Universally panned '60 Minutes' hit piece on DeSantis just made him a 2024 frontrunner

Universally panned '60 Minutes' hit piece on DeSantis just made him a 2024 frontrunner
© getty: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)

Ask any supporter of former President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE for their preference as the Republican presidential nominee in 2024, and the overwhelming majority provide the same answer: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida coronavirus cases jump 50 percent in one week Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' Publix will require employees to wear masks MORE

So, with DeSantis's stock rising in the GOP, enter the national media's most-watched broadcast news program, "60 Minutes," to look into DeSantis's handling of vaccine rollouts in the Sunshine State. On cue, the program accused the governor of a pay-to-play vaccine distribution scheme with Publix stores, which has more than 800 locations in Florida. 

Appropriately weary of media bias, DeSantis refused to appear on the program because he likely knew such a piece would paint him in a poor light while keeping out key facts or soundbites. And that's exactly what happened after CBS's Sharyn Alfonsi cornered DeSantis at a March press conference to inquire about Publix's role in the vaccination effort and a $100,000 donation to the governor's political action committee. 

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DeSantis gave a meticulous explanation of why Publix was chosen — not by him, but by the Florida Division of Emergency Management, which is run by Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat. 

In a scathing response to the "60 Minutes" piece, Moskowitz slammed the program while borrowing a Bidenism to do it. "I said this before and I'll say it again," Moskowitz tweeted on Sunday. "@Publix was recommended by @FLSERT and @HealthyFla as 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."

 

 

With roughly one-third of the country still expressing some doubt over the vaccine, trust is a big factor in persuading those on the fence to get their shots. And when it comes to trust, according to an Axios/Harris poll in 2020, Publix is the most trusted company in the United States. It also is just about as ubiquitous as palm trees in Florida, with all of its locations statewide. As for other pharmaceutical giants Walgreens and CVS, each was tapped well before Publix on the vaccine front, but were tasked with getting shots to the most vulnerable in long-term care facilities first. 

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When asked about pay-to-play allegations by CBS, DeSantis dissected the claim point-by-point.  

"So, first of all, when we did, the first pharmacies that had [the vaccines] 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," the governor explained. 

"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, said they were ready to go."

One would think an allegedly objective news program would include that crucial soundbite in its report. But, nope — "60 Minutes" left DeSantis's two-minute answer on the cutting room floor, save for a few seconds. Because to include the whole thing would mean blowing up their desired narrative. 

Also not reported are the results of the vaccine rollout, which is the most important aspect of all of this. Overall, since the start of the year, COVID cases are down 80 percent in the state among those 65 years or older. Hospitalizations are down 53 percent. 

Usually in these situations, Republicans and Democrats go to their respective tribal corners and don't dare defend anyone from the opposing party. But the bias of omission in the "60 Minutes" report was so egregious that Palm Beach County's Democratic mayor spoke out against it. "I watched the '60 Minutes' segment on Palm Beach County last night and feel compelled to issue this statement. The reporting was not just based on bad information — it was intentionally false," Mayor Dave Kerner said Sunday night. "I know this because I offered to provide my insight into Palm Beach County's vaccination efforts and '60 Minutes' declined."

"We asked and he delivered," he added, regarding the governor. "They had that information, and they left it out because it kneecaps their narrative ... '60 Minutes' should be ashamed."

"Counter to his statement yesterday, we also spoke on the record with Palm Beach County Mayor David Kerner. For over 50 years, the facts reported by 60 MINUTES have often stirred debate and prompted strong reactions. Our story Sunday night speaks for itself," CBS News said in a statement. 

Notice that the network doesn't even address the fact that most of DeSantis's comments – which were crucial to the piece – were edited out. Instead, we get a non-specific statement around the story speaking for itself. 

It sure did. 

Publix also ripped the report. "The irresponsible suggestion that there was a connection between campaign contributions made to Governor DeSantis and our willingness to join other pharmacies in support of the state's vaccine distribution efforts is absolutely false and offensive," the company said in a Monday statement.

When it comes to who may be the next Republican presidential nominee in 2024, it's hard to see how DeSantis isn't already the frontrunner if – and it's a big if – Donald Trump decides not to run. 

Trump supporters loathe the swamp, particularly those seen as part of it on the GOP side in the form of most congressmen and senators. But DeSantis isn't seen as part of that cabal. He's seen as a fighter, particularly as it pertains to media bias and activism. He also has a 53 percent approval rating in the state, according to a recent Mason-Dixon poll, which is an 8-point jump from July (Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoUniversity of Michigan says all students, faculty, staff must be vaccinated by fall term Cuomo signs legislation making baseball the official sport of New York CNN's Cuomo tells restaurant owner: 'You sound like an idiot' for denying service to vaccinated customers MORE's approval in New York has dropped from 75 percent one year ago to 45 percent this month, a 30-point drop, according to Quinnipiac University). In the 2022 Florida gubernatorial race, the Republican is up 11 points on possible Democratic challenger Charlie CristCharles (Charlie) Joseph CristDeSantis's reelection campaign will be brutal — and he could lose Crist rips DeSantis over Florida COVID-19 spike: 'We don't have leadership' Pressure mounts for DeSantis in Florida MORE and 9 points on Nikki Fried, the state's agricultural commissioner. 

Here's a question, by the way: When exactly is "60 Minutes" going to do some reporting on a governor who is under two major investigations over a possible cover-up around nursing home deaths? His name is Andrew Cuomo. He's a Democrat. He's also been accused by nine women of sexual harassment and misconduct. And then there's this recent bombshell around family members – including CNN anchor Chris CuomoChris CuomoCNN's Cuomo tells restaurant owner: 'You sound like an idiot' for denying service to vaccinated customers Budowsky: How Biden can defeat COVID-19 for good Matt Schlapp spars with Chris Cuomo: 'I'm not welcome at CNN' MORE – getting vaccine tests when few were available to the general public. 

Sounds like a very "60 Minutes"-ish story, don't you think? 

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There was a time that a critical "60 Minutes" report could serve as a death knell to one's political career. But times have changed — and so, unfortunately, has the program that has been a Sunday night staple for more than 50 years. The bias of omission carried out here in broad daylight is even painfully apparent to Florida Democrats. 

When looking for a possible challenger to President BidenJoe BidenCDC chief clarifies vaccine comments: 'There will be no nationwide mandate' Overnight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden urges local governments to stave off evictions MORE or Vice President Harris, should the former decide not to run for reelection, look no further among active politicians than Ron DeSantis, who just got stronger as a result of a national hit piece that has already backfired fantastically. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.