Florida Governor Responds to AP’s Claim of ‘Bullying’

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.
August 23, 2021 Updated: August 23, 2021

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday decried the Associated Press (AP) claiming his press secretary bullied a reporter who wrote a critical story about the governor.

“I assumed your letter was to notify me that you were issuing a retraction of the partisan smear piece you published last week,” DeSantis, a Republican, said in a letter to Daisy Veerasingham, the incoming CEO of AP, a wire service used by numerous outlets, including The Epoch Times. “Instead, you had the temerity to complain about the deserved blowback that your botched and discredited attempt to concoct a political narrative has received.”

Veerasingham complained to DeSantis late last week, claiming his press secretary, Christina Pushaw, engaged in “harassing behavior,” including threatening a journalist, that was described in the AP in an article as “bullying.”

Pushaw had spoken out about a piece that detailed how Citadel CEO Ken Griffin has donated millions to DeSantis and that the governor promotes a COVID-19 treatment from Regeneron, a company that Citadel has invested in.

“DeSantis top donor invests in COVID drug governor promotes,” the piece was headlined.

It claimed that Democrats “question the relationship” between DeSantis, the drug, and Citadel’s investments, but cited no critics in the piece.

The federal government pays for Regeneron treatments.

Pushaw called the article a hit piece and said the article could lead to some people refusing to take Regeneron’s treatment. She said she spoke to the reporter, Brendan Farrington, and asked him to change the headline, which she described as misleading. When he would not, she went public with criticism of the piece, sharing posts on Twitter that called on readers to “drag” and “light up” the reporter and AP.

Farrington, who made his Twitter account private, defended the piece.

“For your sake, I hope government doesn’t threaten your safety,” he wrote in one post. “I’ll be fine, I hope. Freedom. Just please don’t kill me.”

Veerasingham in her letter to the governor said Pushaw’s actions constituted “unacceptable behavior from a government employee.”

She claimed that the press secretary wanted to “activate an online mob to attack a journalist for doing his job” and that her posts resulted in “a torrent of abuse comments” being directed at the reporter.

The incoming AP CEO asked DeSantis to “eliminate this attack strategy from your press office, and assure the people of Florida that there is no place for it in their government.”

DeSantis disagreed, saying in the new letter that AP framed the story in a way meant to smear him.

“The AP produced zero evidence that Florida’s efforts are being undertaken for any reason other than to help Floridians recover from COVID. 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,” he wrote.

“This story is a baseless conspiracy theory. 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.”

The “vigorous pushback” that AP and its staffers received “is something that should be expected given the brazenness of your political attack and the fact that your false narrative will cost lives,” he added.

Lauren Easton, an AP spokeswoman, told The Epoch Times in an email that AP does not have political opponents and reports on those in power, regardless of what party they’re affiliated with.

“The issue here is not pushback. It’s harassment. A public servant whose job it is to work with the press encouraged a harassment campaign against our journalist, and that is unacceptable,” she said.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.