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DeSantis: AP ‘Smear Piece’ Linking COVID Treatment to Top Donor ‘Will Cost Lives’

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at CPAC in Orlando, Fla., February 26, 2021. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Florida governor Ron DeSantis is accusing the Associated Press of trying to divert attention from “deserved blowback” it’s gotten from a story last week linking DeSantis’s promotion of a lifesaving COVID-19 antibody treatment to millions of dollars in campaign donations he’s received from an investor in the company that manufactures the drugs.

In a letter DeSantis sent Monday to Daisy Veerasingham, the AP’s incoming CEO, he called last week’s story a “partisan smear piece” and a “baseless conspiracy theory” that will “cost lives.”

DeSantis’s letter is in response to a letter Veerasingham sent to him on Friday, in which she condemned the way the governor’s press secretary interacted with their reporter on Twitter. Veerasingham accused DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, of threatening their Florida-based reporter, Brendan Farrington, and activating a mob against him. Farrington tweeted on Wednesday that he received “death threats and hate messages” about the story.

In his letter, DeSantis said he expected Veerasingham was writing to notify him they were  retracting their story.

“Instead, you had the temerity to complain about the deserved blowback that your botched and discredited attempt to concoct a political narrative has received,” DeSantis wrote. “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 AP published its story on Wednesday with the headline, “DeSantis top donor invests in COVID drug governor promotes.” The story notes that DeSantis has been “flying around the state” promoting a monoclonal antibody treatment known as Regeneron. It also notes that one of DeSantis’s donors is the CEO of Citadel, a Chicago-based hedge fund that has $15.9 million in shares of Regeneron Pharmaceutical. Regeneron treatments can cut hospitalization and death of COVID-infected patients by about 70 percent, which the AP acknowledged in its story.

“The purpose of the headline and the framing of the story was to smear me by insinuating that Florida’s push to expand awareness of and access to monoclonal antibody treatments was done to boost Regeneron’s profit, rather than to simply help Floridians in need,” DeSantis wrote to Veerasingham. “Indeed, as the federal government long ago bought the entire stock of Regeneron’s COVID monoclonal treatment, it is not even a plausible concept.”

In an email to National Review last week, Pushaw noted that Citadel isn’t even a top Regeneron shareholder, and is a larger investor in Moderna and Pfizer, which manufacture COVID-19 vaccines. The investment firm BlackRock, which primarily donates to Democrats – including President Joe Biden – is a much larger Regeneron shareholder, which the AP acknowledged. Biden also has encouraged the use of monoclonal antibody treatments.

Pushaw and Farrington had a back-and-forth on Twitter in the hours before and after Farrington’s story published. In one now-deleted post, Pushaw told Farrington to “Fix your conspiracy BS or I will put you on blast.” She accused Farrington of “implying corruption where there’s none,” and continued to post about the story most of the day on Twitter, at one point using the term “Drag Them.” Pushaw tweeted that she “came down so hard on” Farrington because “he knows better.” When Farrington tweeted that he was getting death threats, Pushaw responded, “I can’t believe this needs to be said, but nobody should be sending death threats to anyone else.”

“This is unacceptable behavior from a government employee, especially one whose job it is to work with the media and communicate with the public,” Veerasingham wrote in her letter to DeSantis. Twitter temporarily suspended Pushaw’s account last week.

DeSantis didn’t directly address the controversy involving Pushaw in his dueling letter to Veerasingham, focusing instead on the AP’s story.

“The AP produced zero evidence that Florida’s efforts are being undertaken for any reason other than to help Floridians recover from COVID,” he wrote. “This will have real consequences for people’s health, especially given that the Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment has a proven track record and has been touted by both the Trump and Biden administrations.”

“This story is a baseless conspiracy theory,” DeSantis continued. “While the public’s trust in corporate outlets like the AP is at historic lows, there is no doubt that some will decline to seek life-saving treatment as a result of the AP’s inflammatory headline.”

Several Florida-based reporters jumped in the conversation last week, with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s opinion editor tweeting that the AP’s story “doesn’t really add up.”

 

DeSantis credited his staff with providing Farrington with information “to dispel the AP’s preferred narrative.” Their response, he wrote, exposed “the AP’s partisan agenda” and was a “valuable public service.” The AP can’t expect to smear political opponents and expect to be immune from criticism, DeSantis wrote to Veerasingham.

“You 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,” DeSantis wrote. “Was it worth it?”

Send a tip to the news team at NR.

Ryan Mills is a media reporter at National Review. He previously worked for 14 years as a breaking news reporter, investigative reporter, and editor at newspapers in Florida. Originally from Minnesota, Ryan lives in the Fort Myers area with his wife and two sons.

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