“60 Minutes” is facing backlash for a story it aired Sunday on Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — including from the supermarket chain Publix and two prominent Democrats in the state.
As part of a larger story about Florida’s vaccine rollout, the renowned newsmagazine program spotlighted a recent $100,000 donation that Publix made to DeSantis’ re-election bid.
The story, by correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi, suggested there was a possible link between the donation and the state’s partnership with Publix stores for vaccine distribution — a serious issue of foul play, if true.
But, beyond spotlighting the public finance records, “60 Minutes” never offered any substantive evidence to support the significant assertion and link the donation with the partnership.
After the report aired, the Democratic director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Democratic county mayor of Palm Beach County both publicly responded, saying that partnering with Publix was not suggested by anyone from DeSantis’ office.
In a Sunday night tweet directed at “60 Minutes,” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz wrote, “I said this before and I’ll say it again. [Publix] was recommended by [Florida Division of Emergency Management] and [Florida Department of Public Health]. Period! Full stop!”
“No one from the Governors office suggested Publix,” Moskowitz added. “It’s just absolute malarkey.”
Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner offered a similar sentiment in a Monday statement.
“I watched the 60 Minutes segment on Palm Beach County last night and feel compelled to issue this statement,” Kerner said.
Kerner accused “60 Minutes” of reporting “intentionally false” information, saying that the program knew DeSantis had met with him and that the county had been the entity to request “to expand the state’s partnership with Publix.”
Publix also issued a statement to criticize the assertion, but the supermarket chain did not mention “60 Minutes” by name.
“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,” Publix said Monday.
In a Monday afternoon statement, DeSantis’ office said, “Florida partnered with Publix because they were ready to administer the vaccine in their pharmacies in a matter of days, whereas other pharmacies were not ready.”
“Not utilizing this partnership with Publix as soon as possible would have been malpractice,” the governor’s office added, “especially as the state was racing to vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.”
A spokesperson for “60 Minutes” defended the story the newsmagazine aired.
In a brief statement, the spokesperson focused specifically on criticism “60 Minutes” received for not airing a portion of an encounter DeSantis had with Alfonsi at a press conference in which he pointed out to her that CVS and Walgreens — under a federal program — were the first pharmacies in the state to distribute vaccines.
“As we always do for clarity, 60 Minutes used the portion of the Governor’s over 2-minute response that directly addressed the question from the correspondent,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also said that the program asked for an actual interview with DeSantis twice, but that he declined.
In a lengthier statement Tuesday afternoon, a CBS spokesperson said it had “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 spokesperson explained.
“The idea we ignored their perspective is untrue,” the spokesperson added. “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.”