Florida Governor Ron DeSantis came out swinging today at a press conference where he countered the “malicious smears” and “lies” in a recent 60 Minutes segment. His rebuttal was enough to make similar squabbles between former President Donald Trump and the media look like a light-weight sparring match.
“I can say without question — without question — by putting seniors first, by having a very diverse approach in terms of these distribution mechanisms, we saved lives.
“We absolutely saved lives. We done good. I don’t need any plaudits from corporate media, but if they’re going to come down here and smear our efforts or smear me or smear great companies in my state, I’m going to hit them back right between the eyes,” DeSantis told a room full of reporters at the Florida Capitol.
He said 75 percent of the senior population in Florida has been vaccinated.
“We’ve done it in ways that have been very innovative and, quite frankly, very successful and I think because of that… we became the target of malicious smears which have fallen apart over the last few days, but I think are even more false than even what most people have even believed already,” DeSantis said.
Sunday’s 60 Minutes segment accused the governor of having a “pay to play” scheme with Publix to distribute the vaccine, made possible, allegedly, by a $100,000 donation from Publix to the governor’s political action committee.
DeSantis seemed most upset by 60 Minutes’ assertion that Publix had an “exclusive” deal and that underprivileged communities were denied access to the vaccine in West Palm Beach.
He discussed the Orlando press conference where the 60 Minutes reporter accused him of pay-for-play. He said, and there is video evidence to back him up, that he went through the selection process of Publix and the others involved and showed how the decision to include Publix in the vaccine distribution effort came about, but they edited that part out.
“I gave a very detailed answer. That answer was edited out. Every single fact that I discussed was edited out. The fact that Publix wasn’t even the first pharmacy to get (the vaccine), CVS and Walgreens had that. The fact that we had it obviously in hospitals in these other places… all edited out.”
“So there was never a deal,” DeSantis stated repetitively, “and there was also never exclusivity. This is something that I told them during that press conference, and they lied about it. They put that statement on the air knowing it was a lie.”
He said Jared Moskowitz, outgoing director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, a Democrat, approached Walmart first about distributing the vaccine, but they needed more time to get ready than Publix, which, said it could be ready in 72 hours. DeSantis said it was the County Mayor of Palm Beach County David Kerner, also a Democrat, who calculated 90 percent of the seniors live within a mile and a half of a Publix in Palm Beach County.
Even though 60 Minutes had this information, DeSantis said, “they cut it out because they knew that would hurt their narrative. So everything they left on the cutting room floor was designed to take away all the evidence against their narrative. It was malicious what they did.”
He said as early as December, Florida had health department, hospital, and faith-based vaccination sites all over Palm Beach County, including the more disadvantaged area of West Palm Beach spotlighted in the 60 Minutes segment. A man interviewed by 60 Minutes claimed his African-American community did not have access to the vaccine, but DeSantis showed a picture of that very man at Tabernacle Baptist Church as vaccines were arriving.
DeSantis said to the group of media gathered at the press conference, “60 Minutes was in Florida for three months, trying to dig up dirt. They wanted to smear Florida. They wanted to smear our vaccination effort. They obviously wanted to smear me. They spent three months and the best they could come up with is a half-baked conspiracy theory that literally is readily debunked by talking to like two people. So, I think that that means we probably did a pretty good job because if we had done a really bad job, they would have actually had facts that they could have relied on to try to do the hit piece.”
In a brief statement on Monday, a CBS spokesperson said 60 Minutes edited DeSantis’ remarks for “clarity,” adding that the program “used the portion of the Governor’s over 2-minute response that directly addressed the question from the correspondent.
In a longer statement on Tuesday, 60 Minutes stood by its report and said, “For over 50 years, the facts reported by 60 Minutes have often stirred debate and prompted strong reactions. Our story Sunday night speaks for itself.”