WEST PALM BEACH, FL – CBS News’ “60 Minutes” is facing sharp criticism – from both sides of the political aisle – after airing a story on Sunday on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis where they falsely accused the Republican of issuing a “pay to play” deal on COVID-19 vaccine distribution with a supermarket chain that had donated to his re-election campaign.
Publix, a supermarket chain headquartered in Lakeland, Florida, had made a $100,000 donation to support DeSantis’ efforts to serve another term in office. However, 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi accused DeSantis at a press conference of “rewarding” Publix’s contribution by partnering with the chain for vaccine distribution; an accusation that Alfonsi did not back up with any evidence.
“As you know, Publix donated $100,000 to your campaign, and you then rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach,” she said at the press conference. “How is that not pay to play?”
DeSantis, taken aback, noted that the decision to go with Publix was made by Palm Beach officials only and was not suggested by anyone from his administration.
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“First of all, that…what you are saying is wrong. That’s a fake narrative,” he said on the aired 60 Minutes segment. “I met with the county mayor. I met with the administrator. I met with all the folks in Palm Beach County and I said ‘Here’s some of the options. We can do more drive-through sites. We can give more to hospitals. We can do the Publix.’ And they said ‘That would be the easiest thing for our residents.’”
However, 60 Minutes failed to air a large part of DeSantis’s initial response, where he had pointed out to Alfonsi that Walgreens and CVS had distributed COVID-19 vaccines in Florida prior to Publix via a federal program.
“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 vaccine in the middle of December. That was very important and we trusted them to do that,” he said. “As we got into January we wanted to expand the distribution points so yes, you had the counties, you had some drive-thru 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. 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…[response] was 100 percent positive, so we expanded it.”
In response to 60 Minutes’ accusations, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz – a Democrat – issued a statement on Twitter Sunday evening backing up DeSantis’ version of events.
“I said this before and I’ll say it again. [Publix] was recommended by [Florida Division of Emergency Management] and [Florida Department of Public Health] as the other pharmacies were not ready to start. Period! Full stop!” Moskowitz said. “No one from the Governors office suggested Publix. It’s just absolute malarkey.”
Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner released a statement on Monday that echoed Moskowitz’s sentiments.
“I watched the 60 Minutes segment on Palm Beach County last night and feel compelled to issue this statement,” Kerner said. “The reporting was not just based on bad information – it was intentionally false. I know this because I offered to provide my insight into Palm Beach County’s vaccination efforts and 60 Minutes declined. They know 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.”
And finally, Publix also refuted the reporting of 60 Minutes on Monday via Twitter, but didn’t actually mention the news program by name.
“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.
Since the report aired, it has faced severe backlash for its deceptive and selective editing of DeSantis’ comments and overall one-sided narrative; DePauw University professor Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that 60 Minutes’ report was clearly heavily biased.
“CBS clearly made mistakes in professional journalistic judgment in the execution of this story. These are the kinds of mistakes that necessarily happen when enterprise reporting is done with bias and on the basis of pushing a preconceived political narrative,” he said.