Over the weekend, Florida’s media elite collectively worked itself into one of those rare, frothing tizzies that only comes along once in a great while. This time, it happened on the heels of a report that Joseph Ladapo, the state’s newly appointed surgeon general, dared to exhale, maskless, within eyesight of a Democrat State Senator who had insisted that he mask up in her presence. The senator, Tina Polsky, we simultaneously learned, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, which the media tells us automatically makes Ladapo a colossal jerk.
The incident happened on Wednesday, October 20th, yet we didn’t learn of it until the left-leaning website Florida Politics published Polsky’s account some four days after the fact. The initial story contained extensive details from Polsky’s perspective, and an understandably reserved – and later botched – response from Ladapo that produced a one-sided account of the incident. It would be wrong to fault reporter Christine Sexton for this – she appears to have given Ladapo every opportunity to share his side of the story – and he, apparently not fully appreciating the media outrage that would follow, attempted to downplay the days-old incident without working to diffuse the potentially explosive situation.
From a public relations perspective, he didn’t really have a lot of options here, except perhaps to eat a slice of humble pie and apologize. But he didn’t.
Left to their own ideological defaults, Florida’s media would have almost certainly pounced anyway, decrying Ladapo’s “rudeness” and siding automatically with Polsky – especially in light of her disclosure to Ladapo that she had a “serious medical condition” (she apparently didn’t elaborate with him). But Republican Senator Wilton Simpson, who presides over the Senate as its president, conducted his own internal fact gathering of the situation and concluded, rightly, that if Ladapo wanted a meeting on her turf, he should have donned a mask. Period.
Nevermind the fact that Polsky was caught on video, sitting in close proximity with a fellow Democrat for 35 minutes, both of them maskless, the very same day. And nevermind that she’s been spotted in videos and photos on other days since her cancer diagnosis with other equally maskless Democrats, too. And, finally, nevermind the fact that Polsky later admitted she “hasn’t been consistent” in wearing her mask or enforcing her masking policy. None of that matters to Democrats or the media, and as Simpson pointed out, it was her office and if she wanted to insist that Ladapo wear a mask, it was her right to do so.
From Simpson’s perspective, it was that simple. His show of backbone to defend one of his members – regardless of party – is a timely reminder that the legislative branch remains equal in stature to the executive branch, a fact that is often forgotten in today’s cult-of-personality politics.
By Monday though, emboldened perhaps a bit too much by Simpson’s statement, the media onslaught had snowballed into a national frenzy, with Polsky making an appearance on CNN, and later two appearances on MSNBC. She also did local television interviews, playing the victim card perfectly. Here’s a typical excerpt of her account, which comes off as almost laughable in light of the other videos showing her maskless:
“I kept backing up into my aide’s office,” she said. “I was so uncomfortable being so close to these three people who weren’t masked, and it just went on too long and I should have asked him to leave earlier. Finally, I said, ‘I know everything I need to know. Can you please leave now?'”
That’s it. That’s the whole conflagration in a nutshell. The same sort of “masked vs. unmasked” interaction that happens thousands of times every single day across America, from coffee shops to church pews, from taxi cabs to senator’s offices. And while tempers often flare, the interactions need not result in careers being ruined.
But in Florida, there are political points to be scored, and Ladapo now finds himself at the center of a national media firestorm, with the Orlando Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, and Daytona Beach News Journal editorial boards all moving in lockstep with the Florida Democratic Party in leading the cry for Ladapo’s figurative head on a pike.
It’s at once a comical overreaction by Florida’s media to an admittedly unforced error by DeSantis’s surgeon general. And it may result in a rough landing for DeSantis and Ladapo in the upcoming special session on mask mandates. But it remains rich that the anti-DeSantis media is using the incident as a rallying cry to torpedo Ladapo.
None of what transpired so far erases the fact that Ladapo remains a well-qualified and experienced physician. But he led with his chin on turf that was not his own, and for that, he got a sharp pop to the chops from the legislative branch. In a sane world, that should be the end of the matter. Calls for his resignation are way overblown.
Unsurprisingly, a number of Florida’s once esteemed editorial boards have (once more) exposed themselves as partisan echo chambers for unhinged Democrats. Their unanimous condemnation isn’t evidence of the egregiousness of Ladapo’s offense, it’s evidence of their own partisanship and reveals a lack of dissent and critical thinking within their own newsrooms. The entire affair should be dismissed as a minor disagreement that was initially resolved privately, and only later exploited for political gain.