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DeSantis calls 60 Minutes report a 'ridiculous smear narrative'

The Florida governor continued to deny any suggestions that Publix was given exclusive rights in the state's COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Credit: AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks Tuesday, March 2, 2021, during his State of the State address at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Tallahassee Wednesday following Sunday's suggestion by 60 Minutes that the governor gave preferential treatment to Publix for the state's COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

The governor doubled down on his statements that the assertions made in CBS' 60 Minutes report were false and malicious, calling the piece a “ridiculous smear narrative" Wednesday at the state Capitol.

DeSantis said his answers were edited out of the 60 Minutes piece in an effort to "further a narrative” and “hide the facts."

He held strong in his denial that Publix was ever given an exclusive deal in Florida, explaining that CVS and Walgreen's were actually distributing COVID-19 vaccines in the state before Publix.

"To assert, as a matter of fact, that Publix was rewarded with exclusive rights in Palm Beach County is something that even the dimmest bulb in the New York corporate media constellation would have been able to realize that was false," DeSantis said. 

In the 60 Minutes report, reporter Sharyn Alfonsi said finance records showed that "weeks before the governor's announcement, Publix donated $100,000 to his political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis." 

The report also said in the past, Julie Jenkins Facelli, heiress to the Publix fortune, has given $55,000 to the governor's PAC. And, her brother-in-law donated $25,000 in November.

But, critics of the 60 Minutes piece say regardless of any donations, Publix didn't get special treatment.

Publix previously released the following statement:

"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."

The governor on Wednesday used a visual presentation to compare claims made in the 60 Minutes piece with what he said were the actual facts.

He outlined the other locations in Palm Beach County that were used to distribute the COIVD-19 vaccine, like hospitals, pop-up sites, and faith-based communities, in an effort to demonstrate that Publix did not have exclusive rights.

DeSantis called the 60 Minutes suggestions nothing but a “manufactured conspiracy theory."

“60 minutes is lying to you. They knew they were lying, and they kept on lying," the governor said.

DeSantis was joined by Florida's outgoing emergency services director Jared Moskowitz, who backed up the governor's claims.

Moskowitz said he actually called Walmart first for the vaccine distribution program, but said that the store couldn't start the program for another 21 days while Publix could start giving out shots within 72 hours.

“That’s it. That’s the whole story," Moskowitz said.

At a press conference on Tuesday, the governor called the 60 Minutes investigation "a piece of horse manure" and denied that he showed preference to wealthy and privileged senior populations during early vaccine rollout. 

60 Minutes recently responded to the governor's statements. A CBS News spokesperson released the following statement on Tuesday:

“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."

You can watch the governor's full press conference below.

RELATED: 'A piece of horse manure': Gov. DeSantis slams 60 Minutes investigation

RELATED: 60 Minutes investigates allegations Gov. DeSantis' vaccine distribution favored the wealthy

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