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Facts Or Smears? DeSantis Reacts To '60 Minutes' And The Publix Rollout

Gov. Ron DeSantis at the podium
Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis defended his coronavirus vaccine rollout following the report on "60 Minutes."

Said DeSantis: "if they’re going to come down here and smear our efforts or smear me or smear great companies in my state, I’m going to hit ‘em back, right between the eyes."

Gov. Ron DeSantis embarked on a retribution tour this week after the CBS News program “60 Minutes” tried to paint his COVID-19 vaccination efforts with the Publix supermarket chain as a pay-to-play scheme.

In a stop at the Capitol on Wednesday, DeSantis took reporters through a PowerPoint presentation headlined, “Facts vs. Smears: Debunking false & defamatory partisan attacks by 60 Minutes.”

“I don’t need any plaudits from corporate media. But if they’re going to come down here and smear our efforts or smear me or smear great companies in my state, I’m going to hit ‘em back, right between the eyes,” DeSantis said.

In the “60 Minutes” piece Sunday, reporter Sharyn Alfonsi focused on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Palm Beach County —specifically claims that the wealthy town of Palm Beach was favored over poorer rural areas. At the center of the story was the state’s partnership with Lakeland-based Publix, which Alfonsi asserted was given “exclusive rights” to distribute vaccine doses in Palm Beach.

RELATED: DeSantis Strongly Rebuts '60 Minutes' Report On Publix Vaccine Distribution

“How is that not pay to play?” Alfonsi asked DeSantis during a news conference last month in Melbourne, a clip of which was featured in Sunday’s show.

The “60 Minutes” reporter drew connections between a $100,000 donation made by Publix to DeSantis’ political committee and the governor’s decision to partner with the supermarket chain in vaccinating residents. Alfonsi sat down with a Democratic member of the Florida House to illustrate that getting vaccinated at Publix wasn’t an option for many people in communities near Palm Beach.

“Belle Glade is one of the poorest communities, not just in Palm Beach County, but in the state of Florida. So, you have lots of folks who don’t have cars,” said Rep. Omari Hardy, a West Palm Beach Democrat who was interviewed for the segment. “The nearest Publix to Belle Glade is about 25 miles.”

The governor, who regularly locks horns with the media, is seizing the moment after the CBS report. Some of the biggest names in conservative media, and some Democrats like Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, have come to his defense.

The focus of DeSantis’ scorched-earth campaign is a rebuttal to the claims that Publix had exclusivity in receiving vaccines, with the governor saying Wednesday that Florida never paid the chain “one red cent” to give shots.

“There is no exclusive deal with Publix in Palm Beach. They were doing the long-term care (facilities), Walgreens and CVS, the whole time,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis’ arguments were backed by state Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat who previously served in the state House and appeared with DeSantis on Wednesday.

“The decision to use Publix was made in my office in the (state Emergency Operations Center),” Moskowitz said, adding the recommendation was developed with “10 people in the room.”

Moskowitz also said he reached out to Walmart before approaching Publix and reiterated previous statements that he spoke with “60 Minutes” off-camera before the piece aired to debunk the “Publix narrative.”

“I told them that this Publix narrative was malarkey, and they still went with it,” Moskowitz said.

DeSantis said portions of his answer to Alfonsi’s question were edited out of the segment that aired Sunday.

“It’s very telling, when I was asked at that press conference, I gave a very detailed answer. And that answer was edited out. Every single fact that I discussed was edited out,” DeSantis said.

CBS is standing by the segment, saying in a statement that Alfonsi’s reporting “speaks for itself.”