The media chafes that DeSantis is an outlier. But his approach is helping 95% of Floridians not infected with the coronavirus.
It was only a matter of time. That is, only a matter of time before one of Florida’s metro daily newspapers would produce what the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published a week ago.
Here’s the headline: “Secrecy and spin: How Florida’s governor misled the public on the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It’s a package of stories with its own spin — revealing facts that show how Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration “suppressed unfavorable facts, dispensed dangerous misinformation (that’s the newspaper’s opinion, the word ‘dangerous’), dismissed public health professionals and promoted the views of scientific dissenters who supported the governor’s approach to the disease.”
To support the charges, the Sun-Sentinel said: “These findings are based on interviews with more than 50 people, including scientists, doctors, political leaders, employees of the state health department and other state officials, as well as more than 4,000 pages of documents.”
To their credit, the three Sun-Sentinel reporters who authored the stories did indeed show suppression, misinformation, avoidance of using public health experts at Florida universities and how DeSantis engaged one of Donald Trump’s COVID-19 advisers, Dr. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution who has been an outspoken critic of lockdowns.
When you finish the Sun-Sentinel report, if you’re not a fan of how DeSantis has handled the pandemic, you’ll likely conclude: See, it’s all politics. He has been doing everything for political purposes. The rat.
But if you’re a fan of the way DeSantis has been handling the pandemic — managing for the most vulnerable, doing his best to keep the economy going and people employed, and letting Floridians have their constitutionally guaranteed freedom to make their own decisions, an approach we endorse — then you’re likely to conclude the same: Of course, it’s political. That’s what politicians do.
That’s what all 50 governors are doing — acting in their interests, using their office’s powers, often far too excessively, all the while mouthing and trying to show their top priority is acting in the interest of their citizens’ health and safety.
No one who reaches the governor’s office will purposely act in a way to destroy his or her career. And no politician at that level will ever be completely honest with the public. That’s the way it always has been.
But in the case of DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic — especially since September when he lifted all restrictions — the Observer will be among the few media organizations to give the governor high praise. We will give him high praise for having the courage not to be a sheep and to go against the media and the crowd of experts and to have the courage to open the state and keep it open for the 20.53 million Floridians — 95% of the state’s population — who have not contracted the coronavirus.
Sure, it’s fair to criticize DeSantis for suppression, misinformation and acting politically. But it wouldn’t have mattered what DeSantis, or any governor, did or does with respect to COVID-19. In a pandemic, particularly one about which little was known in the beginning, managing the crisis was and is a no-win game. The public, which includes the media, will always be merciless and show little appreciation for what these state leaders have faced and are facing.
How would you have balanced the threat of the virus versus the threat of destroying the well-being and economic health of 21.6 million people? How would you have balanced fueling fears versus giving them hope and a sense of calm?
In the Sun-Sentinel report, predictably, DeSantis’ critics jump all over him for constantly emphasizing positive or favorable statistics. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a Democrat and former state senator, said:
“He has these press conferences where he says how great everything is. It’s more like an Amway meeting than an emergency management meeting. This constant refrain of how well everyone is doing. It’s so the wrong approach.”
What would be better? The media’s fear-fueling approach?
Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration, which says lockdowns are producing devastating effects, wrote last week that the American press “has been unrelentingly negative in its COVID-19 coverage, even when there is good news to tell. That negativity is part of what fuels a culture of fear that affects local, state and federal politicians and the decisions they make.”
He cited “a lot of good news”: “The case fatality rate … has dropped sharply since March. The infection survival rate is 99.95% for people under 70 and 95% for people over 70. Hospitals are much better equipped to handle patients, with improved ventilator protocols, improved management of outpatients and new therapeutic strategies to provide relief and recoveries. Moreover, … there may soon be a safe and effective vaccine.
“Though there has been some coverage of lockdown harms, the media have not paid the same attention to them as they have to COVID deaths. If there is a COVID-death tracker, there should be side-by-side with it a lockdown-death tracker.”
If there were such a tracker, it would show that DeSantis’ anti-lockdown approach is more effective than lockdowns. In a video last week, Ivor Cummins, a noted Irish bio-engineer, presented data showing “the most locked-down 10 states are all worse than Florida for cases, for hospitalizations and for deaths. So lockdowns and masks are proven again and again to do nothing effectively.”
Even Politifact, the self-anointed arbiter of truth, published the following last week: “We found that Florida’s record, at least as of the beginning of December, compared favorably with most states across the country, including those with tighter restrictions. Specifically, in comparisons of coronavirus cases deaths and hospitalizations per capita, Florida ranked among the best and better than some of the more highly regulated states.”
Florida’s media will continue to beat up on DeSantis for being an outlier on lockdowns. But we will encourage him to resist and stay the course.