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Analysis: Unpacking the edits in ‘60 Minutes’ report on Ron DeSantis, Florida vaccines

Did “60 Minutes” selectively edit video footage of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to portray the state’s coronavirus vaccine in a negative light? That’s what DeSantis and some of his supporters are saying.

The report by “60 Minutes” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi looked at how wealthy Floridians were among the first to get coronavirus vaccines in the state, to the detriment of working-class areas. That reporting was overshadowed by “60 Minutes’” coverage of DeSantis’ decision to partner with Publix to distribute vaccines in places like Palm Beach County, which has a large elderly population. Publix is the dominant supermarket chain in the state.

“60 Minutes” reported that the grocery store chain’s $100,000 donation in December to DeSantis’ 2022 re-election campaign may have influenced his decision, although the one-hour Sunday newsmagazine didn’t provide conclusive evidence.

DeSantis, who is a Republican, isn’t the only official who says the suggestion is false. Florida Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz and Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, both Democrats, have also called it inaccurate. Publix has also denied any connection between its political donations and vaccine program.

DeSantis has latched on to the show’s editing of his response to a question about “pay-to-play” as further proof of “corporate media” bias. He did not sit for an interview.

“I gave a very detailed answer, and that answer was edited out. Every single fact that I discussed was edited out,” DeSantis said April 7. “Everything they left on the cutting room floor was designed to take away all the evidence against their narrative. It was malicious what they did.”

DeSantis cited videos on social media that compare uninterrupted footage of what DeSantis told Alfonsi at a March 22 press conference with the truncated version that CBS News put on the air.

DeSantis’ supporters call the edits “deceptive.” CBS News says their version is standard editing.

“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,” a CBS News spokesperson told PolitiFact. “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.”

PolitiFact rolled the tapes to see what the “60 Minutes” segment showed, what was left out of DeSantis’ comments, and what it means for the substance of the piece.

What DeSantis said in the clip ‘60 Minutes’ included

The “60 Minutes” clip shortens the governor’s response to Alfonsi’s questions about Publix’s donations to his reelection campaign.

It shows DeSantis denying the premise of her question multiple times. But it left out some of the background he offered about the state’s approach.

Here’s a transcript of what “60 Minutes” included from the press conference, which took place at a high school in Melbourne, Fla.:

Alfonsi: “Publix, as you know, donated $100,000 to your campaign and then you rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach.”

DeSantis: “So, first of all, what you’re saying is wrong.”

Alfonsi: “How is that not pay-to-play?”

DeSantis: “That’s a fake narrative. I met with the county mayor, I met with the administrator, I met with all the folks of 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 (Publix would) be the easiest thing for our residents.”

Alfonsi: “The criticism is that it’s pay-to-play, governor.”

DeSantis: “It’s wrong, it’s wrong. 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. And so it’s clearly not.”

Alfonsi: “Isn’t the nearest Publix in the Glades 30 miles away? That’s actually a fact.”

DeSantis: “No, no, no. You’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.”

What wasn’t included in the final report

DeSantis’ full response to Alfonsi’s questions took about three minutes. While “60 Minutes” focused on his emphatic denial, it left out the background that he offered about how the state had been working with other retail pharmacies to distribute coronavirus vaccines at long-term care facilities in December and his own interactions with Publix customers.

CBS says this part of his response did not directly answer the question.

Here is DeSantis’ full response to Alfonsi’s question about the Publix donation and vaccine distribution rights in Palm Beach County. (We used The Florida Channel.) The parts of the transcript that appeared in the segment are in bold:

DeSantis: “So, first of all, what you’re saying is wrong. That’s a fake narrative. 

“So first of all … the first pharmacies that had it were CVS and Walgreens. And they had a long-term care mission, so they were going to the long-term care facilities. They got vaccine in the middle of December, they started going to the long-term care facilities the third week of December to do LTCs. 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.

“For the Publix, they were the first one to raise their hands (and) say they were ready to go. And you know what? We did it on a trial basis. I had three counties. I actually showed up that weekend and talked to seniors across four different Publix — How was the experience? Is this good? Should you think this is a way to go? — and it was 100% positive. So we expanded it and then folks liked it.

“And I can tell you, if you look at a place like Palm Beach County, they were kind of struggling at first in terms of the senior numbers. I went, 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, we can do this. They calculated that 90% of their seniors live within a mile and a half of a Publix, and they said, We think that would be the easiest thing for our residents.

“So we did that, and what ended up happening was, you had 65 Publix in Palm Beach. Palm Beach is one of the biggest counties, one of the most elderly counties. We’ve done almost 75% of the seniors in Palm Beach, and the reason is because you have the strong retail footprint. So our way has been multi-faceted, it has worked — and we’re also now very much expanding CVS and Walgreens now that they’ve completed the long-term care mission.”

Alfonsi: “The criticism is that it’s pay-to-play, governor.”

DeSantis: “And it’s wrong, it’s wrong. 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. And so it’s clearly not.”

Alfonsi: “Isn’t the nearest Publix in the Glades 30 miles away? That’s actually a fact.”

DeSantis: “No, no, no. You’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.”

‘60 Minutes’ says clip was edited for clarity

The “60 Minutes” segment omits some of the background on why Florida partnered with Publix to distribute coronavirus vaccines. That omission could constitute “deceptive editing,” as some social media users have claimed.

“Deceptive editing” means a clip “has been edited and rearranged,” according to the Washington Post’s guide to manipulated video. Deceptive editing can include omission (“editing out large portions from a video and presenting it as a complete narrative” to “skew reality”) and splicing (“editing together disparate videos (that) fundamentally alters the story that is being told”).

By omitting DeSantis’ remarks on why the state partnered with Publix to distribute vaccines in Palm Beach County, the “60 Minutes” clip could fall into the former category.

“In the story, there was a direct line between the campaign contribution and the rewarding. And they never proved that,” said Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism school that owns PolitiFact. “I think they owe it to everybody — they owe it to the governor, they owe it to Publix, they owe it to the public — to explain to us how they came to that conclusion.”

A CBS News spokesperson told PolitiFact the comments were edited for clarity, a common journalistic practice. “As we always do for clarity, ‘60 Minutes’ used the portion of the governor’s over two-minute response that directly addressed the question from the correspondent,” the spokesperson said.

But Tompkins said the news outlet’s public defense of the report “doesn’t answer anything.”

“While it made for interesting television it didn’t make for complete truth,” he said.

Author: PolitiFact; Zach Oliveri/ WINK News
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