Charles Cooke on Rebekah Jones, the whistleblower who wasn't

One of the things that has become very apparent over the past year or so is just how much Democrats and the media were determined to paint NY Gov. Cuomo as a hero of the pandemic while painting Florida Gov. DeSantis as a failure. One of the people who was critical in creating that media impression of DeSantis was Rebekah Jones, the woman who proclaimed she’d been fired from her job maintaining the state’s COVID website because she’d refused to alter the data in ways that would make the state look better. Here’s how NPR reported it last June:

Jones says a superior asked her to open up the data and alter the numbers so that the state’s coronavirus positivity rating would change from 18% to 10% — and the state would appear to meet its target to reopen.

She says she refused to do that manipulation and others she was asked to, and she was fired on May 18.

“To me, it did not read like some kind of political conspiracy or some higher directive,” Jones says. “It seemed like people who expected when I brought in those results, the results to support the plan they had written, and they did not, they seemed panicked, and like they had to figure out a way to make the results match the plan.”

Jones’ whistleblower act made her into a semi-celebrity with a certain strain of progressives who became convinced that dastardly Republicans led by DeSantis were lying about the outbreak in Florida. She was featured in articles that appeared at NPR, the Washington Post, USA Today and many local news sites in Florida.

Then in early December, police showed up at her house. Jones framed this as the Empire striking back against a brave whistleblower. She claimed police had pointed guns at her children.

Jones framed it as the DeSantis “Gestapo” looking to silence her and take away whatever “evidence of corruption” she had on her computers.

She then wrote an opinion piece about the raid of her home for the Miami Herald promising she wouldn’t be silenced. She also filed a lawsuit but less than two months later she dropped the lawsuit, temporarily she claimed.

Last week, National Review’s Charles Cooke took a look at Jones’ story from start to finish and found nothing but a series of unreliable claims paired with ongoing attempts to raise money. First off there’s her claim that she was fired for trying to tell people the truth. In fact, documents show Jones’ supervisor was considering firing her because she was making claims online without the consent of her employer and without coordinating it with anyone.

[Florida Department of Health IT Director Craig] Curry confirmed that between April 9 and April 30, 2020, he had verbally told Jones to stop talking to the press without permission, and, more specifically, that he had told her to stop releasing health-department data or representing her employer without consent.

On May 6, Curry asked a labor-relations consultant how to document Jones’ behavior as he was clearly thinking he might need to fire her. Curry apparently decided not to do that but the very next day, Jones took over the site and crashed it.

Without telling a single person what she was doing, Jones created a new account within the GIS system and moved a tranche of data into it. This both broke the setup and sincerely confused the department’s IT staff. “Because the team was not informed,” Curry wrote, it “began troubleshooting the issue as if it were a system issue”—which, of course, it was not. In the process, the FDOH asked Chris Duclos, a GIS manager and the only other person besides Jones who had “full administrative right [sic] in our system[,] to help.” This Duclos did, primarily “by modifying ownership of objects to return the process to the previous state”—that is, to roll back the system to how it had been when it was working. At 1:00 p.m. that day, aware that Duclos was reversing her power grab, Jones locked Duclos out of his account.

By 1:35 p.m. on the same day, Jones had been instructed to restore Duclos’s full administrative access. Six and a half hours later, at 8:08, she responded by saying that she would, and then, at 8:28, added that she intended to leave Florida to spend some time with her family in Mississippi. Except . . . she didn’t. Instead, as Curry recorded, Jones set Duclos’s permissions to a lower level than administrator, and left herself as the sole person within the FDOH who had administrator status. In response, Duclos emailed the state’s GIS vendor and re­quested that his full permissions be restored. This was done.

Jones claimed she’d done all of this over concerns about the security of the site and for a week everything calmed down. But it was the calm before the storm. On May 15th Jones sent out a mass email claiming she’d been removed from her job running the COVID dashboard and suggesting it was because she’d refused to manipulate data. That’s the story that took off in the media, i.e. that Jones was fired for refusing to cook the books. The only problem is that never made much sense because Jones didn’t have access to the raw data in the first place.

In her role as the manager of the dashboard, Jones did not have the ability to edit the raw data. Only a handful of people in Florida are permitted to touch that information, and Jones was not among them. Instead, each day she was given a copy of the data and charged with uploading it into the system in a manner determined by the epidemiological team. Had she for some reason decided to alter that copy, it would have been obvious to everyone within seconds of its being compared with the original…

Her role at the FDOH was to serve as one of the people who export other people’s work—from sets over which she had no control—and to present it nicely on the state’s dashboard. To understand just how far removed Jones really is from the actual data, consider that even now—even as she rakes in cash from the gullible to support her own independent dashboard—she is using precisely the same FDOH data used by everyone else in the world. Yes, you read that right: Jones’s “rebel” dashboard is hooked up directly to the same FDOH that she pretends daily is engaged in a conspiracy.

As for the raid on her home, Cooke notes that police apparently found something because a judge signed a warrant for Jones’ arrest and she is now awaiting trial.

Yesterday, Cooke appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to describe the whole affair. He specifically pointed out that Rachel Maddow had helped spread Jones’ claims about data manipulation.