Florida GOP Files Complaint After Candidate Denied Entry to Televised Debate Over Vaccination Status

Florida GOP Files Complaint After Candidate Denied Entry to Televised Debate Over Vaccination Status
Gov. Ron DeSantis signs bills countering vaccine and mask mandates in Brandon, Fla., on Nov. 18, 2021. (Jannis Falkenstern/The Epoch Times)
Caden Pearson

Florida GOP on Thursday filed a complaint asking the state’s health department to take action after a Central Florida TV station denied a Republican congressional candidate entry to a TV studio and canceled a political debate over his vaccination status.

“The decision by WESH-2 News to cancel the Congressional District 9 debate because of a candidate’s vaccination status is discriminatory, unlawful, and will not be ignored,” Florida GOP said in a statement.

WESH-2 released a statement on the day the debate was canceled confirming that it denied entry to Republican district nine candidate Scotty Moore based on its “debate rules and vaccine requirements.”

Benjamin J. Gibson, a lawyer for Florida GOP, says this is in violation of section 381.00316 of the Florida Statutes, which states, in part, that a business entity “may not require patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination.”

“We ask that you immediately investigate WESH-2’s COVID policy, and if it is found to be in violation of Florida law, take appropriate action,” Gibson said in a letter to Florida Department of Health General Counsel John Wilson (pdf).

The Republican candidate for Florida’s district nine and his opponent were invited by WESH-2, a local television station located in Central Florida and owned by Hearst Television, to take part in a congressional candidate debate at its Winter Park television studios to take place on Sept. 8.

“As part of our commitment to election coverage, WESH 2 has hosted a debate series during the primary and general election cycles for years,” WESH-2 said in a statement on Sept. 8.

Debate Cancelled Over Vaccination Status

Days after inviting the candidates, WESH-2 provided Moore’s campaign with its parent company’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, according to Gibson.

“On September 8, Mr. Moore and his campaign staff arrived at the WESH-2 Winter Park television studios. Employees of WESH-2 gave Mr. Moore and his campaign staff health questionnaires, which asked whether Mr. Moore was fully vaccinated according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (‘CDC’) guidelines,” Gibson said in the letter.

“Mr. Moore answered the question in the negative, as did one member of his campaign team. After reviewing Mr. Moore’s answer to the health questionnaire, WESH-2 denied Mr. Moore entry to its television studios and refused to allow him to participate in the in-person debate.

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, on April 15, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, on April 15, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In response to statements by Moore at the time, WESH-2 issued a public statement saying it is committed to providing in-depth coverage of Central Florida races and confirming that it canceled the debate.

“During the primary season this year, we have hosted 12 debates. The latest debate for the general election that we hope to bring you is for U.S. House District 9, between Incumbent Democrat Darren Soto and Republican challenger Scotty Moore,” WESH-2 said.

“That debate was set to be recorded here at the WESH 2 studios this morning. The debate rules and vaccine requirements were defined and provided to Mr. Moore and his team well in advance,” the Sept. 8 statement reads.

According to Gibson, Moore requested to be given a rapid COVID-19 test in order to participate in the in-person debate, but was not accommodated. Further to this, the Republican asked if the debate could be held outdoors, but this “reasonable accommodation” was also denied, Gibson said.

“Instead, WESH-2 canceled the debate and posted on its website that Mr. Moore did not meet WESH-2’s vaccination requirements,” Gibson added. “WESH-2 only offered to hold the debate virtually, which Mr. Moore did not accept due to the severe limitations of virtual debates and the discriminatory nature in which this offer was made solely based on his personal vaccination status.”

Vaccination Status not Relevant in Late 2022

Gibson noted that many businesses, including doctor’s offices, had done away with lockdown-era rules and allowed entry to people who had not received a jab.

“We are now in the latter half of 2022, and many private businesses and even doctors’ offices around the State of Florida routinely permit entry to persons who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” he said.

Gibson said WESH-2 and Hearst Television could be fined $5,000 “for each individual and separate violation” of section 381.00316(4) and (6), Florida Statutes, and Rule 64-8.001, Florida Administrative Code.

Moore released a statement after Florida GOP filed its complaint with the Florida health department.

“It is absurd that in the latter half of 2022, woke corporate media companies and the like are trying to continue forcing draconian COVID-19 measures on Floridians and in the process are breaking Florida law, and discriminating against one political party over another,” Moore said in a statement.

“Over two and a half years ago Governor [Ron] DeSantis made it clear that vaccine passports and COVID requirements would not be welcome in the state of Florida.”

The Epoch Times contacted WESH-2 and Hearst Television for comment.