CBS hits back at DeSantis: Publix did too have exclusive rights to distribute the vaccine in Palm Beach County

AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

How many statements have they issued digging in further since the criticism of their hit piece began, even as members of their own industry have sheepishly conceded that DeSantis has a right to be angry in this case? This has to be at least the third.


To refresh your memory, the chief objection to the “60 Minutes” report on DeSantis and Publix is that it insinuated without proof that there was a quid pro quo between the two. Publix gave DeSantis $100,000, “60 Minutes” noted, and Publix ended up as the first major distributor of the COVID vaccine in Florida. That’s all there was to the allegation; there’s no evidence that a deal was struck, just innuendo. This long new statement is distinguished by the fact that it doesn’t even engage that point. There’s no attempt to put more meat on the bone of the accusation that Publix paid to play with the vaccine. What CBS wants to do instead is dispute DeSantis’s claim in his press conference yesterday that Publix was not, in fact, an “exclusive” distributor of the vaccine in Palm Beach County.

It was, says CBS. Sort of:

In its statement, CBS News said, “Governor DeSantis’ comments about this piece do not acknowledge that his senior constituents in the Glades did not have easy access to a Publix for the vaccine. The Glades is an underserved portion of Palm Beach County with a population of 31,000 that was the focus of the ’60 Minutes’ report.”…

Governor DeSantis has referenced Florida’s vaccine distribution through the pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens, saying they had it before Publix. But those doses were part of a federal program for nursing homes and long-term care facilities and were not available at stores or to the general public. State allocations of vaccines for the general public did not reach CVS pharmacies in Palm Beach County until late February; they reached Walgreens pharmacies there in mid-March.

“Publix was the only pharmacy in Palm Beach County to have the vaccine available for seniors in the general population of Palm Beach County in January,” the CBS News statement said. “At this time, the mostly Black and Hispanic senior residents of the Glades would need to drive 25 miles if they had a car or take a long bus ride to the nearest Publix store, and that is if they could get a vaccine appointment online. Many people in the Glades do not own a computer or a smartphone.”


There’s more, so read all of it. Somehow we’ve gone from “Did DeSantis take a bribe from a company to give them special vaccine distribution rights?” to “DeSantis didn’t do enough early on to get minority residents in Palm Beach County vaccinated.” According to the governor’s website, though, his team was looking for ways to get the vaccine to people of color even before shipments were being made to Publix:

Starting in early January, the state began supporting faith-based vaccination missions in Palm Beach County. The first mission at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist in West Palm Beach was held on January 16th, which occurred prior to Publix pharmacies being available in the county. To date, 11 faith-based missions have been held in Palm Beach County.

If Publix was paying to play, it’s weird that the very first vaccination effort, the initiative to get seniors in nursing homes immunized in December, was tasked to CVS and Walgreens instead of them. And it’s also strange that, as CBS acknowledges, Publix’s allegedly “exclusive” access to the vaccine only lasted a month or so in Palm Beach County before CVS began dosing it out too. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat and the state’s emergency management director, said at yesterday’s presser and has said before that there’s a simple reason why Publix was the first major distributor to get the vaccine. Namely, it was prepared to start distribution within 72 hours after he contacted its managers. Walmart needed three weeks, according to Moskowitz. Even so, he was adamant that the state has worked with groups of all sorts, from churches to activists to community organizers, to try to reach people who might not have easy access to a big pharmacy chain. The plan was never to leave everything to Publix.


But again: How did this go from being a story about DeSantis getting his palm greased to do a favor for a corporate crony to a story about DeSantis supposedly not caring about whether black Floridians got the vaccine expeditiously or not?

The new CBS statement doesn’t mention what Moskowitz said yesterday about why Walmart got passed over for Publix. Instead it ends with this:

Prior to the CBS News report, questions concerning donations made to Governor DeSantis’ Political Action Committee by the supermarket chain Publix and its distribution of the vaccine had been raised by public officials in Florida. State Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried said it was “political favoritism” and “public corruption.” And state Representative Omari Hardy said, “It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Omari Hardy is a Democratic state rep who was pushing the same baseless smear about Publix donating to DeSantis for vaccine distribution rights back in late January. Nikki Fried is also a Democrat — who’s aiming to challenge DeSantis for governor next year, something CBS conveniently doesn’t mention in citing her criticism of him.

In my own community, for whatever reason, vaccines are easy to come by at CVS but much harder to find at Walgreens. I don’t assume that CVS bribed anyone to make that happen; it’s surely a matter of local capacity and distribution chains. Why would it be any different in Florida? We’re left at the end of this with CBS puzzling over the apparent mystery of why DeSantis chose a famously popular, ubiquitous supermarket chain that’s known for its sweet deals on medication to distribute a lifesaving vaccine expeditiously to millions of senior citizens. How are we still talking about this five days later? Take the L, “60 Minutes.”


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John Stossel 5:30 PM | July 13, 2024