Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' reputation as a mainstream media bogeyman appears safe for the time being after Wednesday's Associated Press story was slammed as a failed hit job.
Throughout 2021, mainstream and liberal outlets have regularly attempted to tarnish the potential 2024 GOP presidential hopeful, only to see dramatic headlines and assertions fizzle under scrutiny.
"A lot of people in the media, for whatever reason, unfortunately, really want to find something on him, but he's not corrupt so they have to make things up or publish innuendo when there's nothing to it, no smoking gun," DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw told Fox News.
While the Republican governor’s office is sick of what it considers partisan attacks from the press, some observers feel DeSantis should wear them like a badge of honor.
The AP was roasted on Wednesday for what many critics labeled another botched hit piece, and conservative strategist Chris Barron told Fox News that DeSantis should embrace assaults from the left.
"The mainstream media attacks DeSantis for the same reasons they attacked Trump -- he’s a conservative who is willing to fight and that terrifies them," Barron said.
The AP's story headlined, "DeSantis top donor invests in COVID drug governor promotes," seemed to imply he was promoting Regeneron's COVID antibody treatment because a Chicago-based hedge fund that donated to a pro-DeSantis political committee also owns shares of the company.
The AP acknowledged in the story that it's "not unusual for hedge funds to have a wide range of investments" and admitted that medical experts agree with DeSantis on the effectiveness of Regeneron, but published the story with the damaging framework anyway. The article was blasted as "cheap political innuendo" by his office, and conservatives and even some liberals said the story didn't hold water.
"Yeah, we've been pretty big critics of DeSantis on the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board, but this 'DeSantis is hawking monoclonal antibodies to make a buck for a donor' story doesn't really add up," tweeted the Sun Sentinel's Dan Sweeney.
Pushaw said she was particularly upset with the piece since she said the treatment DeSantis is touting could save lives.
"It should never be politicized, this kind of stuff, I mean, this is about public health. And so it's very disappointing," she said.
DeSantis consistently came under fire last year for keeping the state's economy open and shaking off calls for extended lockdowns. However, the Sunshine State’s economy flourished and the Republican governor has seen his star rise as a potential 2024 contender, especially if former President Donald Trump decides not to run again. He's also facing political challenges after a recent surge in coronavirus cases in the state and local school districts defying his ban on mask mandates for students.
Journalist Drew Holden noted that DeSantis’ "rise in a number of straw polls has coincided with a ton of media criticism from liberal organizations.
"It’s clear that they recognize that Governor DeSantis is the future of the Republican Party, and they’re laying the foundation for their talking points for when everyone else catches up to that fact, too," Holden said.
Last year CNN published a piece, "Putting 'politics in front of lives': DeSantis faces criticism over Florida's Covid-19 response," that ran while the network was still defending Chris Cuomo's brother and now-outgoing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D., at every turn.
"Florida was then -- and remains today -- below the national per capita cases of COVID deaths," Holden said.
DeSantis then came under fire for Florida's handling of the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, a feared "super-spreader" event that did not come to fruition. DeSantis was even criticized by NBC News for giving senior citizens, such as Holocaust survivors and veterans, a priority on COVID vaccines simply because they might be Republican voters.
In February, NBC News published a controversial story, "Florida governor accused of playing politics with Covid vaccine," which quickly came under fire. NBC News senior writer Corky Siemaszko wrote DeSantis’ coronavirus vaccine distribution plan had been "marked by chaos" and "critics say he’s been quick to recognize the political gold in those precious doses" because the governor "ignored federal guidelines and prioritized getting senior citizens" vaccinated first.
"You can tell that the 2024 election season is in full swing when the major media try to nuke top GOP candidates. It's almost a badge of honor when the press piles up hit job after hit job against you," Media Research vice president Dan Gainor told Fox News.
"I spent enough years in journalism to still recall when the Associated Press meant a level of professionalism," Gainor added. "That's no longer true. This is the kind of journalism they are associated with. They should be embarrassed."
NBC was hardly the only outlet that would be accused of a ham-fisted effort to hurt DeSantis politically.
Weeks later, DeSantis blasted "corporate media operatives" at CBS News’ "60 Minutes" over its widely criticized report on Florida’s coronavirus vaccine rollout and called on the show to admit its pay-to-play narrative involving him and Publix was false.
CBS’s newsmagazine alleged DeSantis gave the grocery store chain lucrative rights to vaccine distribution in response to a $100,000 donation to his PAC. However, Publix and DeSantis vigorously disputed the piece's narrative, and critics noted Publix was a natural fit for vaccine partnership given its more than 800 locations in the state.
"That's a fake narrative," DeSantis told CBS News. "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.’"
Even Florida Democrats rushed to his defense after the piece aired, with Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner and State Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz speaking out against the story. Conservative pundits, Floridians and journalism professors alike quickly joined Democratic state officials calling for CBS News to retract or correct the story, but "60 Minutes" instead doubled down and oddly enlisted an anonymous retired newsman to applaud the story.
The Drudge Report, a former conservative media aggregator that has taken a sharp left turn, has gone after DeSantis, using both the "60 Minutes" piece and a widely panned Yahoo News story from March as its banner.
The Yahoo story, written by a reporter who once compared Ted Cruz supporters to Nazis, suggested Florida was dramatically undercounting its coronavirus death toll. The story stemmed from a research study showing that Florida's "excess deaths" in 2020 didn't line up with its reported coronavirus fatalities, but multiple experts quoted in the story, including one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Florida's numbers weren't alarming.
Yale epidemiologist Daniel Weinberger said his analysis indicated the Florida "gap" between COVID-19 and excess deaths was about average, according to the story.
Moosa Tatar, the lead author of the study leading the Yahoo piece, told Fox News at the time "many of these [excess] deaths are likely because of COVID-19, but we need further research to determine specific reasons for this."
CNN, CBS, NPR and other media outlets also celebrated Rebekah Jones, a former Florida data scientist who was fired for insubordination and arrested on charges she hacked into the state's health department computer system. She repeatedly alleged, without evidence, that DeSantis ordered her to manipulate COVID-19 data to help in his plans to fully open the state. Her claims made her a hero of the liberal media until her star began to fade.
The former media darling surrendered to the Leon County detention facility in January after law enforcement officials issued a warrant for her arrest. Jones was charged with one count of offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks, and electronic devices, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) said. She also has an arrest record for cyber-stalking, criminal mischief, and trespassing.
DeSantis was even criticized for going on television during the aftermath of the tragic condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida, despite the fact that he was only on TV to discuss the horrific situation.
"This is partisan corporate media and I think at this point these people... they’re basically ambulance chasers with a microphone," DeSantis said on "Fox & Friends" in April. "They are not trustworthy. They lie. We know they’re lying, they know that we know that they’re lying, and yet they lie and they lie and they lie."
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.