Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday sent a blistering letter to Associated Press CEO Daisy Veerasingham accusing the news outlet of publishing a "partisan smear" against him and possibly discouraging COVID-19 positive Floridians from seeking "life-saving treatment."
The governor sent the letter in response to a complaint he received from the AP about his press secretary Christina Pushaw's criticisms of a reporter who wrote a story linking DeSantis' advocacy for a COVID antibody drug to one of his top donors who is heavily invested in the company that makes the drug.
"I assumed your letter was to notify me that you were issuing a retraction of the partisan smear piece you published last week. Instead, you had the temerity to complain about the deserved blowback that your botched and discredited attempt to concoct a political narrative has received," DeSantis wrote.
"This ploy will not work to divert attention from the fact that the Associated Press published a false narrative that will lead some to decline effective treatment for COVID infections," he added.
Last week, AP journalist Brendan Farrington reported that Citadel, a Chicago-based hedge fund, has invested $15.9 million in Regeneron Pharmaceutical Inc., the company that manufactures the monoclonal antibody treatment heavily promoted by DeSantis. Citadel CEO Ken Griffin donated $10.75 million to a political committee that supports DeSantis, and Farrington's article implies that DeSantis is promoting Regeneron's drug over COVID-19 vaccines to benefit his top donor.
Pushaw commented for the AP's story, observing that Citadel holds far more shares of Pfizer and Moderna than Regeneron.
Critics were also quick to point out that DeSantis is promoting monoclonal antibody treatments right along with the Biden administration, that Griffin also donated to President Joe Biden's inauguration committee, and that the governor has also strongly endorsed vaccination against COVID-19 as life-saving.
The AP did not accuse Biden of benefitting these very same donors by promoting the vaccine.
After the AP published the story, DeSantis' left-wing critics falsely claimed that he had been downplaying COVID vaccines to benefit his donor.
Pushaw blasted the AP article on Twitter, calling it "cheap political innuendo" and calling out Farrington for shifting blame for the article's headline to his "boss' boss." In a now-deleted tweet, she retweeted the AP story and told her followers to "drag them."
The AP in turn reported Pushaw to Twitter, accusing her of harassing Farrington, and she was suspended for 12 hours.
Veerasingham then wrote to DeSantis asking him to stop Pushaw's "harassing behavior," accusing her of threatening Farrington and putting him in danger by criticizing his reporting.
But DeSantis pulled no punches in his forceful response, rejecting Veerasingham's demands.
"The purpose of the headline and the framing of the story was to smear me by insinuating that Florida's push to expand awareness of and access to monoclonal antibody treatments was done to boost Regeneron's profit, rather than to simply help Floridians in need. Indeed, as the federal government long ago bought the entire stock of Regeneron's COVID monoclonal treatment, it is not even possible as a concept," wrote DeSantis.
"The AP produced zero evidence that Florida's efforts are being undertaken for any reason other than to help Floridians recover from COVID," he continued. "This story is a baseless conspiracy theory."
The governor told the AP that he stands by the work of his staff, including Pushaw.
"That the AP has received vigorous pushback is something that should be expected given the brazenness of your political attack and the fact that your false narrative will cost lives. You cannot recklessly smear your political opponents and then expect to be immune from criticism. This is especially true when the effect of your false narrative jeopardizes the health of those who could otherwise benefit from treatment with monoclonal antibodies," he wrote.
"You succeeded in publishing a misleading, clickbait headline about one of your political opponents, but at the expense of deterring individuals infected with COVID from seeking life-saving treatment, which will cost lives," DeSantis concluded
"Was it worth it?"