WASHINGTON

Want to understand why a January poll found that 56% of Americans believe that “journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations”? Just look at the hit job “60 Minutes” did on Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

According to “60 Minutes,” critics alleged that DeSantis engaged in “pay-to-play” with his vaccine rollout, favoring the grocery chain Publix by giving it the vaccine distribution contract in Palm Beach County after the company gave $100,000 to his reelection campaign. When correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi asked him about it at a news conference, DeSantis systematically took apart her accusations—but “60 Minutes” selectively edited his answer to remove the exculpatory information.

Fortunately, video of DeSantis’ full news conference is available online, so we can compare what he actually said with the edited version “60 Minutes” shared.

According to DeSantis, it was Democratic officials in Palm Beach who wanted to use Publix because it was closest to most of their seniors. The governor explained that at the time, other pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens were busy vaccinating people at long-term care facilities, so they were not available for retail distribution. He turned to Publix because “they were the first one to raise their hand, say they were ready to go. And ... we did it on a trial basis.” The feedback from seniors, he said, “was 100% positive, so we expanded it.”

Local Democratic officials “calculated that 90% of their seniors live within a mile and a half of a Publix,” according to DeSantis, “and they said, ‘We think that would be the easiest thing for our residents.’ ... We’ve (vaccinated) almost 75% of the seniors in Palm Beach. And the reason is because you had the strong retail footprint, so our way has been multifaceted, it has worked, and we’re also now very much expanding CVS and Walgreens now that they’ve completed the long-term care mission.”

None of that aired in the “60 Minutes” report. But “60 Minutes” didn’t have to take DeSantis’ word for it. Why not ask Palm Beach’s Democratic mayor if the governor was telling the truth? After the broadcast aired, Mayor Dave Kerner declared in a statement that the program’s reporting “was not just based on bad information—it was intentionally false.”

He said, “I know this because I offered to provide my insight into Palm Beach County’s vaccination efforts and 60 Minutes declined. They know that the Governor came to Palm Beach County and met with me and the county administrator and we asked to expand the state’s partnership with Publix to Palm Beach County. ... They had that information, and they left it out because it kneecaps their narrative.”

“60 Minutes” disputed this in a statement, declaring that “we ... spoke on the record with Palm Beach County Mayor David Kerner.” But if so, that would be even worse because Kerner’s interview never made it into their broadcast, while an interview with neighboring West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James criticizing the governor did.

DeSantis was also backed by the Democratic head of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Jared Moskowitz, who said that he and not the governor chose Publix for vaccine distribution.

“We reached out to all pharmacies and they were the only one who at the time could execute on the mission,” he tweeted, adding, “No one from the Governors office suggested Publix. It’s just absolute malarkey.”

It’s no surprise that these Florida Democrats are backing the state’s Republican governor. DeSantis is doing what President Joe Biden promised but failed to do: bringing Democrats and Republicans together to address an issue that should be above partisanship.

The fact is under DeSantis’ leadership, Florida has been a pandemic success story. Unlike California, which instituted a draconian lockdown this winter, DeSantis kept Florida open for business, saving countless jobs. And the AP reports that “despite their differing approaches, California and Florida have experienced almost identical outcomes in COVID-19 case rates.”

Florida’s vaccination effort has been an overwhelming success because DeSantis rejected the complex, tiered approach that slowed down vaccine rollouts in other states, and he allowed anyone over 65 to get the vaccine.

As a result, by the end of January, Florida led the nation in vaccinations of seniors. This is why, despite this biased report, DeSantis’ reputation has been enhanced—while that of “60 Minutes” lays in tatters.

Follow Marc A.

Thiessen on Twitter,

@marcthiessen.

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