CBS is facing bipartisan backlash after using heavily edited footage of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a"60 Minutes" story alleging potential political corruption on the part of the Republican politician.
"60 Minutes" reporter Sharyn Alfonsi alleged in a recent report for the long-running news magazine that wealthy residents of Florida "cut the line during [the state's] frenzied vaccine rollout." In the segment, Alfonsi suggested that the state government's recent decision to award a vaccine distribution contract to the grocery chain Publix had the appearance of potential favoritism.
Citing public financial records, Alfonsi noted that "weeks before the governor's announcement, Publix donated $100,000 to his political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis." As part of the report, Alfonsi questioned DeSantis at a late March press conference about the arrangement, suggesting the governor had engaged in "pay-to-play" with the grocery chain.
The report presented DeSantis as having given about a 30-second response in which the governor gave a brief, hasty explanation of the deal and then spent a significant amount of time criticizing Alfonsi herself.
Yet full footage of the press conference showed that in responding to Alfonsi's query, the governor actually spoke for just over two minutes. In his response, DeSantis said that among the retailers to which the state reached out Publix was "the first one to raise their hands." A subsequent trial run with Publix went well, he said, leading the state to expand the program.
DeSantis also argued that there was a significant practical component to the decision to use Publix. Some public officials he spoke to, he said, "calculated that 90% of their seniors live within a mile and a half of a Publix." The state, he said, plans to use other retailers in the near future.
State Democrats slam 'intentionally false' reporting
DeSantis himself subsequently slammed the report, claiming it was "selectively edited" and was "done with malicious intent and a reckless disregard for the truth."
The governor's language was likely carefully chosen: Establishing "reckless disregard for the truth" is a key aspect of defamation law, with plaintiffs usually having to prove that element to win a libel suit.
Whether or not DeSantis will mount such an effort remains unclear. Yet in the days since its report, CBS has been broadly criticized not just by conservatives but by a bipartisan chorus including some Florida Democrats.
Jared Moskowitz, a Democratic politician in the state and the head of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, last week slammed the insinuations from the news outlet that the choice of Publix had been untoward.
"I said this before and I'll say it again," he wrote on Twitter. "[Publix] was recommended by [Emergency Management] and [the Florida Department of Health] as the other pharmacies were not ready to start. Period! Full Stop!"
"No one from the Governors office suggested Publix," he added. "It's just absolute malarkey."