CBS vs. journalism

James Freeman:

It’s hard to find silver linings in this era of expanding government authority and contracting individual opportunity for free expression. But at least the media establishment can no longer pretend that its abandonment of journalistic standards was necessitated by the unique character of Donald Trump. “Resistance journalism” is now industry standard, judging by a story on Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis by the formerly prestigious television newsmagazine “60 Minutes.”

Resistance journalism is the term coined by media maven Ben Smith, who was also one of the genre’s most successful practitioners. The idea was to create compelling anti-Trump narratives unbound by the traditional obligations of fact-checking.

The Trump administration began with news organizations flogging false collusion claims from anonymous sources. It ended recently with news organizations flogging a false story from a single anonymous source who did not even witness the relevant event—and was then protected until she granted her permission to acknowledge she was the source of the bogus report.

Now we have a traditional pillar of U.S. broadcast journalism applying the model to the next Republican in line for national attention. But “60 Minutes” seems to have taken the spirit of resistance journalism one step beyond simply advancing the hidden agendas of people unwilling to go on the record. Sunday night’s attack on Gov. DeSantis didn’t even include key facts presented by witnesses who have been speaking on the record.

Aaron Blake writes at the Washington Post:

Over the past year, DeSantis has repeatedly found himself targeted for his coronavirus response, sometimes in overwrought ways. The culmination came Sunday in a “60 Minutes” piece that cast a spotlight on his decision to run Florida’s coronavirus vaccination program through the grocery store chain Publix, which had donated $100,000 to his campaign in the weeks prior.

The pushback on the report, which followed others raising similar questions and included asking DeSantis about an alleged “pay to play” arrangement, has been swift. Even Florida officials with ties to the Democratic Party have defended the decision to use Publix, which is the state’s most popular grocery chain and has also donated to Democrats and progressive causes.

Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner (D), whose city was a focal point of the “60 Minutes” report, said flatly that the reporting was “intentionally false” and that “60 Minutes” had declined his offer to provide a counterpoint. He said it should be “ashamed.”

David Rutz at Fox News notes the comments of another Florida Democrat:

Florida Division of Emergency Management head Jared Moskowitz tweeted at CBS’s newsmagazine that Publix, a popular southern grocery store chain, was recommended by his agency and the Florida Department of Health, not the governor’s office.

“I said this before and I’ll say it again,” he tweeted. “Publix was recommended by [Florida Division of Emergency Management] and [Florida Department of Health] 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.”

Mr. Moskowitz has been saying it for a while, clearly and publicly. After the Miami Herald was on Twitter flogging the same line that was later adopted by CBS, Mr. Moskowitz tweeted more than a month ago:

This idea why @Publix was picked has been utter nonsense. We reached out to all pharmacies and they were the only one who at the time could execute on the mission. The federal government delayed the federal pharmacy program and we yet again stepped up first to serve more seniors

This week Mr. Moskowitz provided more detail to Ryan Mills at National Review:

Looking to expand COVID-19 vaccine distribution sites over the winter, Florida’s emergency management director says he first reached out to Walmart, not Publix, to execute the mission.

The reason: Walmart has more locations than Publix in socially vulnerable, rural areas in Florida. But Walmart wouldn’t be ready to distribute the vaccine for three weeks, Jared Moskowitz, the state’s emergency management director, told National Review. So, he reached out to Publix, a Florida-based grocery and pharmacy chain.

“Publix said they could be ready in 72 hours,” said Moskowitz, who is a Democrat. “I picked Publix. Walked into the governor’s office the next day, gave them the plan about why we needed to turn on more locations, especially in some rural, fiscally constrained areas.”

Tom Jones at the Poynter Institute quotes a statement from CBS News:

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.

This is a defense? In the case of Mr. Moskowitz, CBS appears to be arguing that it is free to ignore facts as long as they are not spoken in an exclusive CBS television interview.

As for the network’s comment on Mr. Kerner, CBS lawyers may someday regret letting this one become public. Rather than contradicting the substance of his message, CBS simply confirms that they had access to the facts before running their story.

The term resistance journalism is starting to seem a little dated. Perhaps it’s better to just call it propaganda.


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