On Sunday, the CBS show 60 Minutes aired a dishonest, convoluted, story about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
The segment leveled a completely unfounded accusation against Gov. DeSantis, accusing him of choosing the Publix supermarket chain to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine because Publix had contributed $100,000 to his Friends of DeSantis campaign PAC.
Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in Florida knows that the Publix chain is ubiquitous and, more importantly, beloved and trusted by Floridians.
The 60 Minutes episode was deeply unethical. Sharyn Alfonsi, the reporter for 60 Minutes whose story it was, comes off like a political activist in her interaction with DeSantis, accusing the governor of "pay-to-play" after cornering him at a press conference.
DeSantis for his part calmly provided a detailed response to the unfounded accusation, pointing out that CVS and Walgreens were playing other roles in the vaccine distribution at longterm healthcare facilities and that Publix did not have an "exclusive" distribution rights to the vaccine.
But the public would not get to hear his response, at least not from CBS. In an appalling edit, 60 Minutes cut the DeSantis answer to make him seem abrasive and angry and to make his comprehensive answer seem flimsy.
Conservatives have long believed the "mainstream" media is biased. But Alfonsi's reporting was something else entirely: She had a narrative she wanted to push and she actively did that, with the support of 60 Minutes.
This kind of fact-free hit job is sadly all to familiar to Republicans, and a specialty of 60 Minutes: Shortly before the 2004 presidential election, the show ran a story using fake documents that alleged that then-president George W. Bush had gone AWOL while he was in the National Guard. The documents were disproven with such swiftness that journalistic malpractice was too good a term for the segment, though 60 Minutes defended the story for two whole weeks before finally admitting they should not have used the documents. The 60 Minutes producer, Mary Mapes, had so wanted the story to be true that she didn't do even the most basic fact-checking on the segment.
The difference between then and now is that in 2004, there were other major news outlets also involved in scrutinizing the documents and holding 60 Minutes to account. Today, there is by and large silence from the other media sources. They, too, share the anti-De Santis perspective and don't care that the 60 Minutes story is based on a lie.
In fact, if it weren't for two prominent Florida Democrats pushing back on the 60 Minutes invention, the story might have completely faded away. Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, tweeted "@60Minutes I said this before and I'll say it again. @Publix was recommended by @FLSERT [Florida Division of Emergency Management] and @HealthyFla 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."
Moskowitz was not interviewed in the 60 Minutes segment. Neither was Mayor Dave Kerner of Palm Beach County, another Democrat, who released a statement on Monday saying the 60 Minutes report was "intentionally false" and "60 Minutes should be ashamed." They should be. More importantly, it was only in the wake of Democratic backlash to CBS that CNNnoted the nonsense segment at all.
So why is the liberal media so anxious to smear Ron DeSantis?
DeSantis has been a hero throughout the pandemic to people on the right. His stellar instincts have guided Florida to far better results than states like New York, New Jersey, and Michigan, and to approximately the same results as California, all of which favored strict lockdowns that had a destructive effect on their economy.
DeSantis recognized early that lockdowns just weren't working.
But the media had a different hero in mind: They coronated Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York as their pandemic role model. New York, which had the highest number of COVID deaths per capita, also saw mass death in their nursing homes after Governor Cuomo foolishly ordered homes to re-admit COVID positive patients. Governor Cuomo has also been accused of sexual harassment, and in some cases assault, by ten women, some of whom were current and former employees.
With the media's hero narrative in tatters, they instead have focused on bringing down the governor who has actually done a good, effective, job during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Much like the 2004 segment, 60 Minutes is holding on to its narrative and refusing to apologize. But rather than proof of dishonesty, it exposes something else the two episodes share: One gets the sense that in neither case was the willful sharing of misinformation a mistake, but rather, the goal.
Thankfully, Republican voters seem to be immune to such machinations. George W. Bush rode to re-election two months after the bogus segment about him aired. If Gov. DeSantis goes on to be the Republican nominee in 2024, he should thank 60 Minutes in his victory speech.
Karol Markowicz is journalist and a columnist for the New York Post.