CBS News came under fire Monday for a “60 Minutes” segment on the Florida vaccine rollout, accused of airing a deceptively edited “hit job” on Gov. Ron DeSantis, a rising GOP star on the short list for the 2024 presidential nomination.
The segment hosted by Sharyn Alfonsi essentially accused Mr. DeSantis of “pay to play” by steering COVID-19 vaccinations in January to the Publix grocery chain because the company donated $100,000 to his campaign fund.
The suggestion that Mr. DeSantis favored Publix was immediately denounced by Republicans as well as Democrat Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, who said that Publix received vaccines because “other pharmacies were not ready to start. Period! Full stop!”
“No one from the Governors [sic] office suggested Publix. It’s just absolute malarkey,” Mr. Moskowitz tweeted.
Another Democrat, Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, said in a Monday statement that the “60 Minutes” reporting was “not just based on bad information — it was intentionally false.”
Mr. DeSantis touted Monday the state’s focus on vaccinating seniors, saying that “what we did has worked.”
“And obviously they were in Florida for three months, 60 Minutes, trying to drudge up any dirt that they could to smear me and the best they could come up with was a baseless conspiracy theory that was easily debunked, not just by me, which they had to edit out, but two very prominent Democrats in the state of Florida,” said Mr. DeSantis on Fox’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
The long-running news show was criticized for leaving on the cutting-room floor the governor’s explanation during a press conference as to why Publix received vaccines ahead of Walgreens and CVS, which have since begun inoculating residents against the virus.
“As we always do for clarity, 60 MINUTES used the portion of the Governor’s over 2-minute response that directly addressed the question from the correspondent,” said a CBS spokesperson in an email.
The network also cited the response of Palm Beach County commissioner Melissa McFinlay, who tweeted that the governor did not meet with everyone in her county and that the mayor told her that he “never asked for Publix sole distribution.”
On Sunday’s program, Mr. DeSantis was shown having a feisty exchange with Ms. Alfonsi, saying, “What you’re saying is wrong. That’s a fake narrative.”
He continued: “I met with the county mayor, I met with the administrator, I met with all the folks of Palm Beach County, and I said: Here’s some of the options. We can do more drive-thru sites, we can give more hospitals, we can do the Publix. And they said, we think that would be the easiest thing for our residents.”
What CBS left out was his explanation about how CVS and Walgreens had the vaccines first, but were focusing on long-term care facilities in December, “and that was their mission.” In January, the state sought to expand.
“So yes, you had the counties, you had some drive-thru sites, you had hospitals that were doing a lot, but we wanted to get it into communities more,” said Mr. DeSantis in the unaired response. “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.”
He said that “for the Publix, they were the first ones who raised their hands and said they were ready to go. And you know what? We did it on a trial basis.”
In elderly Palm Beach County, Mr. DeSantis said that “they were kind of struggling at first in terms of the senior numbers,” and that when presented with the options, county officials favored the Publix option, given that there are 65 such stores in Palm Beach and 95% are within a mile of
The state has now vaccinated about 75% of the county’s seniors.
“Our way has been multi-faceted, it has worked, and we’re also now very much expanding CVS and Walgreens, now that they’ve completed the long-term care mission,” Mr. DeSantis said in footage posted by Outkick’s Clay Travis.
Conservatives were apoplectic. RedState ran the headline, “The Deranged ’60 Minutes’ Hit Piece on DeSantis Gives the Game Away,” while National Review said that the show “deceptively edited Ron DeSantis’s full answer on Publix vaccinations.”
“There is no more accurate way of describing last night’s 60 Minutes segment on Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida than as a political hit job,” said National Review in a Monday editorial, noting that Publix is the largest grocery chain in the state with 831 locations.
Fox News radio host Guy Benson called the “60 Minutes” piece “stunningly misleading. It is malpractice, it is untrue,” and called for a “full correction and apology.”
Sarasota County Commissioner Christian Ziegler called the story a “hit job,” adding, “Nothing slimier than a reporter/news outlet on a mission to destroy a Conservative. Keep up the great work @GovRonDeSantis!”
In his Monday interview, Mr. DeSantis accused “60 Minutes” of selective editing.
“Obviously they selectively edited the background,” Mr. DeSantis said. “They tried to act like there was a conspiracy in Publix, ignoring the fact that other pharmacies were involved before Publix, doing the long-term care work.”