February 5, 2022

Published with permission of PRESS RUN, Eric Boehlert’s must-read media newsletter. Subscribe here.

Overly impressed with Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ “mastery of his party’s hostile relationship with the mainstream media,” the New York Times published its latest valentine to the right-wing Republican this week. Marveling at his ability to mix “bluster and grievance” while following the obvious anti-media Trump playbook, the Times cheered the “underestimated politician” for his “vintage” attacks on the press that have “worked to his advantage.”

DeSantis has “proven remarkably deft at fighting back” against the media, the newspaper announced, without ever explaining what’s so difficult or unusual about a conservative mindlessly bashing the press without any evidence of wrongdoing. The GOP has been doing that for decades as a way to work the refs and intimidate journalists. It clearly works. Today, the Times functions as a clearing house for DeSantis puff pieces.

Why is the paper obsessed with constantly putting a Southern governor in a glowing light? Look at the premise of Tuesday’s article: “If Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida somehow becomes the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2024, two factors will help explain why.” The Times for the last year has been a leading press player in pushing the idea that DeSantis is a runaway Republican star, and the Times’ general practice is always to treat rising Republican stars as savvy and imposing.

The absurd DeSantis media piece was a perfect example of the newspaper’s chronic failure in the covering the governor. The soft look did not include a single quote from a Democrat to put the bullying in context. The piece also failed to quote any experts on press freedoms and what it means to American democracy to have so many prominent Republicans constantly denigrate the role of the free press in this country; to lock reporters out of bill signing ceremonies and withhold public documents, the way DeSantis does.

The article offered no insights as to why DeSantis bashes the press without provocation, even though the answer is obvious to local observers. “Tearing a page out of the Trump playbook, he tries to de-legitimize the role of a free press in a democratic society,” noted Sun Sentinel columnist Steve Bousquet. “The strategy mostly reveals DeSantis’ thin skin and a reluctance to have contact with people who don’t agree with him. What’s he afraid of?”

Note the double standard: While the Times clearly admires DeSantis’ “rocky” relationship with the press and his constant attacks on the Fourth Estate, the paper last year dinged President Joe Biden for having a “low-key” relationship with the press. Do you think if Biden constantly bullied journalists the Times would toast his strategy?

What about the fact that more than 65,000 Floridians have died from Covid-19 and 5 million have been infected under DeSantis, who has taken extreme steps that have prolonged the pandemic? The Times politely sets most of that aside. During the height of the Delta variant sweeping across Florida last summer, when the Sunshine State became a global Covid epicenter, the Times reported that for “better or worse” DeSantis “refuses to change course” with his policies. “For better”??

This is a governor who has barred schools from mandating masks, stood in the way of hospital vaccine mandates, and demanded cruise lines allow unvaccinated passengers to set sail. He even secured one million useless doses of hydroxychloroquine in tribute to Trump. Then late last year the state announced one million unused Covid tests had expired while sitting in warehouses as Floridians across the state waited in line for hours to find valid tests.

The Times’ love affair with DeSantis began in earnest last April when the daily cast not one but two long, admiring looks at the right-wing governor. The first was published April 10, and it read like an elongated press release, “Could Ron DeSantis Be Trump’s G.O.P. Heir? He’s Certainly Trying.” Quoting friends who touted his “intellect” and his love of “poring over articles in scientific journals,” the Times celebrated DeSantis’ “sterling” resume.

Just twelve days later the Times followed up with a front-page valentine, typing up DeSantis’ press office spin about how Florida was “booming” and he had somehow carved out a Covid-free region for the Sunshine State. “In a country just coming out of the morose grip of coronavirus lockdowns, Florida feels unmistakably hot,” the Times gushed.

By last summer the paper had no choice but to cover Florida’s runaway pandemic during the Delta variant surge. But reading the Times’ gentle coverage you’d think DeSantis, who was referenced just four times in one lengthy piece, was a bit player in this man-made drama. You’d think the state’s descent into mass Covid death was some kind of unavoidable twist of fate. “Exactly why the state has been so hard-hit remains an elusive question,” the Times reported, throwing up its hands.

Once again, the newspaper piece didn’t bother quoting a single DeSantis critic, even though just days earlier Miami Mayor Dan Gelber had announced unequivocally that DeSantis’ policies “are literally killing people.”

That’s not the story the Times wants to tell.

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