Gov. Ron DeSantis denied Mary Ellen Klas, a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times reporter in Tallahassee, access to his coronavirus press conference on Saturday. It was vindictive, petty — and illegal. He should be ashamed — not because he thinks he put one over on a reporter, the Times or the Herald. No, to them it’s not personal.
Rather, he should be ashamed because, in not allowing Klas to do her job and ask the serious questions that deserve his serious answers, he is really denying access to the Floridians who look to these media outlets for vital information.
There’s no denying it: DeSantis, like some — but not other, more-conscientious — Republican governors, is taking his marching orders from President Trump, who is still downplaying the intensity of COVID-19’s grip on the nation, ignoring medical experts and playing politics with Americans’ very lives. After all, the president had threatened to hold coronavirus aid hostage unless certain governors who have criticized him play nice.
But that’s why, when Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious-disease expert, warned in early March that there was “community spread” of the virus in the state — a worrisome sign — Florida’s governor pushed back, claiming, No, there isn’t any such thing. That was another early and worrisome sign.
That’s why the governor has not — will not — issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, even as the number of Floridians infected with, and dead from, the coronavirus continues to grow as more tests are done; and even as there is overwhelming evidence that staying home is one of the most effective ways to stem the virus’ spread. His concerns about damaging the economy should not supersede his concerns about Floridians’ health and well-being in fighting this singular scourge marching around the state.
And that’s why, on Saturday, the governor of Florida denied Klas access. After all, reporters who ask the tough questions to which Floridians want answers are the “enemy.” It’s worth noting that DeSantis didn’t respond to at least a week’s worth of questions that Klas submitted to him, as did other reporters who, in the interest of staying in good health, monitored his briefings via teleconference.
However, another reporter was gifted car service on Saturday, courtesy of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Freelance video journalist Mike Vasilinda was able to hitch a ride in an FDLE vehicle at the Capitol so he could attend the governor’s press briefing along with other, more favored, reporters.
It should be noted, too, that the Herald Editorial Board published three editorials critical of the governor’s incremental approach to confronting the coronavirus. We called it “timid,” and we’re not sure much has changed. However, what the Editorial Board does and what reporters such as Klas do are two distinct and independent duties. DeSantis, who has never accepted our invitation to talk, even as a candidate, should know better than to punish a reporter for what the opinion writers express.
First Amendment Ruling
DeSantis, a lawyer, should also know a First Amendment violation when he sees one. A 2015 judicial ruling by the Seventh Circuit found that, “A public official who tries to shut down an avenue of expression of ideas and opinions through actual or threatened imposition of government power or sanction is violating the First Amendment.”
Sure, Klas could have monitored the briefing via teleconferencing again. But she was at the doorstep this time, determined to have her questions answered. DeSantis, indeed, “shut down an avenue” for Klas to participate.
When it comes to confronting the coronavirus, Florida’s governor has abdicated his role as the state’s leader, just as Floridians look to him for leadership.
He should be ashamed.
This editorial originally was published by the Miami Herald on Monday, and is republished here by permission.