allies, said that the closed-door bill signing was at odds with Florida's reputation as the Sunshine State.

"@GovRonDeSantis has decided to lock the free press out of a bill signing event," the group tweeted. "So much for the 'sunshine' state."

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