CBS News is having quite a week as critics on both sides of the political aisle have exposed its latest “60 Minutes” hit-job for the half-baked conspiracy theory that it is — and it’s only Wednesday.
After the corporate media network sicced its reporter Sharyn Alfonsi on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to cook up a fabricated story about the Republican’s COVID-19 response, at the expense of covering actual and glaring gubernatorial pandemic scandals no less, CBS finally issued a snarky statement Tuesday to fire back at its critics. But the statement is just more lies, and despite multiple emails from The Federalist to the show’s top producers and the producer of the segment, the folks over at “60 Minutes” have refused to respond to more specific inquiries.
It isn’t for lack of things to answer for. The segment was heinous. It was a baseless and easily debunked partisan attack against a state leader who has been lauded for his handling of the coronavirus, not only in getting vaccines out to the vulnerable residents of his state with the second-oldest population in the nation, but in resisting pressures to tank livelihoods, worship, and education in the process.
This Isn’t Journalism
The “60 Minutes” hit was a lesson in what journalism isn’t. CBS, like the rest of its pals in the corrupt corporate press, let its partisan spin direct its digging. Florida vaccinations were prioritized for the elderly not because they are far and away the most vulnerable demographic to hospitalization or death from the coronavirus, CBS “reported,” but because they are largely whiter, richer, and “more likely to vote for” DeSantis. According to Alfonsi, it was “pay to play.”
The network deceptively edited a video of a DeSantis press conference to portray Alfonsi coming out on top, despite the full clip showing DeSantis dismantling her narrative. The conspiracy goes that because of a routine and paltry political contribution from Publix last year, a contribution that totaled less than 3 percent of what DeSantis got in political contributions for February alone and records of which are publicly available, the GOP governor “rewarded” the supermarket’s pharmacy with “exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach.”
CBS nuked the part of DeSantis’s answer where he explained that CVS and Walgreens were already allocating their resources to long-term care facilities, that Publix was quick to offer help when Florida was trying to expand its distribution, that Palm Beach County asked for Publix help, that the store was tested successfully in three locations before the large-scale rollout, and other important information, as The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway noted on Monday.
Here was CBS’s blanket retort to wide-ranging criticism of its segment, from both Democrats and Republicans:
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.
Straight from the Source
“The only way [pay to play] would be possible, the only way, is that if the governor himself or someone in the governor’s office with knowledge of this money made that decision, and it didn’t happen. It’s not true — or I’m a total liar, which, what would be the benefit of that?” said Moskowitz on a call with The Federalist.
Moskowitz, who is a Democrat, was a former state lawmaker from deep-blue Broward County and said he voted for Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama twice, as well as Andrew Gillum in Florida’s last gubernatorial election, meaning he’s no DeSantis henchman.
“By the way, there’s no statement from me anywhere that I never spoke to [‘60 Minutes’],” Moskowitz said, telling The Federalist he spoke to them for an hour, during which time he explained to them outright that their Publix narrative was complete “bullshit.” “So this idea that they’re pushing back — ‘We spoke to the director’ — True! I never said they didn’t, but I told them this Publix thing was false.”
The emergency management director had even tweeted about the false narrative a month before the CBS segment aired.
This idea why @Publix was picked has been utter nonsense. We reached out to all pharmacies and they were the only one who at the time could execute on the mission. The federal government delayed the federal pharmacy program and we yet again stepped up first to serve more seniors https://t.co/IJJgS9T2dn
— Jared MASKowitz (@JaredEMoskowitz) March 2, 2021
Moskowitz added that vaccines were sent to Publix because of the chain’s immediate preparedness to administer them; Publix said it could be ready to administer doses in 72 hours. Nobody from the governor’s office had recommended Publix. Moskowitz’s office had first contacted Walmart in an attempt to aid the vaccine effort in poorer communities, but that chain said it wouldn’t be equipped to administer the vaccine for 21 days, meaning waiting for Walmart over Publix would have delayed vaccine expansion efforts nearly three weeks.
“At the end of the day, the truth wears no political jersey, and the truth is, the pay-to-play thing is garbage. It’s nonsense. It was never true,” Moskowitz said. “But because people wanted it to be true, they forwarded it, repeated it, to try to make it true.”
The “60 Minutes” segment effectively boiled down to that: a narrative people wanted to be true that wasn’t, and the finished product was a one-sided smear. Partnering with churches in a program that even garnered the Biden administration’s interest, Florida administered more than 86,000 doses. Where was that in the “60 Minutes” report? Did you know the state got 9,000 doses to people with AIDS? No? How about its door-knocking campaigns in “underserved communities”? Or its more than a dozen buses that drove around to inoculate meat-packing plant employees and farmers?
What about the fact that counter to the Publix conspiracy theory, Florida actually works with 1,600 pharmacies throughout the state to get vaccines out, including not only 730 Publix pharmacies, but also more than 150 CVS locations, more than 125 Sam’s Club and Walmart locations, more than 70 Winn-Dixies, and hundreds of Walgreens pharmacies?
CBS has insisted that the deceptive edit of the DeSantis-Alfonsi tussle was actually just for “clarity,” something a spokesman said producers “always do.” It’s funny, though, because another thing “60 Minutes” always does is paraphrase things that are too long to quote — it’s actually kind of the whole point of the show: Interviews and quotes are spliced together with a reporter’s voiceover that paraphrases tons of other relevant information. The part of the DeSantis remark that CBS cut out completely dismantled a huge chunk of the entire segment, as did the perspective of the state’s emergency management director and even Publix itself, meaning that in nuking rather than including it, “clarity” is exactly what “60 Minutes” gave us, just not in the way it intended. It clarified just how biased its reporting is.
“I told them on the phone that [the Publix narrative] was false. And then they say that it’s not that we ‘ignored their perspective.’ Really? Where is the balance in the story?” Moskowitz asked.
‘60 Minutes,’ We Need Answers
Since CBS has broken its silence and has begun answering questions, however bogusly, here are a few more it should answer. It hasn’t replied to multiple inquiries asking these very questions:
1. Is it CBS policy to refuse offers for a different and fact-based point of view than the opinion held so strongly by the reporter? Why did you turn down interviews with people who said the premise of your package was not accurate?
2. Does refusal to talk to those eyewitnesses who refute your reporter’s opinion represent the level of journalistic standards you typically employ? Did this story bypass the standards department? Was the standards department informed of the journalists’ refusal to feature informed contrary views?
3. How much time have the producers or people responsible for this package spent in Publix grocery stores? Did their lack of familiarity with the ubiquitous Florida chain lead them to think their story made more sense than it did for people familiar with Publix?
4. Did your reporter and producers invent the Palm Beach conspiracy theory as a way to justify spending as many as three months in the vibrant and open-for-business South Florida during the harsh winter months the rest of the country suffered through?
5. Have any reporters or producers been reprimanded, suspended, or fired for their role in this baseless and defamatory smear on DeSantis and Publix, contradicted by facts they refused to acknowledge or report? What are their names and what actions have been taken?
6. Has CBS initiated a formal investigation of how this story came to be assigned, developed, edited, and aired?
7. Has “60 Minutes” apologized to DeSantis or Publix for misrepresenting their partnership? When does it plan to do so, if not?
Considering the many people who get their news from “60 Minutes” and the volume of deception in this segment, CBS owes DeSantis an apology and its viewers some answers. In COVID-19 coverage, as in all other matters of public importance, Americans need the truth.
“At the end of the day, the truth is the truth, and the story that was told by others in the press, repeated, regurgitated, and then on one of the largest platforms on ‘60 Minutes,’ has been a lie since the beginning,” Moskowitz said. “The truth and the facts have to matter.”