Why media hostility boosts Ron DeSantis, especially after ’60 Minutes’ misfire

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Ron DeSantis gets all kinds of negative media coverage, and it’s now working to his advantage.

Does that remind you of anyone else now in Florida?

The Republican governor is the clear beneficiary of the botched “60 Minutes” story about him and Covid vaccines. A key Democratic mayor is backing him. The backlash is boosting his standing among GOP voters. And he’s increasingly looking like a top contender for the 2024 presidential nomination.

DeSantis is a big ally of Donald Trump, who famously spent his tenure at war with what he calls fake news.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference Sunday, April 4, 2021, at the Manatee County Emergency Management office in Palmetto, Fla. (Associated Press)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference Sunday, April 4, 2021, at the Manatee County Emergency Management office in Palmetto, Fla. (Associated Press)

And he shares the Trumpian ability to hit back hard at the Fourth Estate. When CBS’s Sharyn Alfonsi confronted him at a news conference (because he wouldn’t grant an interview), he lectured her on not caring about the facts and said his version was “irrefutable.”

It was all on camera as the governor said Publix was the only outlet ready to vaccinate people in Palm Beach County, that he had consulted local officials and that it had nothing to do with the supermarket chain earlier donating $100,000 to his PAC. And that’s where “60 Minutes” committed a huge blunder, not using most of his sound bite or even summarizing most of his substantive defense.

Instead, the program tried to paint DeSantis as one of the bad guys it loves to chase down some hallway with its cameras.

The most devastating repudiation of the story came when the Democratic mayor of Palm Beach County, Dave Kerner, called the story intentionally false. Kerner told Fox yesterday that he had sought out the program, spoken for 45 minutes and yet none of his comments or viewpoints were included.

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The CBS magazine show put out a second statement yesterday, saying “our story Sunday night speaks for itself.”

The program said it had interviewed dozens of sources and that both DeSantis and the state emergency management director declined to speak on camera, adding “the idea we ignored their perspective is untrue.” “60 Minutes” said it also spoke on the record to Kerner, but he says the same thing, so it’s unclear why this is described as being “counter to his statement.”

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There is no question the mainstream media have it in for Ron DeSantis, who won office in 2018, and have tried to depict him as botching the pandemic response, when Florida is now doing pretty well. This is not to say that everything he’s done has been perfect, but he has consistently been portrayed as callous and reckless when it comes to the virus. Yet this journalistic animosity has only boosted his Republican support.

As National Review puts it, the hostile press has turned DeSantis “into a national political force with all of the conservative cred of a Trump and none of the warts that offend many American sensibilities.” In other words, says the magazine, he has “all of the right enemies.”

It’s hard to avoid the contrast between the coverage of DeSantis and that of Andrew Cuomo, who was lionized by the press early on and won an Emmy for his Covid briefings. Now New York’s Democratic governor is fending off calls for resignation in light of his mishandling of nursing home deaths (as well as a string of sexual harassment allegations), while Florida’s governor has strengthened his standing.

There’s a striking difference between the way conservatives are rallying around DeSantis and their silence about another Florida Republican, Matt Gaetz. The House member is under Justice Department investigation over allegations of sex trafficking of a minor and paying women for sex, which he strongly denies.

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Politico reports that “no Trump aide or family member has tweeted about the Florida congressman. Nor have almost any of the most prominent Trump surrogates or Trump-allied conservatives and media personalities” rushed to Gaetz’s defense.

This may be in part because Gaetz will undoubtedly lose his seat if he’s indicted, and few want to be left on the deck of a sinking ship. And there is what has always been seen as his wild personal life, including bragging about women to colleagues. Politico puts it this way: “Gaetz has always been regarded as a grenade whose pin had already been pulled.”

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At a news conference yesterday, DeSantis attacked the folks at “60 Minutes” as “smear merchants. That’s why nobody trusts corporate media.”

Whether that’s fair or not, he is very much on the offensive against the CBS grenade that backfired. In the emerging reality of the post-Trump world, the story probably helped him.

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