Media

’60 Minutes’ Flamed Over ‘Hit Job’ Against Gov. DeSantis, Publix On Vaccine Distribution

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Shelby Talcott Media Reporter
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CBS News’ “60 Minutes” is under fire over a recent report alleging that Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis chose Publix to partner with the state for the vaccine rollout due to donations the company made to his political committee.

The report, which aired Sunday, focused on the fact that residents living in one of the poorest parts of Palm Beach County were forced to travel for the vaccine, as the Florida-based supermarket chain isn’t located in the area, while wealthier communities allegedly had easier access to it.

Critics quickly pointed out that the segment left out important context regarding details about why Publix, the super market with the most stores in Florida, was given distribution rights for Palm Beach County. (RELATED: A Look At Media Bias In Coverage Of Different Governors’ Responses To Coronavirus)

The first issue with the report surrounded correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi’s chat with DeSantis. Alfonsi met up with the Republican governor at a press conference in Florida and pushed him on the “pay–to–play” accusations surrounding the vaccine distribution.

“60 Minutes'” airing of that exchange, however, cut out important details regarding DeSantis’ explanation on why Publix was chosen to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

The aired clip shows Alfonsi bringing up the $100,000 Publix donation to DeSantis and asserting that he “rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach.” DeSantis pushed back quickly and Alfonsi then asked how the situation wasn’t a “pay–to-play.”

CBS News cut out a huge portion of DeSantis’ explanation regarding the decision to give vaccine distribution to Publix. Instead of including his full explanation, the show suggested he went right from saying that the story was “a fake narrative” to his claims on who he spoke with in figuring out Florida’s best options.

The biggest portion that “60 Minutes” cut out is available below:

So, first of all, when we did – the first pharmacies that had it were CVS and Walgreens, and they had a long-term care mission. So they were going to the long-term care facilities. They got the vaccine in the middle of December, they started going to the long-term care facilities the third week of December to do LTCs. So that was their mission. That was very important. And we trusted them to do that. As we got into January, we wanted to expand the distribution points. So, yes, you had the counties, you had some drive-through sites, you had hospitals that were doing a lot, but we wanted to get it into communities more. So we reached out to other retail pharmacies — Publix, Walmart — obviously CVS and Walgreens had to finish that mission. And we said, ‘we’re going to use you as soon as you’re done with that.’ For the Publix, they were the first one to raise their hand, say they were ready to go. And you know what, we did it on a trial basis. I had three counties. I actually showed up that weekend and talked to seniors across four different Publix. ‘How was the experience? Is this good? Should you think this is a way to go?’ And it was 100% positive. So we expanded it, and then folks liked it. And I can tell you, if you look at a place like Palm Beach County, they were kind of struggling at first in terms of the senior numbers.

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Other critics continued on to point out that Publix also made donations to Democrats in 2020, though the company did donate more to Republicans. In addition to the four $25,000 donations highlighted by “60 Minutes,” Publix also donated to DeSantis two other times – once in November 2019 and a second time in January 2020, according to Florida’s campaign finance data base.

These two prior donations were not highlighted in the report, although it indicates that donations began prior to serious discussions from states about vaccine distribution (in fact, these two donations occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic).

“60 Minutes'” framing of the story even received pushback from Democrats, with Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, calling the theory “utter nonsense.”

“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,” Moskowitz tweeted.

He called out “60 Minutes” directly in a subsequent tweet, writing that Publix “was recommended by” the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Florida Department of Health because “the other pharmacies were not ready to start.”

“Period! Full stop! No one from the Governors office suggested Publix. It’s just absolute malarkey,” according to Moskowitz.

Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, a Democrat, also pushed back on “60 Minutes” in a statement Monday afternoon. He accused the segment of being “intentionally false” and accused the show of denying his offers of “insight” into the vaccination efforts.

“They know that the Governor came to Palm Beach County and met with me and the County Administrator and we asked to expand the state’s partnership with Publix to Palm Beach County,” Kerner wrote in the statement. “We also discussed our own local plans to expand mass vaccinations centers throughout the county, which the Governor has been incredibly supportive. we asked and he delivered. They had that information, and they left it out because it kneecaps their narrative.””

“60 Minutes” conducted some interviews for the segment, including with West Palm Beach mayor Keith James, a schoolteacher, Democratic Florida State Rep. Omari Hardy and a community organizer for Florida’s Glades area – a part of Florida that has struggled with vaccine access, according to the report.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, one of the few people “60 Minutes” cited in the report, pushed back on Kerner’s statement.

CNN political contributor Amanda Carpenter also noted that Publix’s campaign contributions to DeSantis “are not that significant.” She wondered if the “better question” to ask would be why DeSantis “WOULDN’T … partner with Publix to deploy vaccinations?”

The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, meanwhile, pointed out that much of the press, including “60 Minutes,” has avoided the “disasters” surrounding Democratic governors, calling out New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the process. She also noted that Publix’s donations made up just a small portion of DeSantis’ political contributions “for February alone.”

Former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called the report a “total and complete hit job” and referred to the show’s correspondent as “a left-wing activist.”

Publix denied allegations of “pay–to–play” in a statement to CBS News’ “60 Minutes.” The company also published the statement Monday on Twitter.

“The irresponsible suggestion that there was a connection between campaign contributions made to Governor DeSantis and our willingness to join other pharmacies in support of the state’s vaccine distribution efforts is absolutely false and offensive,” Publix said in the statement.

“We are proud of our pharmacy associates for administering more than 1.5 million doses of vaccine to date and for joining other retailers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to do our part to help our communities emerge from the pandemic,” the statement continued.

A “60 Minutes” spokesperson told the Daily Caller that DeSantis was asked twice for an interview. The spokesperson said it was standard to edit clips “for clarity” but did not address questions regarding the various other issues pointed out by critics.

“As we always do for clarity, 60 MINUTES used the portion of the Governor’s over 2-minute response that directly addressed the question from the correspondent,” the spokesperson told the Caller.