Wednesday, May 12, 2021
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After Trump, another Republican with all the right enemies

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IF YOU place any reliance on the Arabian proverb ‘Judge a man by the reputation of his enemies’, Ron DeSantis, theFlorida Republican governor, is clearly someone to watch.

In the Wall Street Journal of April 7, James Freeman identifies the recent treatment of DeSantis by the media establishment as ‘resistance journalism’. 

The term was coined by Ben Smith, New York Times media columnist who was previously editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, a ‘meme publisher’.

Before BuzzFeed, Smith had covered politics as a reporter and blogger at Politico, where his experiences sensitised him to ‘the coming rise of alt-Right media outlets using social platforms to spread misinformation’.

His response was to encourage other Left-leaning journalists to create compelling anti-Republican narratives ‘unbound by the traditional obligations of fact-checking’.

You will recall that the Trump presidency began with mainstream news organisations spreading false claims from anonymous sources about Russian collusion. They continued to undermine everything that Trump said or did throughout his term of office. Now with Trump gone, we see the same pack approach in action against the next Republican in line for national attention: Ron DeSantis.

Mainstream media hostility towards DeSantis has increased throughout the coronavirus pandemic. He has been cast as a maverick and accused of using his Covid stance to burnish his credentials with conservative voters ahead of his re-election campaign next year and potential run for president in 2024. 

News outlets in Florida have repeatedly criticised his Covid policy decisions, seeking access to data on testing, hospital admissions, deaths in care homes and prisons which they say DeSantis has delayed or withheld.

Though the governor’s pandemic policies may have been unorthodox, his light touch has protected the vulnerable and those in care homes. He has sustained business activity and the state’s economy. Throughout the pandemic he has refused to close schools and dispensed with compulsory mask wearing. He considers vaccine passports ‘unconstitutional’ and has declared them ‘unlawful’. Florida’s coronavirus cases and its death toll are at the national average.

DeSantis has recently announced that Florida will exclude Left-wing critical race theory (CRT) from all public schools, saying: ‘There’s no room in our classrooms for things like critical race theory. Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money.’

He is viewed highly favourably by 89 per cent of Republicans, according to the Herald Tribune, with the result that he is a prime target for Democrats and their media stormtroopers.

At the beginning of April, CBS’s 60 Minutes featured its reporter, Sharyn Alfonsi, challenging Governor DeSantis over allegations of favouritism towards Publix, a Florida supermarket chain which had made a substantial donation to his campaign. The accusation was that he had awarded it lucrative sole rights to distribute vaccines in Palm Beach.

The programme edited out facts which disproved such claims, preferring instead to run with a false narrative backed by smears from people who would not go on the record. The outcome was so outlandish that even Democratic state officials objected.

CBS News has defended its story, even in the face of criticism from non-partisan commentators who denounce the poor quality of the journalism and the deceptive editing.  

DeSantis insists that the CBS report was done with ‘political’ and ‘malicious intent and reckless disregard for the truth’. 

More recently, DeSantis has set up a channel on Rumble, an alternative video platform, after having an item unilaterally removed by YouTube. The offending clip showed him in discussion with scientists from Harvard, Oxford and Stanford who regard Covid measures including lockdowns as ineffective.  

Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski said: ‘Governor DeSantis is a long-time proponent of free speech and has been at the forefront of the effort to demonopolise Big Tech.’

The American Institute for Economic Research first flagged the video’s disappearance and retains a full transcript on its website.

DeSantis said in response to YouTube censorship: ‘Google and YouTube have not been, throughout this pandemic, repositories of truth and scientific inquiry, but instead have acted as enforcers of a narrative, a big tech council of censors in service of the ruling elite.’

DeSantis was already a favourite of Republican activists, voted first choice in a poll at the last Conservative Political Action Conference to be the presidential nomination in 2024 should Donald Trump decide not to run again.

With the next Florida gubernatorial elections due on November 8, 2022, DeSantis continues to tick all key Republican boxes. He is a crowd pleaser in the Trumpian mode, a battle-hardened fighter who gives as good as he gets with the media, and increasingly he has the right enemies.

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Kate Dunlop
Kate Dunlop is a mediator.

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