Every weekend, we look at the news stories shaping the conversations in Florida’s business, public policy, and political worlds. Here’s this weekend’s Capitolist wrap-up, which we call “The Wrap.”
Introducing The Capitolist “Media Check”
Fact-checking websites are a dime-a-dozen these days, and the worst ones are partisan outlets pretending to be legitimate, unbiased news sources. Not us. We aren’t pretending. We don’t hide our pro-business, pro-free market, center-right agenda. And we aren’t trying to do anything with our new “Media Check” feature except body check wayward media outlets like a hockey player bodychecks an opponent into the boards.
In this first installment, we take a look at a demonstrably false media narrative that has started to gain traction to the delight of progressive opponents of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, that he is “anti-mask” and “anti-vaccine,” and the suggestion that Florida is a “low vaccination state.”
Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times ran a story headlined “Anti-vaccine, anti-mask governors push an experimental antibody therapy.” Other media outlets and political operatives have echoed the narrative. The LA Times story was riddled with all the hallmarks of partisan journalism: in addition to the unsupportable claim in the headline, it also included a dirty attempt to paint DeSantis and Florida with the broad brush of being a “low-vaccination state,” implying it without actually saying it. The White House tried this same trick last month, and got called on it by the Heritage Foundation, where they talk about “low vaccination states” and then lump Florida in with them as if they are related.
Here’s the offending LA Times graph verbatim:
The rush has been fueled in no small part by governors in Southern states, where vaccinations lag and hospitalizations are soaring thanks to infections caused by the Delta variant. Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas are among leaders touting the antibody treatments even as they downplay vaccination and other measures that health officials say can prevent illness in the first place.
It’s important to note that almost the entire story, a rather lengthy one at 31 paragraphs, is all about Florida and DeSantis. So when they toss in the line about “governors in Southern states, where vaccinations lag” in one of the first handful of paragraphs, the reporter (or her perhaps her editor) wants you to infer that one of those low vaccination states is Florida.
It’s not. Florida is actually among the leading states in terms of overall and partially vaccinated citizens, according to this chart from the Mayo clinic.
And what about DeSantis’s “anti-vaccination” position? You don’t need The Capitolist to debunk the lie. Just read the LA Times original story. Of course, you have to stick with it, all the way down to paragraph 20, about two-thirds of the way in, to see how the LA Times literally contradicted its own headline with a direct quote from DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw:
“Prevention and treatment are not mutually exclusive,” she said in an email. “Both monoclonals and vaccines save lives. The difference is that vaccines are preventative and cannot help someone who is already infected with covid-19.”
Does that sound like DeSantis is anti-vax? Or are media outlets pushing this narrative just anti-DeSantis?
DeSantis’s inconsistency isn’t doing himself any favors
If there’s legitimate criticism to be made of DeSantis, it’s in the frustrating logical inconsistency in his anti-mandate policy, where he wants to allow individuals to make their own health care choices, but his own state agencies – at his direction – aren’t providing helpful data that many would rely on to make those decisions.
As a 51-year old parent with a healthy respect for the dangers of the virus, it would be helpful to know the exact numbers of new cases, new hospitalizations, and in particular, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths broken down by vaccinated “breakthrough cases” versus unvaccinated cases. Why is my state not providing that information?
What greater argument for getting the vaccine is there than the data point that roughly 95 percent of all hospitalizations are of unvaccinated patients?
Just as with hurricanes, where our state goes to extreme lengths to inform people about the forecast and dangers of approaching storms, we should be doing the same thing with COVID-19: provide more data, not less. Hurricanes are largely devoid of politics, of course, with Republicans and Democrats fervently opposed to them. That’s not true with the coronavirus pandemic, though, a news story with a stark partisan choice: the Republican argument for personal freedom and responsibility, pitted against the Democrat argument for government intervention, mandates and lockdowns.
As we’ve already shown with LA Times, the anti-DeSantis media is very crafty in the way it can turn facts into lies, and then turn lies into clickbait stories about how Florida’s latest outbreak is all Ron DeSantis’s fault. But Republicans have long figured out ways to outmaneuver this yellow journalism. DeSantis should embrace the radical transparency that would empower all Floridians to make their own health care choices armed with the full power of the state’s health data.
And now, the answer to the question you actually came here for: Is Ron DeSantis a Bonesman?
For months, people have written to The Capitolist speculating and wondering aloud about whether or not Governor Ron DeSantis, while attending Yale University, was a member of the elite secret society known as “Skull and Bones.” Those old enough to remember the 2004 Presidential Election will recall that particular contest pitted two such “Bonesmen,” George W. Bush and John Kerry, against each other.
According to Wikipedia, “Skull and Bones, also known as The Order, Order 322 or The Brotherhood of Death is an undergraduate senior secret student society at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.” The Wikipedia article also says “Skull and Bones has become a cultural institution known for its powerful alumni and various conspiracy theories. It is one of the “Big Three” societies at Yale, the other two being Scroll and Key and Wolf’s Head.”
A CBS News 60 Minutes story from 2003 suggested that the organization is actually very small, with about 15 seniors inducted each year.
So is Florida’s Governor a Bonesman?
It took weeks to track down the truth, but the answer is a simple no. The Capitolist confirmed through a well-placed source that DeSantis “was not in Skull and Bones.” The source, however, would not rule out the governor’s potential membership in “other societies at Yale.”
Gulp…does that mean he’s a member of “Scroll and Key” or perhaps “Wolf’s Head?”
The source was likely referring to DeSantis’s membership in Yale’s St. Elmo Society, which Wikipedia describes as an “open secret society” (whatever that means) where eight men and eight women are selected each year based on “scholastic standing, his or her seriousness of purpose, maturity, individuality, and other achievements at the university.” DeSantis’s name is even listed on the Wikipedia page under the “notable members” section, so his membership with St. Elmo’s isn’t exactly a big secret.
And that’s a wrap for this week.