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Poynter pings '60 Minutes' on suggesting DeSantis pay for play: 'There was really no there there'

"This doesn't ruin the '60 Minutes' brand, but this was not one of the show's finer moments," Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones wrote.

Updated: April 8, 2021 - 11:35am

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The Poynter Institute has criticized CBS's "60 Minutes" for a recently aired segment that has broadly come under fire.

The segment, featuring reporter Sharyn Alfonsi and produced by Oriana Zill de Granados, highlighted donations that the grocery chain Publix had made to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's political action committee Friends of Ron DeSantis, suggesting that the Sunshine State Republican may have engaged in a pay for play scheme with Publix related to coronavirus vaccine distribution.

Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones said that the segment "really didn't deliver substantial evidence that DeSantis did any such thing. Yes, Publix donated to DeSantis' reelection campaign. But that is neither illegal nor unusual. Big companies often donate to political campaigns of both major parties. Yet the "60 Minutes" piece used that as the main evidence for its premise that DeSantis did something shady. They really didn't have much else on that topic. There was really no there there," Jones wrote.

"This doesn't ruin the '60 Minutes' brand, but this was not one of the show's finer moments," he concluded.

The show has come under significant criticism for the segment, including from Publix, which blasted the notion of a pay for play scheme in a statement on Monday: "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," the company said. 

Gov. DeSantis himself has blasted CBS and the program, saying that they are "dedicated to leaving the truth on the cutting room floor."

"CBS and 60 Minutes have a playbook: lie with impunity, smear their political opponents and deceptively edit out facts that eviscerate their bogus, partisan narratives," DeSantis tweeted.

CBS News has defended the editing of Gov. DeSantis's response when Alfonsi at a press conference brought up the donations from Publix and said that the governor had "rewarded them [Publix] with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach." The show cut out a significant portion of the comments DeSantis made when he responded to Alfonsi.

"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," a CBS News spokesperson noted, according to reports.

Democrat Jared Moskowitz, the Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said in a tweet: "@60Minutes I said this before and I'll say it again. @Publix was recommended by @FLSERT and @HealthyFla as the other pharmacies were not ready to start. Period! Full Stop! No one from the Governors office suggested Publix. It’s just absolute malarkey."

Democrat Dave Kerner, the mayor of Palm Beach County, issued a statement blasting the report: "The reporting was not just based on bad information — it was intentionally false. I know this because I offered to provide my insight into Palm Beach County's vaccination efforts and 60 minutes declined," Kerner declared. "They know that the Governor came to Palm Beach County and met with me and the County Administrator and we asked to expand the state's partnership with Publix to Palm Beach County. We also discussed our own local plans to expand mass vaccinations centers throughout the county, which the Governor has been incredibly supportive. We asked and he delivered. They had that information, and they left it out because it kneecaps their narrative."

During an interview on Fox News Kerner said that he had "participated in speaking with the producer of '60 Minutes'" but that his perspective and remarks were not included in the television segment.

A CBS spokesperson said in a statement: "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."

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