Florida is not only miles ahead of most other states when it comes to managing the threat to nursing homes and assisted living facilities from coronavirus, but also miles ahead of other states when it comes to sharing data and information related to nursing home infections, hospitalizations and deaths. But the Miami Herald apparently wants its readers to believe that Governor Ron DeSantis is engaged in a massive cover-up of a “flurry of deaths” at assisted living facilities around the state.
Don’t believe them.
Last week, Florida’s leading unionized newspaper published a breaking news story alleging the cover-up. The Herald’s headline garnered national attention because it was so sensational. Here’s what it looked like:
There are a couple of big problems with this story, the first of which is the implication of a cover up. Any objective interpretation of that headline leads the reader to believe that Florida’s governor is actively engaged in some sort of suppression of bad news relating to deaths at nursing homes. In fact, national news aggregators picked up on that vibe, and the Drudge Report even linked it with “cover up” in the headline.
Unfortunately, the Herald’s editors, likely desperate for ad revenue, have a tendency to write headlines that are far more sensational than the underlying facts can support. That’s the case here. There was no “flurry of deaths” that DeSantis was hiding. The Herald’s reporter, Carol Marbin Miller, focused her story on a handful of reporting discrepancies in the statistics between what the Miami Herald already had gathered, and the report provided by DeSantis. Those discrepancies make for a legitimate beef, as it’s increasingly difficult to get consistent data about the crisis from the state, due to formatting differences, changes in reporting times, changes in reporting frequency, and changes in what gets reported at all. The Herald had asked the state for specific data on nursing home deaths, and they finally got it.
But rather than a “cover up,” as the Miami Herald’s headline writer (not Marbin Miller) cleverly tries to imply, it’s far more likely the DeSantis administration just doesn’t trust the Miami Herald to report fairly on the matter. Why rush to hand your enemy a loaded gun he (or she) can use against you? Who can blame the governor for not being in a hurry to have the Miami Herald publish yet another overly sensationalized headline that isn’t supported by the facts? That’s seems to be what happened here.
Contrast the Herald’s headline (above) with the rather mundane take published by the Sun Sentinel when they received the exact same information sent to the Herald:
No “flurry of deaths.” No implied cover up. Just the facts, ma’am. Yet even the Sun Sentinel unfairly takes the DeSantis administration to the proverbial woodshed for what it views as a delay in reporting. That, too isn’t supported by the facts.
The Kaiser Health Foundation has an entirely different take on the matter. A report examining data from each state and the amount of information published by each state found that Florida was among the national leaders in the level of information provided and in having a significantly lower number of deaths in long term care facilities statewide. Florida is one of the top five states in the nation in total number of nursing home residents, but fares significantly better in terms of known deaths: eight other states reported higher numbers of deaths, while 28 states failed to report any data whatsoever. Florida is clearly exceeding expectations.
If the Miami Herald actually had information that undercut the Kaiser Foundation’s data, they would have published it. They didn’t. That’s why all we’re left with is a sensational, but ultimately misleading headline.