‘Florida Man Bad’: Why is US Big Media Trying to Find Faults With Governor Ron DeSantis?

The US’ left-leaning press continues to find faults with Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis over his handling of COVID and the vaccine rollout despite his strategy appearing to be more successful than that of Democratic governors Gavin Newsome and Andrew Cuomo. What’s behind the media’s distaste for the “Florida man”?

Governor Ron DeSantis has crossed swords with CBS News over the latter’s “60 Minutes” story alleging that the governor provided the state’s coronavirus vaccines to rich communities and instrumentalised the coronavirus jab rollout to benefit donors.

CBS reporter Sharyn Alfonsi stated, in particular, that DeSantis granted a contract to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to Publix, the grocery store chain, which earlier made a $100,000 donation to his political action committee (PAC). The Florida governor dismissed the report as “fake narrative” while the state’s Democrat leaders are seeking a DOJ investigation into DeSantis’ alleged “favouritism.” The report prompted a wave of criticism from social media users with the hashtag #DeathSantis trending on Twitter on Monday.

60 Minutes Story & DeSantis Handling of COVID

Commenting on CBS’ DeSantis story, Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist suggested on 5 April that 60 Minutes purposely pushed a “false narrative” to “protect its favoured governors” including New York’s Andrew Cuomo, whose office remains under federal investigation over the nursing homes death toll scandal. Hemingway argued that CBS News “refused to interview people who disputed its false narrative, selectively edited video to hide facts, and omitted data that debunked its thesis and accurately described Florida’s success.”

​Democrat Mayor of Palm Beach County Dave Kerner and Florida’s Director of Emergency Management Jared Moskowitz also rejected CBS’ story as “intentionally false” and “utter nonsense.” The mayor said in an official statement that he specifically offered “60 Minutes” his insight into how Publix was actually picked, the broadcaster declined.

​It is not the first time that DeSantis has found himself in the cross hairs of the US mainstream media over his handling of the pandemic. Although Florida declared a state of emergency over COVID as early as on 9 March 2020, it started to gradually lift the restrictions much sooner than all the Democrat-controlled states, by opening businesses, allowing indoor restaurant dining, and getting children back to school.

On 30 March 2021, Yahoo News, Vanity Fair, and a number of other media outlets quoted the American Journal of Public Health’s report alleging that Florida had 4,924 excess deaths from March to September 2020. As of 29 March 2021, roughly 33,000 people have died from coronavirus in the state. Yahoo News insisted that the actual number of COVID fatalities could be closer to 40,000. Furthermore, the media outlet went even so far as to suggest that DeSantis may have exerted pressure on the state’s medical officials to undercount COVID deaths.

However, Moosa Tatar, the lead author of the study featured by Yahoo, told National Review that Yahoo’s Alexander Nazaryan incorrectly framed the journal’s analysis as researchers do not yet know how many of the excess deaths could be attributed to COVID, either directly or indirectly.

In May 2020, the US press released a story of Rebekah Jones, an “architect and manager of Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard” who stated that she had been sacked over her refusal to “manually” reduce the state’s pandemic data “to drum up support for the plan to reopen.” However, the Florida governor and his cabinet officials stated that Jones had never been the chief architect of the state’s COVID web-portal and that she had been fired for attempts to unilaterally modify the dashboard “without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors.”

Despite being lambasted by the press for the early re-opening, Florida’s cumulative COVID-related death rate is only 11 percent higher than that of California, the state known for its tough pandemic rules. In addition, Florida’s death rate among seniors is 50 percent lower than New York’s and 20 percent lower than that of California.

Florida inoculated more than 3.3 million (or 70 percent) of the state’s elderly, aged 65 and older, by 4 April 2021, according to the Florida Department of Health. The Federalist suggests the governor’s push to prioritise seniors over all other groups helped reduce the number COVID-related deaths, even as cases nationwide begin to level off.

In late February, National Review’s Rich Lowry summarised the hypocrisy of the US media’s coverage of the Florida governors’ coronavirus handling in his article “Andrew Cuomo Is Everything the Press Accused Ron DeSantis of Being.” 

Lowry pointed out that not only Florida’s COVID death rate remained lower than that of New York, but DeSantis has also avoided “the educational and economic downsides of Cuomo’s policies.” However, while Cuomo’s nursing home scandal has almost faded away, the press is attacking DeSantis with all guns blazing.

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