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Another DeSantis 'Scandal' Implodes

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Did you hear about the latest "evidence" reported by the "news" media that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is both terrible on COVID and corrupt? The Associated Press published a story yesterday that quickly gained traction among the "RON DEATHSENTENCE" crowd – primarily comprised of bored resistance warriors and nervous leftists seeking to kill his political career (many journalists fall into both categories, of course). The headline looked pretty damning. Why is DeSantis resisting government mask mandates while peddling expensive snake oil from which his fat cat donor profits? "Scandal" alert: 


Beyond the headline, which seems specifically engineered to generate shares, go viral, and create the appearance of an ethical and COVID-related cloud over DeSantis (we've seen this play before), the "story" falls apart. There's nothing newsworthy here, aside from the governor of a large state in the midst of a nasty seasonal COVID spike proactively providing life-saving treatments to eligible residents. The more details you read, the smaller the supposed problem gets – to the point that it actually flips, and DeSantis becomes the protagonist. The first few paragraphs (beyond which few people ever read, if they read past the headline), create the atmospherics of a scandal: 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who has been criticized for opposing mask mandates and vaccine passports — is now touting a COVID-19 antibody treatment in which a top donor’s company has invested millions of dollars. DeSantis has been flying around the state promoting Regeneron, a monoclonal antibody treatment that was used on then-President Donald Trump after he tested positive for COVID-19. The governor first began talking about it as a treatment last year. Citadel, a Chicago-based hedge fund, has $15.9 million in shares of Regeneron Pharmaceutical, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Citadel CEO Ken Griffin has donated $10.75 million to a political committee that supports DeSantis — $5.75 million in 2018 and $5 million last April.


And then come...all the other details: 

It’s not unusual for hedge funds to have a wide range of investments. And BlackRock, which has primarily donated to Democratic candidates, though has also donated substantially to Republicans, has a large holding in the company - more so than Citadel. “Early treatment with these monoclonal antibodies – Regeneron and others – have proven to radically reduce the chances that somebody ends up being hospitalized,” DeSantis said Monday at a treatment site in Orlando. “Reducing hospital admissions has got to be a top priority.” Experts agree with him. The drugs, when given within 10 days of initial symptoms, have been shown to cut rates of hospitalization and death by roughly 70%. “We definitely need treatments like monoclonal antibodies that can prevent mild disease from progressing to severe disease. Ultimately, it’s still best to prevent someone from contracting COVID-19 in the first place,” said Dr. Leana Wen, public health professor at George Washington University and former Baltimore Health Commissioner...

Citadel’s investment in Regeneron is a tiny fraction of its overall $39 billion in investments, but if the stock price were to go up, Citadel would benefit. DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw points out that Citadel has far greater investments in Moderna and Pfizer, which manufacture COVID-19 vaccines. But the relationship has generated a buzz on social media, as Democrats question the relationship ... Florida has set up treatment sites in Jacksonville, Orlando and Brevard County. The state plans to add more sites...The federal government is paying for the monoclonal antibody treatments and patients aren’t being charged for the antibody cocktail. 

Well then. A huge Democrat-funding hedge fund is invested much more heavily in this company, which is a fractional part of DeSantis' donor's hedge fund portfolio. Indeed, Citadel is much more deeply invested in companies that produced the wildly successful COVID vaccines that DeSantis has repeatedly and consistently touted. Strangely, the AP headline was not, "DeSantis Promotes COVID Vaccines Linked to Ally's Investments." In fairness, the media has already tried to make a scandal out of DeSantis' smart and successful vaccine distribution strategy, an effort that famously crashed and burned (I look forward to "60 Minutes" blowing the lid off the Regeneron story in a few months). Beyond that, the treatment works. The drug cuts hospitalization and death rates by 70 percent among COVID-infected patients who receive it within a week and a half of initial symptoms. And the feds have already picked up the tab for these treatments, which cost patients zero dollars, just like the vaccine. Are vaccines still significantly preferable, more effective against hospitalization and death, and far more cost effective? Absolutely, which is why DeSantis continues to promote them. But should Florida, er, not offer an effective treatment to people who've already contracted the virus? The criticisms are incoherent.  The story quotes a lefty public health expert endorsing using monoclonal antibodies this way, and even the Biden White House has praised the practice. This somehow didn't make it into the AP hit piece: 

Facing overcrowded hospitals and an unrelenting surge of Delta variant cases around the country, the Biden administration on Thursday renewed its call for health providers to use monoclonal antibody treatments, which can help Covid-19 patients who are at risk of getting very sick. Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a White House adviser on racial equity in health, said at a news conference that federal “surge teams” deployed to hard-hit states were working to increase uptake of and confidence in the antibody drugs. They have already been administered to more than 600,000 people in the United States during the pandemic, she said, preventing hospitalizations and helping save lives. 


That's quite literally what DeSantis has been doing. Here's the former FDA chief arguing that if anything, we haven't been using Regeneron enough

The implication that DeSantis did something underhanded here to benefit a donor is precisely as well-supported as the claim that he distributed vaccines at Publix as a reward for a modest political donation – which is to say, not at all supported. A reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, not exactly a right-wing outpost, felt compelled to engage in some extra fact-checking. To his credit, it's thorough and devastating to the narrative the AP tried to fuel, citing "buzz on social media" and "Democrats questioning" the situation (Florida Democrats are promoting this conspiracy theory, of course): 


Predictably, the AP reporter (who was given all of this information before his piece was published), is now playing the victim card because some online jerks allegedly overreacted to his hit piece and made indefensible threats. I'll cosign this: 

The DeSantis spokeswoman didn't "harass" the journalist. She did her job, furnished him with pertinent facts, then blasted him when he wrote a non-news story with a garbage headline anyway. Regeneron is also in the news cycle involving another GOP governor, hence the CBNC clip above. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has contracted a mild case of COVID despite being fully vaccinated. In order to prevent any serious symptoms from developing (unlikely due to his vaxxed status, but he does have a disability), he's taken Regeneron, which is the point of the treatment. Lefties far and wide are dunking on Abbott for...catching a highly contagious airborne illness against which he's heavily protected through vaccination, having strongly encouraged vaccines across his state. Because masks mandates, or something. It makes no sense

There is no "idea here." The broadsides and mockery are the equivalent of tribal grunting against a common "enemy," regardless of facts or context. I'll leave you with this chart, which shows the seasonal COVID spike in Hawaii (with many more restrictions and mandates in place than Texas), where hospitals are filling up (language warning): 


Have you seen lots of breathless media coverage or social media trends about the terrible Delta wave spike in Hawaii? You haven't? Could it possibly be because there are no Republicans to blame? Last word to DeSantis, who leads both major potential challengers in a new poll, for what it's worth: 

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