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The Associated Press (AP)—like 60 Minutes months ago–is embroiled in controversy for publishing an unethical and misrepresentative story about FL Governor Ron DeSantis and the monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19.
The article is titled, “DeSantis top donor invests in COVID drug governor promotes.” The focus, at least in the title, suggests that DeSantis is pushing the COVID-19 antibody treatment simply because one of his contributors is a major investor in the Regeneron company charged with making the drug with emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since last year, and which may be vital to preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations and saving many lives because of its ability to confront the coronavirus.
AP framed the story in a tweet saying “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been criticized for opposing mask mandates, is now touting a COVID-19 antibody treatment in which a top donor’s company has invested millions of dollars. DeSantis has been promoting the treatment as virus cases spike.”
Once again, the AP’s focus is clear: it seeks to link DeSantis’ actions to an alleged political cronyism scheme.
The article, written by journalist Brendan Farrington, notes that “Citadel, a Chicago-based hedge fund, has $15.9 million in shares of Regeneron Pharmaceutical Inc., according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Citadel CEO Ken Griffin has donated $10.75 million to a political committee that supports DeSantis — $5.75 million in 2018 and $5 million last April.”
The AP story caused a lot of controversy, but not because a Ron DeSantis contributor invested in Regeneron through an investment fund, but because the story omits important details at key points in the article.
Christina Pushaw vs AP
Christina Pushaw, Ron DeSantis’ press secretary, constantly uses her social media as a spearhead to respond to the governor’s critics. On this occasion, she took it upon herself to deny and contextualize several of the points omitted by AP in its report.
For example, the first and most important point is that Citadel is not among Regeneron’s top 100 investors. In turn, for example, BlackRock, a prominent campaign donor to President Joe Biden and several prominent Democratic politicians, is Regeneron’s second-largest investor. Both the Biden administration and Ron DeSantis promote monoclonal antibody treatments because, in effect, they may be vital to preventing deaths and hospitalizations in the midst of a pandemic and rising COVID-19 cases.
In fact, Dr. Cameron Webb, senior advisor on equity issues for the White House and part of the COVID-19 response team, said that Governor DeSantis is following the science “because [the science] tells us if you’re getting monoclonal antibody to folks with mild to moderate COVID (…) you can prevent hospitalizations.”
The AP article, in its original version, did not mention the Biden administration or its investors in Regeneron. Pushaw criticized this on her Twitter account and, after hundreds of users and even journalists and liberal political commentators supported her, AP updated its story by adding a bit more context: “It’s not unusual for hedge funds to have a wide range of investments. And BlackRock, which has primarily donated to Democratic candidates, though has also donated substantially to Republicans, has a large holding in the company – more so than Citadel.”
Despite AP’s admission of this great detail in their article, they still did not change the headline of their story, nor did they remove the tweet quoted above where Ron DeSantis is left in a bad light without justification.
Interestingly, even previous critics of DeSantis, such as Kirby Wilson — a journalist who wrote a hit piece for the Tampa Bay Times against Pushaw — defended the governor in the midst of this controversy.
“I’ve seen quite a few tweets about Gov. DeSantis and donations he has received from the CEO of a hedge fund, Citadel, that is invested in Regeneron. I looked into the accusations a bit,” Wilson began in a thread on Twitter.
“Regeneron already sold all ~1.5 million doses of its monoclonal antibody cocktail to the U.S. government, per a spokesperson. DeSantis is now urging COVID-positive Floridians to avail themselves of this treatment. Doesn’t much matter to Regeneron (financially) if they do. 2/… Citadel is not in the top 100 of Regeneron’s shareholders, according to the NASDAQ. Citadel has ~$38 billion in assets, and it owns about ~$36 million worth of Regeneron shares.”
Wilson even implicitly criticized those who question DeSantis for allegedly not promoting vaccines enough and starting to promote monoclonal antibody treatment: “Finally, some are saying DeSantis has downplayed vaccines in favor of Regeneron. Florida is 20th in vaccination rate per capita, according to the CDC, and it’s the most vaccinated state that voted for Trump in 2020.”
DeSantis was one of the governors who promoted COVID-19 vaccines the most, and is now urging his citizens to take advantage of the antibody treatment. There is only one difference: the Florida governor is not forcing anyone to get the vaccine or wear masks because he considers it an individual decision. Some liberal media criticize that stance and, moreover, make false equivalencies by arguing that DeSantis is downplaying the importance of vaccines to push Regeneron treatment.
That’s why the AP article is counterproductive because right now there is a lot of misinformation being spread about monoclonal antibody treatment, which could save hundreds of lives and prevent hospitalizations, regardless of whether people are vaccinated or not. Some say it is not safe despite being approved by the FDA or that the treatment costs more than $1,000, when it is completely free, just like vaccines.
AP criticized for lack of ethics and for spreading a “conspiracy theory”
After Christina Pushaw began posting tweets criticizing AP, Brendan Farrington and AP’s southern region news director Ravi Nessman, thousands of social media users criticized the news agency.
The main criticisms were based on the lack of journalistic ethics (for amplifying a controversy that, in reality, has no basis in fact), and because a story of this type can make many people look askance at important antibody treatments.
One of the details that left the AP agency in a very bad light is that Pushaw denounced on Twitter that she was permanently in contact with Farrington, who, apparently, was “forced” to keep an unfortunate headline because there was pressure from the bosses at AP.
“I was on the phone with Brendan Farrington and his boss Ian for hours tonight. They could not explain: the basics of hedge funds, who holds shares of Regeneron, or who is making money from Gov. DeSantis’ promotion of monoclonals (answer: no one). They said Ravi Nessman
wanted the headline” Pushaw denounced on Twitter.
“I think Brendan Farrington is better than this—looking at some of his AP reporting in the past he seemed like a legitimate objective journalist. That is why I came down so hard on him. Because he knows better.”
El American tried to reach Brendan Farrington to get his side of the story. But by the time of publication, there was still no response.
Farrington tweeted about the criticism, “Waking up in the middle of the night to see death threats and hate messages from people about a story Governor Ron DeSantis’ office said is factually true. For your sake, I hope government doesn’t threaten your safety. I’ll be fine. I hope. Freedom. Just Please don’t kill me..”
“Sorry about the death threats, but the online backlash is a non sequitur. The AP needs to deal with the fact story was devoid of crucial context to the point it was completely misleading and inaccurate,” Mark Hemingway, a writer at RealClear, wrote on Twitter.
“You reported fake news. You should have never been threatened but you are a liability on your industry and trust in our medical field and our political system. Offer an apology and stop being a hack.,” responded writer Ryan James Girdusky.
Christina Pushaw told El American that “the whole purpose of promoting the monoclonal antibody treatment is to save lives. There is absolutely no political dimension to this story, but Brendan Farrington decided to take that angle, which is irresponsible and unethical. This is why Americans’ trust in the media is at an all-time low.”
The most recent surveys of Americans’ trust in the media say that, increasingly, citizens trust the media and journalists less and less because their work looks partisan. An April poll by TIPP Insights found that more than half of American citizens (53%) do not trust the traditional media. According to data from Edelman’s annual trust barometer, 56 % of Americans say they agree that “Journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.”
Christina Pushaw’s allegations continued throughout the night of Aug. 17 and the morning-afternoon of this Aug. 18. In a tweet she said that AP is, practically speaking, serving a smear campaign because Nikki Fried’s consultant, Kevin Cate, amplified the misrepresented story against DeSantis.
“Anatomy of a Smear Campaign: Kevin Cate (a Nikki Fried consultant) amplifies BlueAnon conspiracy BS about DeSantis. Brendan Farrington writes AP hit piece, noting “buzz” from Democrats on social media. Kevin says thanks. Brendan isn’t doing journalism— he’s Nikki’s press secretary.”
Many conservative media outlets are covering Pushaw’s battle against AP and its reporting.
“Brendan Farrington knows there’s no scandal, but he’s trying to create one,” Pushaw told The American.
Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.
Contacto: [email protected]american.com