The report, which aired Sunday, outlined an alleged “pay for play” scheme involving DeSantis accepting a $100,000 donation his campaign from the grocery store chain Publix in exchange for the right to distribute the COVID vaccine as part of the state’s rollout.
Critics blasted the report for deceptive editing that omitted DeSantis’ explanation for the vaccine strategy, the omission of Publix’s donations to Democrats, and broadcasting misinformation that is even being called out by Florida liberals.
The next day, however, there was no mention of the “60 Minutes” report on “CBS This Morning” or the “CBS Evening News,” according to Grabien transcripts.
A preview clip released Friday before the show’s airing showed a tense exchange between DeSantis and “60 Minutes” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi over what the CBS reporter suggested was influence-peddling.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference at a Publix Super Market in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP)V (AP)
“Publix, as you know, donated $100,000 to your campaign,” Alfonsi began in the clip. “And then you rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach –“
“First, of all what you’re saying is wrong,” DeSantis interrupted.
“How is that not pay for play?” Alfonsi then asked.
“That’s a fake narrative,” DeSantis replied. “I met with the county mayor, I met with the administrator, I met with all the folks at Palm Beach County and I said, ‘Here’s some of the options: We can do more drive-thru sites, we can give more to hospitals, we can do the Publix.’ And they said, ‘We think that would be the easiest thing for our residents.”
Alfonsi then narrated that Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay claimed DeSantis “never met with her about the Publix deal.”
“The criticism here is that is pay for play, governor,” Alfonsi told DeSantis.
“And it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” the governor shot back. “It’s a fake narrative. I just disabused you of the narrative. And you don’t care about the facts. Because, obviously, I laid it out for you in a way that is irrefutable.”
However, as first pointed out by conservative writer A.G. Hamilton, “60 Minutes” cut several minutes from the press conference, during which DeSantis explained what led to the deal with Publix.
“First of all, the first pharmacies that had [the vaccine] 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 in December to do LTCs,” DeSantis told Alfonsi. “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-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 had to finish that mission and we said we’re going to use you as soon as you’re done with that,” DeSantis continued.
He went on to say Publix was the “first one to raise their hand” to say it was ready to distribute the vaccine. It rolled out the vaccine on a “trial basis” in three counties, which was met with “100% positive” feedback from seniors.
A CBS spokesperson stood by the report, telling Fox News, “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.”
That wasn’t the only part of the report that raised eyebrows.
The story also appeared to condemn DeSantis’ decision to vaccinate the elderly in his state rather than younger frontline workers. Alfonsi went even further by casting doubt on DeSantis’ reasoning that seniors were the most vulnerable to the virus.
“Florida’s rollout started pretty typically. The first doses were given to healthcare workers and nursing home residents in early December,” Alfonsi began. “But then, a few weeks later, Gov. Ron DeSantis, breaking from CDC guidelines, announced he would not vaccinate teachers and essential workers next but instead put seniors first, making anyone 65 and over eligible for the vaccine, the first in the country to do that.”
“DeSantis said seniors were at highest risk,” she added, implying that it was an unsubstantiated claim made by the governor rather than a response to data showing a higher death toll among older Americans.
Recent demographic data from the Centers for Disease Control shows about 80% of coronavirus fatalities have been among people aged 65 and older, and 95% of fatalities have been among those over the age of 50.
The report went on to suggest DeSantis was to blame for having Florida’s 4.5 million seniors “compete against each other” to get the vaccine and for the state Health Department phone lines “failing” and websites “crashing.”
Conservative media critics trashed the “60 Minutes” report as a “hit piece” and “hatchet job,” but DeSantis also received support from Democrats in the Sunshine State.
“@60Minutes I said this before and I’ll say it again. @Publix was recommended by [Florida Division of Emergency Management – FDEM] and [Florida Health Department] as the other pharmacies were not ready to start. Period! Full Stop! No one from the Governors office suggested Publix. It’s just absolute malarkey,” FDEM director Jared Moskowitz reacted on Sunday evening.
Dave Kerner, the Democratic Palm Beach County mayor, went even further, accusing “60 Minutes” of “intentionally” misleading the country.
“The reporting was not just based on bad information – it was intentionally false,” Kerner said in a statement on Monday. “I know this because I offered to provide my insight into Palm Beach County’s vaccination efforts and ’60 Minutes’ declined. 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 …”
“We have confronted this pandemic for over a year. Our residents, like all Americans, are tired. And the media is making it worse. They are hellbent on dividing us for cheap views and clicks. ’60 Minutes’ should be ashamed,” Kerner continued, adding that the program left his perspective out of the story because it “kneecaps their narrative.”
Kerner also thanked DeSantis for his work to help Palm Beach County.
“Because of his efforts, working in coordination with Palm Beach County officials, over 275,000 seniors in our county – which is over 75% of the total senior population – have been vaccinated. I am proud of how our county and state leadership have executed on this important mission, and the results speak for themselves,” Kerner said.
Meanwhile, Publix called the notion that it received special access “absolutely false and offensive.”
“The irresponsible suggestion that there was a connection between campaign contributions made to Gov. DeSantis and our willingness to join other pharmacies in support of the state’s vaccine distribution efforts is absolutely false and offensive,” a Publix spokesperson told Fox News. “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.”
Fox News’ Brian Flood, Evie Fordham contributed to this report.