TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Ridiculous smear narrative. Thoroughly dishonest. Total disaster.
Those were just some of the harsh comments Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hurled at "60 Minutes" on Wednesday about a scathing report over the weekend that suggested DeSantis favored Publix and wealthy communities during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
"It was malicious what they did," DeSantis said during a news conference in Tallahassee. "That was their goal, to simply try to smear Florida, smear me, smear whoever they could in the process."
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The 13-minute report, which aired Sunday night on CBS, claimed that Publix donated $100,000 to DeSantis' reelection campaign in December, just weeks before the grocery store chain was chosen as the primary distributor of the coronavirus vaccine in Palm Beach County.
In addition, finance reports showed that Julie Fancelli, the daughter of Publix founder George Jenkins, contributed a total of $55,000 in 2018 and 2019 to DeSantis' campaign.
The governor on Wednesday took particular offense to a claim made by "60 Minutes" correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi, who said Publix was given "exclusive rights" to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in Palm Beach County.
"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 Florida one red cent for distributing [the vaccine]."
Using a detailed slideshow presentation, the governor highlighted that CVS, Walgreens, hospitals, long-term care facilities, senior living communities, places of worship, and the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County were all administering the vaccine at the same time as Publix.
"We gave ["60 Minutes"] that information," DeSantis said. "They edited out that information from their piece."
Jared Moskowitz, the outgoing director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, said that when the state needed to open up more COVID-19 vaccinations faster in late December and early January, he reached out to Walmart first about a potential partnership. But the company said it wouldn't be ready to go for 21 days.
"I then got on the phone with Publix," Moskowitz said. "And I said, when can you start? 72 hours. That's it! That's the whole story!"
CBS News said in a statement on Tuesday that "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."
DeSantis refuted those claims on Wednesday, saying his office last week offered for Moskowitz to go on camera, as well as Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner.
"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."
On Monday, Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner released a statement calling the "60 Minutes" report "intentionally false" and based on "bad information."
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Kerner claimed that he and County Administrator Verdenia Baker met with DeSantis and asked for vaccination efforts in Palm Beach County to be expanded to Publix.
At Tuesday's Palm Beach County commission meeting, Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth demanded that "60 Minutes" apologize for what he called an "unfair" report.
"I'm not gonna say [the report] was intentionally false, but it intentionally left half the story off the table," Weinroth said. "I think that the article and the way that CBS dealt with this county was unfair, and I think they owe this county an apology, and I think they owe this state an apology."
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Publix also released a statement about the "60 Minutes" report, saying in part, "The irresponsible suggestion that there was a connection between campaign contributions made to Governor DeSantis and our willingness to join other pharmacies in support of the state's vaccine distribution efforts is absolutely false and offensive."
CBS News on Tuesday defended the story and released this statement to WPTV about the criticism aimed at the "60 Minutes" report:
"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."