Fear and Loathing: Media Can't Quit Bashing DeSantis, Regardless of Context or Outcomes

Posted: Feb 23, 2021 10:35 AM

If it's true that hostility from the news media is a surefire shortcut to identifying the Republicans most feared by the Left (I'd argue that this is an imperfect heuristic, and sometimes the press deliberately gives undue oxygen to people they see as harmful to the GOP), then Florida Governor Ron DeSantis should be considered a top tier contender within the party. Democrats and their news media allies would certainly love to defeat DeSantis as he seeks re-election in the Sunshine State next year, but it's fairly likely that everyone has a higher office in mind as they evaluate his future prospects. At the risk of feeling like we are constantly flogging this story, we now bring you the latest instance of the media blasting DeSantis – a narrative they've relentlessly flogged for a year, regardless of outcomes or context.

Yesterday we told you about NBC's astounding hit piece on DeSantis, which deservedly attracted widespread ridicule among many conservatives. Even some fair-minded journalists publicly rolled their eyes at its sloppiness and bias. CBS has also gotten in on the act, covering the alleged "scandal" in which a handful of communities in one Florida county gained access to vaccine doses, supposedly unfairly, due to political favoritism. Here's the quick hit from the network's morning show:

The clear implication is that politically-connected Republican donors are getting preferential treatment in the state's vaccine distribution efforts. The package briefly mentions that Publix grocery stores were selected to take the lead in that process within certain parts of Florida, suggesting that this decision may have been tied to a $100,000 donation to DeSantis' political action committee. Never mind that Publix, which is incredibly popular in Florida, has held the dominant market position in the state for years. Choosing the chain to play a core role in vaccinations is a no-brainer, not nefarious. The rest of the segment is devoted to the Manatee County flare-up in which affluent, white zip codes were given thousands of doses via a property development controlled by a company that donates to the GOP. A local Republican official is quoted expressing concerns about the "optics," as other critics voiced outrage. The voiceover emphasizes the whiteness and the affluence (bad!) of the people likely to receive this particular batch of doses.

The reporter doesn't put anyone on camera defending DeSantis' decision, quickly mentioning that the governor says he was shooting to "get the vaccine to a high concentration of seniors" in the area – which, naturally, makes sense. Florida has a disproportionately large senior population, and the state has done a good job protecting and prioritizing them; more than two million elderly Floridians have already been immunized. The piece also rolls tape on a frustrated DeSantis saying he'd be happy to send the doses to other counties if the local authorities are angry about their own citizens receiving them in a way they think is "unfair." DeSantis defended the move in more detail here. The overriding goal of the inoculation regime should be to vaccinate as many seniors – and really as many people, generally – as humanly possible, as efficiently as possible. Considerations like "equity" and "fairness" are far less important, and can in fact present obstacles to life-saving efficiency.

The short CBS clip appears intended to suggest that DeSantis is hooking up rich, pale Republicans for their shots, at the expense of others. Needless to say, playing partisan favorites has absolutely no place in vaccine administration, and if this were proven as a pattern by the governor, he'd have to answer serious questions about it. But as we highlighted in passing yesterday, there are a multitude of counter-examples all across Florida that undercut the storyline this snapshot is obviously seeking to establish. For example:

On a cool Valentine’s Day in northern Florida, more than 500 people braved heavy rain to get COVID-19 vaccination shots at St. Paul AME Church in Jacksonville. The vaccination event was part of the annual Founder’s Day celebration for the church, which is located in one of the most heavily Democratic voting precincts in the city, said the church’s pastor, Marvin Clyde Zanders II. Despite the rain, he said, it was “very well orchestrated.” ... [It was] one of more than 50 vaccination events that have been held at churches and recreation centers over the last few weeks in a concerted effort to get more shots in the arms of Floridians living in underserved communities...Those efforts to vaccinate people in underserved Florida communities were largely ignored by most mainstream media outlets this past week during a flap over a pop-up vaccination event at a wealthy community along the state’s Gulf Coast...State and national media jumped on the Democrats’ complaints and amplified the controversy...Most of the media coverage, however, either played down or completely ignored the efforts by DeSantis’s administration to target vaccines to the state’s underserved populations.

This National Review piece showcased an informative interview with a senior Democrat in Florida's government (the same man who has laudably dispelled conspiracies and false rumors on his side of the aisle regarding Florida's COVID response, in which he is heavily involved). These insights offer a dramatically different perspective:

Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s emergency management director and a Democrat, said the state has multiple strategies for distributing the vaccine, including through open points of distribution, where anyone who qualifies can make an appointment, pharmacies, hospitals and physician clinics. They also distribute the vaccine through what are called “closed PODs,” which are only open to select populations. The 51 churches and recreation centers that have had vaccination events are closed PODs. “We started doing this with churches because we were very concerned that doses were not getting to the minority community,” Moskowitz said. “Even though we had sites in the minority community, because of the digital divide of booking appointments online and vaccine hesitancy, they were not getting into the minority community.” Among the 51 churches and recreation centers where the state has had vaccination events are: Holy Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Opa-Locka, a poor majority-black city in Miami-Dade County; a recreation center in downtown Fort Myers; and at least two churches in the overwhelmingly Hispanic city of Hialeah, in Miami-Dade.

Moskowitz said the state was targeting Manatee County last week because it was one of several Gulf Coast counties that are behind the state average for vaccinating seniors. It was a closed POD, with vaccinations limited to people over 65 in two ZIP Codes. DeSantis’s office chose the location for the event, Moskowitz said. It is one of at least a dozen similar events that have been held across the state targeting senior communities, he said.  Moskowitz said the media jumped on the Manatee County vaccination event because it “fit a narrative that many wanted to tell." ... There are different challenges in different communities to getting people vaccinated, including historic vaccine hesitancy in the black community and more recent politicization of the vaccine in rural white communities, Moskowitz said. He said he recently spent time in Miami vaccinating people in homeless camps. Ultimately, he said, vaccine distribution in Florida is based on math, not politics. Florida leads the nation in vaccinating seniors 65 and older.