One of the most bizarre phenomena we've seen in American journalism – and by extension, in lefty politics – during the pandemic is an unrelenting fixation on the state of Florida as supposedly emblematic of all that is wrong with the country's COVID response. The media hitched its collective wagon to this narrative very early on and has never looked back, regardless of outcomes or data. The lessons and implications are always the same. When Florida's pandemic situation is rough, Florida is bad. When Florida's pandemic situation is good, Florida is bad. And when Florida's pandemic situation is average, Florida is bad. The national press has been positively obsessed with this storyline and will seemingly do anything to keep it afloat – even or especially if that means overlooking a genuine scandal in their hero's gubernatorial administration up in New York, effectively burying it until after the election season.
I've periodically defended Florida in posts here and on Twitter, not because I have any special affinity for the place, or because I'm a committed fan of Gov. Ron DeSantis. I just feel an obligation to bring facts to the table that undercut the lazy, inaccurate media plotline (Cuomo/NY amazing, DeSantis/Florida reckless) that has chugged forward, month after month, in the face of crystal clear countervailing data. A few representative instances:
Florida population: 21.5 million— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) December 31, 2020
NY population 19.5 million
% of population 65+
DeSantis: History’s greatest monster
Cuomo: Emmy award https://t.co/Rh4bsWvCfH
FL is largely open, NY far more restricted.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) February 1, 2021
FL has 2M+ more residents than NY & far more seniors.
FL 26k COVID deaths, NY 43k.
As of 1/30, FL 7,600 new cases (+4.3%), NY 10,800 (+6.3%)
FL ~6k hospitalized, NY ~8k.
FL ahead of NY on vaccinations: https://t.co/JVbArZo29C pic.twitter.com/D4ETs9brMz
When I tweet such things or share my pieces on social media, I invariably receive "rebuttals" about how Florida is hiding its data. This is a conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact, but it's alive and well on the Left – serving as fodder for "reply guys" eager to reinforce their Larger Truth that DeSantis is a monster and Florida is a nightmarish death chamber. This throwaway example, chosen at random, is paradigmatic:
Except in Florida. IDK how they can get away with so much data manipulation. Desantis is screwing us so hard down here! The Florida politics are So Super dirty! (Did u see what I did there?) What else can I do???— Anna M. E. (@Brutalitydotedu) February 15, 2021
A leftist cheers on the vaccination effort, crediting Team Biden for a vaccine trajectory and ramp-up that they inherited from Trump (Democratic disinformation on this front gets scant attention, or is actively airbrushed away), and another leftist jumps in to lament Florida as an exception to all the success. As of February 14, Florida had administered the third most shots of any state in the country. Eleven percent of their population had received at least one vaccine shot, the exact same percentage as 20 other states. On the percentage of shots administered versus doses received, the Sunshine State ranked 24th of 50. At worst, these are normal, middling results, yet large numbers of people are fanatically committed to an alternate reality in which Florida is uniquely awful and dangerous. When statistics and data are brought to bear to demonstrate that Florida is actually doing rather well on important metrics, or is at least a far cry from the preferred hellscape framing, those empirical indicators are waved away as incomplete or corrupt. Because DeSantis and his cronies are hiding the truth, you see. Except they're not.
The "evidence" generally cited on this front are crazy, debunked accusations from a deranged, fired former low-level employee who has been charged with multiple crimes (sexual stalking and illegally accessing a state database). The media lapped up Rebekah Jones' melodramatic "whistleblower" garbage with an oversized spoon because it reinforced what they all wanted to believe in their hearts, but it was all a lie. Her wild tale has unraveled, yet the myth she spread endures, no matter what any facts might show. Many Democrats and others on the Left, journalists very much included, are invested in the narrative. They're already struggling to come to terms with Andrew Cuomo's deranged implosion, so this additional blow may feel difficult to grapple with at this time. But the truth is the truth. And in this case, the truth is being delivered by a top Democratic official in Florida:
Outgoing FL emergency director @JaredEMoskowitz — a Biden-backing lone Democrat in a top FL gov post — warns Dems not to believe conspiracy theories about FL Covid deaths because it’s not true https://t.co/nVpIDSBVLI pic.twitter.com/VmGBlkyHGL— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) February 16, 2021
This committed Democrat warns his fellow partisans about buying into lies being told about Florida on COVID, calling them "conspiracy theories." Clearly, I am not the only person who's been rankled by the New York vs. Florida comparisons that are somehow presented as unfavorable toward Florida, including on pandemic-related data and openness. "It was New York that had a cover-up for the last six months, and his 50 percent of the nursing home deaths" Maskowitz points out. "We would never have gotten away with that for 15 days in Florida, let along six months." Undoubtedly true, and the media is the biggest reason why. Again, this is a high-ranking Democratic official making these points. I'll also once again note that Florida has consistently earned an "A" grade on data transparency and completeness by a COVID tracking project run by The Atlantic. Writing at Politico, Marc Caputo (quoted above) observes that the slings and arrows from progressive doomsayers have only improved Gov. DeSantis' political position. It's not an "all sizzle and no steak" situation. DeSantis' strength is the meat and potatoes of actual results – results that have consistently contradicted the hysterical predictions made by his critics:
Ron DeSantis once drew national scorn for his stewardship of Florida’s Covid-19 response — critics took to referring to the governor as “DeathSantis” for his resistance to restrictive measures. But that very blowback — marked by predictions of doom and widespread criticism for being divorced from science — has made DeSantis ascendant in the GOP...The wonky but combative governor has elevated his profile at a time when other big-state governors have been laid low...With a Covid death count cover up consuming New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a pandemic-related recall effort haunting California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Republicans are embracing DeSantis as a red-state exemplar, pointing to rates of Covid deaths, vaccinations and unemployment in the most-populous blue states...In response to his critics, DeSantis has counter-accused them of elevating the work of a “conspiracy theorist” who publishes false information about Florida’s death numbers...And he also notes that his resistance to closing beaches wasn’t the disaster critics predicted, the forecasts of overwhelmed hospitals never happened statewide and schools have been operating without community spread (even though a teachers union sued him for opening schools), and he boasts that he was among the first governors to reserve vaccines for those over 65 years old...
DeSantis is also quick to note that Florida’s death rate is 27th, below every large blue state except California, where deaths are ticking up at a faster rate in recent weeks, according to the CDC. “What we showed in Florida is you need to lead. I got a lot of blowback. A lot of that was BS, quite frankly,” DeSantis told POLITICO after a recent event in Miami. “We led on schools. We led on putting people back to work. We would not have had a Super Bowl [in Tampa] if it was not for me.” DeSantis swiped at “the national media and all these people who are self-anointed ‘experts’ ... They all said Florida would be the worst. But Covid mortality is less than the national average per capita.” “Our economy is better than the national average,” he said, referencing Florida’s unemployment rate, a booming real estate market and higher-than-expected tax revenues.
When considering Florida's Coronavirus stats, it's always important to note that the state has been a leader in resisting lockdowns and heavy-handed restrictions like school closures, has a massive and diverse population, and has one of the highest percentages of senior citizens of any state in the nation. Based on a lot of conventional wisdom, Florida should be a COVID disaster zone. But it simply is not, and its economy is thriving. This combination of realities should engender a lot of self-reflection and self-doubt among those who've pilloried Florida's approach so loudly and confidently for so long. DeSantis and company haven't been perfect, and there are undoubtedly reasonable critiques to make about the state's handling of the pandemic. But the gulf between the media's onslaught of criticism and the realities on the ground is striking. In case you missed it, I'll leave you with DeSantis taking a bit of a deserved victory lap with Tucker Carlson. Nobody is out of the woods yet, and premature celebrations are a terrible look, but these are fair points for the governor to be touting:
Florida @GovRonDeSantis tells Fox’s Tucker Carlson: "When I go around Florida, I will see New York license plates here. I doubt you see very many Florida license plates making their way to New York right now." pic.twitter.com/6gWsjDJVnM— TV News HQ (@TVNewsHQ) February 16, 2021
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis explains how his state - with one of the nation's largest elderly populations - avoided the fate of New York and New Jersey's nursing homes. pic.twitter.com/FzctAAclm0— Scott Morefield (@SKMorefield) February 16, 2021