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Fact Check: Debunking the Latest Dishonest Hit Piece on Florida and Ron DeSantis

AP Photo/John Raoux

It never ends. Just last week, we decimated the latest baseless attack on Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis over COVID data, writing, "progressives and journalists – one and the same, in most cases – started attacking the state on this front at the onset of the pandemic and have never ceased, irrespective of the data or real-world outcomes. Correcting misinformation, clarifying the record, debunking myths, and checking facts on these matters sometimes feels like a full-time project." And here we have the latest installment in that seemingly full-time project. Yahoo News published a "news" item by a journalist who appears to have an axe to grind against DeSantis, which hardly makes him unique within the news media constellation. How this piece got approved by editors, however, is beyond me. It's embarrassing propaganda, and it had its intended effect, trending widely on social media and elsewhere – with leftists eagerly sharing the story as confirmation of Their Truth about Florida. A few examples of the tweets whizzing through my timeline this week: 


The misinformation was also amplified by Florida Democrats Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried, who will likely be DeSantis' Democratic challenger next year. The story begins: "New research published earlier this month in the American Journal of Public Health argues that Florida is undercounting the number of people who died from COVID-19 by thousands of cases, casting new doubt on claims that Gov. Ron DeSantis navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully." In fact, the "undercounting" claim is rooted in so-called "excess deaths," which is not a "new" issue at all. As we've mentioned previously, there are gaps all across the country (and the world) between officially tallied COVID deaths and "excess" deaths during the course of the pandemic, beyond typical death totals under normal conditions. If this were unique to Florida, this story might mean something. If Florida had a uniquely large disconnect between COVID and "excess" deaths, that also might mean something. But neither one of those is the case. Sixteen paragraphs into the piece – having offered dark implications about supposedly underhanded DeSantis decisions and requisite Trump signaling – the reporter finally gets around to this: 


[The] findings have not been universally accepted. Lauren Rossen, a statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has analyzed excess deaths, told Yahoo News that she saw nothing exceptionally suspicious in the state’s excess death numbers. “Florida doesn’t stand out to me,” she said...Jason Salemi, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida, told Yahoo News that it was wrong to assume that every excess death during the period in question should be attributed directly to those who contracted the coronavirus, especially since people who were never infected may still have been fearful of seeking care for other conditions while the pandemic surged and hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients. “You could’ve never gotten the coronavirus, delayed needed health care, and died from diabetes-related complications. That’s still indirectly tied to the pandemic,” Salemi told Yahoo News, describing Florida’s statistics regarding all-cause excess deaths and the coronavirus as “kind of middle-of-the-pack.” Excess deaths were at 21 percent nationwide for 2020, according to the CDC; Florida saw a 15.5 percent rate of excess deaths for the period that Tatar studied. 

So the big "gotcha" that's stirring "new scrutiny" and "casting doubt" on Florida's approach is that there have been excess deaths in the state. But Florida's excess deaths gap is better – i.e., less potentially "suspicious" – than the national average, by a substantial margin. Indeed, based on New York Times data recently compiled on this very subject, Florida's excess deaths gap is lower than those of at least 15 states run by Democratic governors, some of which have far wider canyons between their official COVID deaths and excess deaths data points. We reviewed a few examples on Fox Business: 


New York City's excess deaths gap is more than three times higher than Florida's, yet this story got written about Florida. It's a pure hit piece, the goal of which is to concoct a negative storyline for readers, who will share it everywhere, never reading down to the part of the story that reveals its entire premise as complete and utter hogwash. Mission accomplished. I'll leave you with this. Remember that study referenced at the top of the Yahoo News story, as a pretext for attacking Florida and DeSantis? Its author said its findings were misrepresented in the article. A disgrace, from top to bottom: 

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