By:
April 7, 2021

CBS’s “60 Minutes” is the finest and most respected investigative journalism show in the history of television. Even after 53 years on the air, “60 Minutes” remains among the most relevant, effective and powerful brands in news. There’s no dispute that it has been and continues to be home to elite reporting on the most critical issues of our time.

But that doesn’t mean it’s infallible. And a sloppy moment on Sunday’s show is raising serious concerns.

A story reported by Sharyn Alfonsi and produced by Oriana Zill de Granados suggested that Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis gave grocery chain Publix preferential treatment to distribute COVID-19 vaccines because Publix donated $100,000 to DeSantis’ reelection campaign.

If that is true — if DeSantis ran a “pay-for-play” scheme involving vaccinations for the coronavirus — that’s an explosive story. But “60 Minutes” really didn’t deliver substantial evidence that DeSantis did any such thing.

Yes, Publix donated to DeSantis’ reelection campaign. But that is neither illegal nor unusual. Big companies often donate to political campaigns of both major parties. Yet the “60 Minutes” piece used that as the main evidence for its premise that DeSantis did something shady. They really didn’t have much else on that topic. There was really no there there.

And the thing is, the part about Publix wasn’t even the main part of the story, which was really about whether the wealthy were able to cut the line to get the vaccine.

But all the attention now is about this sketchy passing reference to the Publix thing. As far as that goes, DeSantis said the reason Florida partnered with Publix was that Publix could roll out the vaccine in days, whereas other pharmacies could not move that quickly.

DeSantis has blasted “60 Minutes,” calling the claims “irresponsible.” He said, “I know corporate media thinks that they can just run over people. You ain’t running over this governor. I’m punching back and I’m going to continue to do it until these smear merchants are held accountable.”

He added, “That’s why nobody trusts corporate media. They are a disaster in what they are doing. They knew what they were doing was a lie.”

In a statement, Publix said, “The irresponsible suggestion that there was a connection between campaign contributions made to Governor DeSantis and our willingness to join other pharmacies in support of the state’s vaccine distribution efforts is absolutely false and offensive.”

Even Democrats are blasting the story.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, who is a Democrat, tweeted, “I said this before and I’ll say it again. (Publix) was recommended by (Florida Division of Emergency Management) and (Florida Department of Public Health) as the other pharmacies were not ready to start. Period! Full Stop! No one from the Governor’s office suggested Publix. It’s just absolute malarkey.”

Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, another Democrat, called the “60 Minutes” piece “intentionally false.”

“60 Minutes” said DeSantis turned down requests for an interview. So Alfonsi asked her questions about this topic during a DeSantis press conference. He gave an answer of more than two minutes. You can understand how “60 Minutes” didn’t have time to run his full answer, but DeSantis complained that his answer was deceptively edited.

In a statement Tuesday, a spokesperson for CBS News and “60 Minutes” said, “When Florida state data revealed people of color were vaccinated at a much lower rate than their wealthier neighbors, ‘60 Minutes’ reported the facts surrounding the vaccine’s rollout, which is controlled by the governor. We requested and conducted interviews with dozens of sources and authorities involved. We requested an interview with Gov. Ron DeSantis, he declined; 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. For over 50 years, the facts reported by ‘60 Minutes’ have often stirred debate and prompted strong reactions. Our story Sunday night speaks for itself.”

There’s nothing wrong with a news network digging into how vaccines are distributed. And political contributions are a good place to poke around on such a story. But, in this case, it doesn’t appear as if DeSantis did anything wrong. If he did, “60 Minutes” failed to provide enough information, context or evidence that he did.

In the end, this all could benefit DeSantis, according to CNN’s Chris Cillizza. Cillizza writes, “The report — and the backlash — amount to a massive gift to DeSantis as he looks to his reelection race next year and, he hopes, a 2024 run for the Republican presidential nomination. … DeSantis couldn’t have written this script any better. He gets oodles more national attention and love from Trump conservatives, all the while being able to bash away at the media. Win, win, win.”

This doesn’t ruin the “60 Minutes” brand, but this was not one of the show’s finer moments.

A rough debut

Greg Gutfeld’s new late-night comedy (I use the word loosely) show debuted Monday night on Fox News.

Woof!

It was cringeworthy unfunny, with one of the featured bits making fun of Brian Williams’ Iraq War embellishment story that was, what, more than six years ago? (Here’s the clip so you can judge for yourself.) All that’s going on in the world and you’re dusting off that joke? What’s next? Hillary’s emails? Monica Lewinsky jokes?

It’s typically not fair to judge a new show when it’s just starting out. But this was the debut. You want to come out of the gate impressing viewers. They had weeks to generate their best stuff and this was the best they could come up with? It felt very amateur hour, not just compared to the late-night comedy you see from the likes of network hosts such as Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers, but even from the political-type humor you see on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”

Again, the show deserves some time to find its footing and rhythm, but the start was underwhelming.

Dateline’s superstar

“Dateline’s” Keith Morrison (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Who doesn’t love “NBC Dateline’s” Keith Morrison? USA Today’s Erin Jensen has a fantastic Q&A with Morrison, who joked about being a sex symbol.

“Yeah, I mean how can you think otherwise, right?” he told Jensen as he laughed. “No, I do not, and I don’t think any of us do, but we have had — and I hope we continue to have — a pretty good run, and people have been good to us, because I think we try our best to tell stories accurately and well, I hope. That’s always the effort.”

There’s no question that the show, which has been on since 1992, has appeal — as does Morrison, who has been on the show since 1995.

“The one thing that you know when you’re watching a true-crime story is that you’re able to see those sort of outline behaviors people get involved in and you’re able to see, hopefully, how the wrongs are righted or how the bad people get caught and put away,” Morrison said. “The notion of justice, injustice corrected by something that creates a balance of justice, seems to be so central to the human experience and especially so in a time as complex and uncertain as the one we’re in.”

Morrison is partnering with “Dateline” for a new podcast called, “Killer Role,” a six-part series about a horror film actress charged with murder.

A tell-tale sign?

Yeah, the Matt Gaetz story is scandalous, but it’s still a big story. After all, we’re talking about a United States congressman being investigated for having sex with a teenage girl, paying for sex and possibly sex trafficking.

Yet, from March 30, when the story first broke, until Monday of this week, Fox News spent twice as much time covering stories involving New York Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez than Gaetz. This is according to Media Matters for America’s Rob Savillo. Yes, it should be noted that Media Matters is a left-leaning outlet that scrutinizes right-wing media. But numbers are numbers and facts are facts.

Media Matters found that during that time span, Fox News spent 45 minutes talking about the Gaetz story and an hour-and-a-half talking about Ocasio-Cortez, even though Ocasio-Cortez really isn’t facing any controversies at the moment.

And, Media Matters also notes that Gaetz has made 309 appearances on Fox News since Aug. 1, 2017. Among those in Congress, only Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan has appeared more times.

When it comes to Gaetz, Gabby Orr, Meridith McGraw and Sam Stein have a new piece for Politico: “Trump and his allies abandon Gaetz.”

They wrote, “… neither Trump nor anyone in the ex-president’s orbit is rushing to Gaetz’s defense. A group that often instinctively decries any such charge as part of some nefarious, coordinated witch hunt from deep-state operators has, instead, said virtually nothing at all.”

Where are the leaks?

White House press secretary Jen Psaki (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Want to know a big difference between Donald Trump’s White House and Joe Biden’s White House when it comes to the media? The leaks. So far there are no leaks coming out of the Biden White House. Washington Post media writer Paul Farhi writes about that in “The Trump White House provided reporters with a gusher of leaks. With Biden, everything’s changed.”

New York Times White House reporter Peter Baker told Farhi, “No question, the Trump White House leaked a lot, especially in the early days when the tribal rivalries were fiercest. The Biden people have come in more disciplined so far, and we haven’t had as much insight into the behind-the-scenes fights and debates inside the White House.”

It’s still early and leaks might become more prevalent over time as those in the White House disagree on policies and form their own agendas. But for now, all is quiet.

Another White House reporter told Farhi that the Biden White House is “effectively a leakproof operation.”

Media tidbits

  • Following up on my item in Tuesday’s newsletter about NFL star Aaron Rodgers guest-hosting “Jeopardy” — I thought Rodgers’ start has been outstanding. He’s a little low-key. That’s just his personality. But he clearly showed how sharp and relaxed he can be, and he showed humor, too. Other upcoming guest hosts include CNN’s Anderson Cooper, NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie, actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik and CBS News’ Bill Whitaker.
  • Talking Biz News’ Chris Roush reports that Washington Post business editor David Cho has been named editor-in-chief of Barron’s. Cho has been with the Post for 20 years and also has worked at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey and The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • More on the potential Tribune Publishing sale: The Washington Post’s Elahe Izadi and Sarah Ellison with “The battle for Tribune: Inside the campaign to find new owners for a legendary group of newspapers.”
  • ESPN drew an average of 4.1 million viewers for Sunday night’s women’s college basketball national championship when Stanford beat Arizona. That’s the most viewership since 2014.
  • On the other hand, CBS drew 16.9 million viewers for the men’s championship. That’s the second-lowest title game on record behind 16 million in 2018. It didn’t help that Monday’s game was never really close. Baylor jumped out to a big lead against Gonzaga and cruised to a blowout victory.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

More resources for journalists

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Donate
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
More by Tom Jones

More News

Back to News

Comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.