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Jim DeFede spoke with Jared Moskowitz, the director of the Florida Division of the Department of Emergency Management, regarding his criticism of last week’s “60 Minutes” report on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ vaccination policies.
- Welcome back. Last Sunday 60 Minutes aired a segment, highly critical of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, echoing complaints that poor and minority communities were ignored during the early stages of the vaccine rollout in favor of wealthy communities, especially those with ties to DeSantis. The piece also focused on the decision by the DeSantis administration to distribute the vaccine through Publix, despite the fact that Publix is not readily accessible in poor and rural communities. 60 Minutes also pointed out that DeSantis had received $180,000 in campaign donations from Publix in the weeks prior to the supermarket chain being selected.
- 60 Minutes asked the question, was this pay to play, as some have alleged? Since the story aired DeSantis and the state's Republican Party have engaged in an unrelenting attack on the news program. Last week DeSantis held a press conference excoriating the report. Standing behind him was Jared Moskowitz, the state's emergency management director and former Democratic state legislator. After the press conference concluded I spoke to Moskowitz about the Publix deal and asked him what prompted him to select the supermarket giant?
- So I reached out to Walmart. Walmart's in really rural areas, there in urban areas, that have been the perfect partner. They couldn't start for 21 days, I immediately hung up the phone with them said, listen, get back to us on the progress. I called up Publix, this was done on the speakerphone with multiple people in the room because we were ready to take action, get operational. Publix said, hold on, we'll get right back to you, they called us right back a minute or two later, they said, we can start in 72 hours. And that was it, that's the whole story.
- So let's talk about you not appearing on camera. Did they provide you an opportunity to appear on camera?
- Yeah, listen, they asked me to appear on camera, they asked me twice to appear on camera. You know this, I'm a busy guy but, listen, I got to be honest, I had good conversations with them and when I couldn't dissuade them because they were unwilling to hear the truth, why would I participate? What I have found unfortunately in the last year, quite frankly, is I got reporters calling me up at 3:30, with their story written, telling me their deadline is 4:00, and do I want to comment?
- Yeah but wait, wait, wait a second, Jared, I understand that you're a busy guy, and I've always appreciated your willingness to make yourself available to me, but this wasn't a half an hour before deadline. They had been working in the state for weeks and weeks, they had asked you to participate, they had asked you to talk about the very thing that you now are so passionate about, why did you not take advantage of that opportunity to sit with them and disabuse, them as the governor likes to say, of whatever notion they had on camera?
- Because why would I want to participate in a false story? I had told them it was false, I explained it to them. To then try to link that to some donation, I will tell you that 85% of the Florida senators have taken the knee from Publix, 52% of the Florida House members have taken the knee from Publix. Are we going to start examining their record and say that there's something there? I got journalists calling me every day looking at our contracts now.
- That's the role of journalists is to question when there is money-- this is the problem of money in politics-- is that it raises the specter and so 60 Minutes was asking those types of questions. [INTERPOSING VOICES]
- But when they couldn't find one person with a pulse, when they couldn't find one person with a pulse who validated the public story, not one person. And yet they were talking to people, maybe not on camera, but they were talking to people explaining to them exactly how it happened, not involved with the campaign, in fact, I voted for the governor's opponent. Not involved with the campaign and explained them they didn't want to take, yes, for an answer and they still ran with the story.
- I want to be clear about something because you said, a moment ago, that you made the decision and and I've seen the governor take credit for making the decision. So I want to be really clear here, who made a decision?
- Let me ask a question, who made the decision? Who made the decision, who was the final decision maker in giving that agreement to Publix?
- Well, Jim, you're a pro at this. When you do a really good job, I'm sure the bosses at CBS get the credit for it. And so, ultimately, that decision to do the public strategy was my decision but, obviously, the credit always flows up to the governor, as it does in all agencies, he's the boss, this is his administration.
- So you didn't ask him, you said I'm going to go with Publix. You had just made the decision to go with Publix and informed him of that after the fact?
- Correct. I was in my weekly briefing.
- But one of the things that I thought was powerful and what 60 Minutes did bring forth, citing state statistics, is that of the first 160,000 people vaccinated in Palm Beach 2% were African-American, 3% were Hispanic, that's a total of 5% in a county that is almost half black and Hispanic. Doesn't that suggest that there was a real problem in terms of vaccinating those who were poor and minority and that it goes beyond just simple vaccine hesitancy?
- Yeah it would if it was a Florida-only statistic. This was a national problem, it's still a national problem. And so this is why we started getting creative, it's why we led the way with our partnerships with minority churches, pastors, people trusted in the community, it's why we're now going door to door with the vaccine, it's why we opened up specific sites in minority communities, took the computer out. I would tell you, if you ask me my personal opinion and I think there's anecdotal evidence to that, is that in the early weeks of the vaccine being distributed the reason why those statistics are the way they are is because it was all done digitally. People with eight, nine devices in their home laptops, cell phones, tablets, computers, those people were on there hunting and pecking for those important appointments and that did lead to some imbalance, unfair to folks that obviously are socially disadvantaged. I need to try to break down these barriers, get in these communities. And so that's my job. My job is to get shots in arms, my job is not to argue with the media, my job is for all of us to work together.
JIM: Well the governor doesn't mind arguing with the media and today at his press conference he said, his exact words were, "we done good". Now I'm not sure that you can ever say, "we done good", when there are nearly 34,000 Floridians who died. It may not be as many as died in New York or California but that's still a lot of Floridians who are dead now. Can you really say "we done good"?
- There is no mission accomplished, here there's no banner on a battleship. We have lost a lot of Floridians. But we've all gone through no one is gone through this in 100 years. There are families that have empty chairs at empty tables, they have empty rooms in their houses, there are families that will never heal from what we've all gone through. And so my job here at the division is try to have mitigated that as much as possible. Every single day, waking up trying to find a new way to save people's lives, go to bed trying to figure out how do we save people's lives, wake up in the next day, and do it all over again. We've done that for over 390 days here at a level, one the longest this division has ever been activated, a level one. And so look, I'm not I'm not asking anyone to give us a letter grade. There's no winners in this fight against COVID.