CBS News' "60 Minutes" this week faced criticism for a report about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' handling of vaccine distribution that echoed newspaper
reports suggesting a "pay to play" arrangement between the governor and a local grocery chain. A major flaw with that narrative is that credible public officials have come forward to refute the claim.
The "60 Minutes" report said it had obtained public records showing Publix Super Markets had donated $100,000 to a DeSantis political action committee weeks before the grocery chain was
rewarded with a deal to distribute thousands of vaccines at its pharmacies. There wasn't any news in the report or in its suggestion of a pay-to-play arrangement -- the Miami Herald ran an op-ed with that very accusation two months earlier.
Missing from the claim is any reporting that delves into how Publix was chosen as a distributor of vaccines, including interviews with officials who oversaw the program. Among those officials are
people aligned with the Democratic Party, who might be expected to jump at the chance to take down DeSantis, a Republican.
In response to the "60 Minutes" report, Jared Moskowitz, a former
Democrat state congressman who leads the Florida Division of Emergency Management, tweeted that his agency and the
Florida Department of Health -- not the governor's office -- recommended Publix.
“I said this before, and I’ll say it again,” he tweeted. “Publix was
recommended by [Florida Division of Emergency Management] and [Florida Department of Health] as the other pharmacies were not ready to start.”
Moskowitz also re-tweeted
an earlier statement that criticized the Miami Herald, which pointed out that Publix was a big donor to DeSantis, for its reporting about vaccine distribution.
“This idea why Publix was picked has been utter nonsense," he said. "We reached out to all pharmacies, and they were the only one who at the time could execute on the mission. The federal
government delayed the federal pharmacy program, and we yet again stepped up first to serve more seniors.”
, the Democrat mayor of Palm Beach County featured in the "60 Minutes" story, described it as
“intentionally false.” In a public statement, he said “60 Minutes” had declined his offer to provide a counterpoint, and that it should be “ashamed.”
In addition to those criticisms, "60 Minutes" also has been accused of selectively editing its footage of a press conference where correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi directly asked Gov.
DeSantis about a pay-to-play arrangement with Publix. In a comparison of the "60 Minutes" story with other footage of the press conference, Politifact
found the news program cut out significant parts of DeSantis'
answers -- including a more detailed description of how Publix was chosen to distribute vaccines.
CBS News issued three public statements to defend its reporting and editing of the
DeSantis interview, but didn't address the pay-to-play accusation against the Florida governor. Instead, it said it interviewed Moskowitz twice, "but he declined to be interviewed on camera until
after its deadline." Nice to know that "60 Minutes"
anyone who can't do a televised interview. CBS also said it "spoke on the record with Palm Beach County Mayor David Kerner," which is an admission that it also ignored the mayor's statements in its
Also, if "60 Minutes" wants to claim that vaccination distribution in Florida was systemically racist, it needs to provide more context and comparisons with other regions. Practically
every other state can be accused of favoring wealthy, White people in the effort to vaccinate the elderly who are most vulnerable to dying from COVID-19. Older people tend to be richer than the
general population after saving and investing for a longer period. Whites also make up a bigger portion
of people over age 65, as compared with younger generations that are more multiethnic. The disparities are likely even bigger in Florida, which has a massive population of retirees. By targeting DeSantis alone, the "60 Minutes" report comes off as a politically motivated smear that
undermines its credibility.