Media

The Media Elevated A COVID-19 Conspiracy Theorist To Hurt Ron DeSantis

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Dylan Housman General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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Former dashboard manager for the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), Rebekah Jones, was promoted in corporate and left-wing media for months while making unfounded claims about Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Jones claimed in May 2020 that she was fired for refusing to alter Florida’s COVID-19 data to make the state’s virus response better. Fact checks and analysis done in recent months revealed that there weren’t any significant issues with the state’s COVID-19 reporting.

Charles C.W. Cooke claimed in the New York Post that Jones was fired for accusations that she sabotaged the state’s dashboard, shared confidential data and disrupted operations in her department.

On those accusations, Jones told the Daily Caller she is “looking forward to seeing Charles Cooke in court.” She added that she “never actually named Ron DeSantis before he smeared me in front of Mike Pence.”

For some time, Jones became an iconic “whistleblower” after she accused Gov. DeSantis of engaging in a conspiracy to cook the books on his COVID-19 response. Since being fired, Jones created her own COVID-19 dashboard with inflated statistics, collected hundreds of thousands of dollars through GoFundMe and spread some misinformation about a police visit to her home after she allegedly hacked into the FDOH and stole data.

During the past year, Jones has been elevated in many corners of the media. She was a frequent guest on Joy Reid’s MSNBC show where she made accusations about DeSantis. She made numerous appearances across multiple shows on CNN, including an “exclusive” interview with the network’s Chris Cuomo. (RELATED: Ron DeSantis Signs Bill Scrapping All Of Florida’s Covid Restrictions)

Many outlets, presented her version of events without skepticism. In some digital outlets, the coverage was more fawning. “Rebekah Jones Tried to Warn Us About COVID-19. Now Her Freedom Is on the Line,” read the title of a Cosmopolitan profile published in March 2021. “Florida Scientist Vows To Speak COVID-19 ‘Truth To Power’ Despite Police Raid,” wrote the Huffington Post.

Jones has succeeded in convincing many progressives that DeSantis covered up a disastrous COVID-19 response in Florida. (RELATED: Democratic Florida Mayor: 60 Minutes Hit On DeSantis ‘Not Just Based On Bad Information — It Was Intentionally False’)

The rising Republican star has been the subject of much debate since he decided to lift most COVID-19 restrictions in the Fall of 2020, far earlier than nearly any other state. Florida’s death rate from the pandemic has been roughly in-line with the national average, despite flags raised by DeSantis critics that he was killing people by letting businesses operate and not mandating mask-wearing.

Jones became a foil to DeSantis for some, and she was aided in large part by the likes of the media who bolstered the unfounded claims without a critical eye.