Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday continued to rake "60 Minutes" over the coals for its deceptive reporting on the state's vaccine distribution partnership with Publix, holding a news conference that utterly dismantled CBS News' false accusations of a "pay to play" scheme between the governor and the grocery store chain.
DeSantis held a news conference titled "Facts vs. Smears" during which he spent a half hour explaining how his administration has been the target of "malicious smears" from the media. He and Florida Emergency Director Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat, together explained in detail the steps the DeSantis administration took to begin distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to Florida's senior citizens.
"When you're talking about this ridiculous smear narrative, it's important to break down just how false it is, how thoroughly dishonest it is, because this is bad for our country," DeSantis said.
On Sunday, CBS News' "60 Minutes" ran a 13-minute hit piece attacking DeSantis' role in Florida's vaccine distribution and accusing the governor of accepting $100,000 in campaign donations from Publix in exchange for granting the grocery store exclusive rights to distribute the vaccine. While "60 Minutes" aired a clip of DeSantis denying the allegations to reporter Sharyn Alfonsi, the program's editors cut out most of DeSantis' argument showing how the allegations were false.
After the report aired, Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, a Democrat, issued a statement saying "60 Minutes" intentionally misled viewers about the county's vaccination efforts and clarified that the county asked the governor to expand the state's partnership with Publix.
"They had that information, and they left it out because it kneecaps their narrative," Kerner said.
Moskowitz and Publix also issued statements blasting the false "60 Minutes" report.
In a detailed slideshow presentation, DeSantis and Moskowitz demonstrated how the claim that Publix received an exclusive deal to distribute the vaccine in Palm Beach was a "lie," showing how Florida partnered with CVS, Walgreens, hospitals, long-term care facilities, senior living communities, churches and other places of worship, and the Department of Health in Palm Beach County along with Publix to distribute the vaccine.
"The exclusive deal is a lie. They knew it was a lie, and yet they put it on the air," DeSantis said. "The fact is, there was never a deal with the state of Florida and Publix for any of this. No contracts. The state of Florida never paid Publix one red cent for distributing it."
Moskowitz told reporters that Florida considered other major retailers to participate in the state's pilot program for vaccination distribution, noting that his first choice was Walmart.
"We needed to open up more locations ... my first choice was Walmart. I called Walmart first and said listen we have some doses we wanna pilot this, we wanna pilot it specifically in areas that not just have hesitancy but where we see shots slowing down," he said. "Walmart said 'great we'd love to partner with you but we can't start for 21 days.'"
* @Publix wasn't chosen for rollout b/c of political donation says @GovRonDeSantis Emergency Management director… https://t.co/8Wzlue0PQ7— MAHSA SAEIDI, ESQ. (@MAHSA SAEIDI, ESQ.) 1617818970.0
Moskowitz explained that when Publix was asked when they could start vaccine distribution, they said they could be ready to go in 72 hours. And that's why Publix was selected to partner with Florida.
DeSantis said "60 Minutes" was provided with this information, which they neglected to report.
In statements to several news organizations, a spokesman for "60 Minutes" defended its reporting.
When Florida state data revealed people of color were vaccinated at a much lower rate than their wealthier neighbors, 60 MINUTES reported the facts surrounding the vaccine's rollout, which is controlled by the governor. We requested and conducted interviews with dozens of sources and authorities involved. We requested an interview with Gov. Ron DeSantis, he declined; We spoke to State Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz twice, but he declined to be interviewed on camera for our story until well after our deadline. The idea we ignored their perspective is untrue. Counter to his statement yesterday, we also spoke on the record with Palm Beach County Mayor David Kerner. For over 50 years, the facts reported by 60 MINUTES have often stirred debate and prompted strong reactions. Our story Sunday night speaks for itself.
But DeSantis said that when his office offered to have Moskowitz and Kerner be interviewed, "60 Minutes" declined.
"Jared is not gonna sit down in an interview a month ago, or two weeks ago, to dismiss a fake story. He's got better things to do," DeSantis said. "But when it was clear that they were hell-bent on doing this, we said, alright, Jared will go on air. Dave Kerner will go on air. No, no no, we don't want to do that. We don't want to do that, because obviously, that would have undercut their narrative."
The governor accused "60 Minutes" of promoting a baseless conspiracy theory to smear him.
"The bottom line is ... to assert as a matter of fact that Publix was rewarded with exclusive rights in Palm Beach County is something that even the dimmest bulb in the New York corporate media constellation would have been able to realize that was false," DeSantis said.
"You literally take 10 minutes to make a few phone calls — '60 Minutes' was in Florida for three months trying to dig up dirt ... they wanted to smear Florida, they wanted to smear our vaccination effort, they obviously wanted to smear me. They spent three months and the best they could come up with is a half-baked conspiracy theory that literally is readily debunked by talking to like two people.
"So I think that means that we probably did a pretty good job, because if we had done a really bad job they would have actually had facts that they could have relied on to try to do the hit piece," he added.