Critics blast '60 Minutes' for 'false narrative' that DeSantis engaged Publix in pay-for-play vaccine scheme
Mollie Hemingway: '60 Minutes' selectively edited video to hide the facts
CBS News' "60 Minutes" is under fire for suggesting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, R., gave the Publix grocery store chain preferable treatment to offer the coronavirus vaccine based on its donations to his PAC.
"60 Minutes" correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi painted DeSantis as a villain who prioritized senior citizens over teachers during the report that was peppered with jabs at the Republican governor.
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Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway blasted the segment in a scathing column for The Federalist and accused the CBS News program of attempting to manufacture an issue with DeSantis’ response to the pandemic.
"60 Minutes" tried to invent a scandal involving Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ distribution of vaccines. To push the false narrative and protect its favored governors, ‘60 Minutes’ refused to interview people who disputed its false narrative, selectively edited video to hide facts, and omitted data that debunked its thesis and accurately describe Florida’s success," Hemingway wrote. "Alfonsi focused her 'reporting' for the last month in beautiful Palm Beach, where she half-cooked a conspiracy theory about his vaccination distribution."
Hemingway noted that "despite all evidence to the contrary" Alfonsi insisted "DeSantis had personally rammed through a decision to use Publix grocery stores for vaccine distribution."
Alfonsi implied the popular grocery chain was used to help with the vaccine distribution "because they had given DeSantis a routine political contribution last year, totaling less than 3 percent of what he got in political contributions for February alone," Hemingway wrote.
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"Alfonsi claimed she ‘obtained’ these reports of political contributions, a dramatic word choice for publicly available contribution records," Hemmingway added.
Many others took to Twiitter to criticize the segment:
Publix called the notion that it received special access "absolutely false and offensive."
"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. We are proud of our pharmacy associates for administering more than 1.5 million doses of vaccine to date and for joining other retailers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to do our part to help our communities emerge from the pandemic," a Publix spokesperson told Fox News.
Before the segment aired, "60 Minutes" was accused of deceptively editing a heated exchange between one of its correspondents and DeSantis over an alleged "pay for play" scheme being pushed by the reporter.
On Friday, the program released a preview clip of Sunday's broadcast, featuring Alfonsi pressing the governor at a press conference last month over allegations that he rewarded Publix with COVID vaccines after the company made a sizable donation to his campaign.
"Publix, as you know, donated $100,000 to your campaign," Alfonsi began in the clip. "And then you rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach --"
"First, of all what you're saying is wrong," DeSantis interrupted.
"How is that not pay for play?" Alfonsi then asked.
"That's a fake narrative," DeSantis replied. "I met with the county mayor, I met with the administrator, I met with all the folks at Palm Beach County and I said, 'Here's some of the options: We can do more drive-thru sites, we can give more to hospitals, we can do the Publix.' And they said, 'We think that would be the easiest thing for our residents."
Alfonsi then narrated that Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay claimed DeSantis "never met with her about the Publix deal."
"The criticism here is that is pay for play, governor," Alfonsi told DeSantis.
"And it's wrong, it's wrong," the governor shot back. "It's a fake narrative. I just disabused you of the narrative. And you don't care about the facts. Because, obviously, I laid it out for you in a way that is irrefutable."
Conservative writer A.G. Hamilton pointed out on Twitter that the CBS program "cut out several minutes" of the governor's comments explaining what led to the deal with Publix.
"First of all, the first pharmacies that had [the vaccine] were CVS and Walgreens and they had a long-term care mission, so they were going to the long-term care facilities. They got the vaccine in the middle of December, they started going to the long-term care facilities the third week in December to do LTCs," DeSantis told Alfonsi. "So that was their mission, that was very important and we trusted them to do that. As we got into January, we wanted to expand the distribution points.
"So yes, you had the counties, you had some drive-thru sites, you had hospitals that were doing a lot, but we wanted to get it into communities more. So we reached out to other retail pharmacies: Publix, Walmart, obviously CVS and Walgreens had to finish that mission and we said we're going to use you as soon as you're done with that," DeSantis continued.
The Republican went on to say that Publix was the "first one to raise their hand" to say they were ready to distribute the vaccine. They rolled out the vaccine on a "trial basis" in three counties, which was met with "100% positive" feedback from seniors.
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DeSantis later added that while Palm Beach County initially "struggled" with its distribution among seniors, he noted nearly "75 percent" of seniors had been vaccinated, as well as that vaccine distribution was "expanding" with CVS and Walgreens following their long-term care mission.
"They literally cut out him explaining the whole process including who was responsible for LTCs (not Publix), how Publix raised their hand as [CVS/Walgreens] was doing LTCs, how they had a trial to test it, why it worked, & how now CVS/Walgreen's are being used now," Hamilton tweeted.
CBS did not include the entire exchange when the segment aired on Sunday night.
Fox News’ Daniella Genovese contributed to this report.