Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis accused the Associated Press Monday of publishing a “partisan smear” and a “baseless conspiracy theory” — the latest salvo in a war of words that saw the governor’s press secretary suspended from Twitter last week.
“[Y]ou had the temerity to complain about the deserved blowback that your botched and discredited attempt to concoct a political narrative has received,” DeSantis wrote in the letter, addressed to AP vice president and COO Daisy Veerasingham. “This ploy will not work to divert attention from the fact that the Associated Press published a false narrative that will lead some to decline effective treatment for COVID infections.”
The drama began Aug. 17 when the wire service published a story headlined: “DeSantis top donor invests in COVID drug governor promotes.” The story suggested the governor was touting an antibody treatment for COVID-19 manufactured by Regeneron as a favor to hedge fund CEO Ken Griffin, who has donated nearly $11 million to a pro-DeSantis group and whose firm owns nearly $16 million in shares of Regeneron.
In his letter, DeSantis — seen as a top contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — noted that AP “produced zero evidence that Florida’s efforts are being undertaken for any reason other than to help Floridians recover from COVID” and pointed out that the Regeneron treatment had been boosted by both the Trump and Biden administrations.
“Indeed, as the federal government long ago bought the entire stock of Regeneron’s COVID monoclonal treatment, it is not even a plausible concept,” DeSantis said of the story’s insinuation that he had sought to promote the treatment to boost company profits.
DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw repeatedly called out the AP and reporter Brendan Farrington, at one point sharing the story on Twitter and asking her followers to “drag them” in a now-deleted post. She also retweeted a message from one Twitter user who encouraged her to “Light. Them. Up.”
The day after the story appeared, Farrington tweeted that he had received online threats about the story. At one point, he tweeted: “For your sake, I hope government doesn’t threaten your safety. I’ll be fine, I hope. Freedom. Just please don’t kill me.”
After Veerasingham wrote to DeSantis asking him to end Pushaw’s “harassing behavior,” the press secretary was suspended from Twitter for 12 hours Friday.
“That the AP has received vigorous pushback is something that should be expected given the brazenness of your political attack and the fact that your false narrative will cost lives,” DeSantis wrote Monday. “You cannot recklessly smear your political opponents and then expect to be immune from criticism.”
Brian Carovillano, AP’s vice president and managing editor, claimed Pushaw’s tweets went beyond “pushback” and crossed the line into “harassment.” Pushaw insisted that none of her tweets her meant to be threatening and claimed she had urged Farrington to report any threats he received to police.
“All we’re trying to do is help people, and this [treatment] was under-utilized for the last nine months, and what we found is, is hospital admissions were going up in Florida, most of these people didn’t know about this treatment who got hospitalized,” DeSantis told Fox News’ “Hannity” Monday night. “And we believe had they gotten it, many of them would not have needed to go into the hospital. So we’ve raised awareness of it.”
DeSantis concluded his letter by saying that AP had “succeeded in publishing a misleading, clickbait headline about one of your political opponents, but at the expense of deterring individuals infected with COVID from seeking life-saving treatment, which will cost lives. Was it worth it?”
“The days of corporate media being able to smear people with impunity and conservatives do nothing, those days are over,” DeSantis said Monday night. “I can tell you in Florida, we’re fighting back with the truth and we are gonna hold you accountable when you’re peddling false, partisan narratives.”
The AP has said it stands by the story.
With Post wires
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