Give the governor’s press secretary points for tenacity. Christina Pushaw spent more than a week doing battle on Twitter over an accurate — albeit unflattering — story about Gov. Ron DeSantis’ financial ties to the maker of a drug he’s touting to fight COVID-19. No doubt DeSantis approves of Pushaw’s pugnacious tactics, but the entire saga is a sorry display by a hyper-political administration that is all too eager to pick petty fights with the media.
It started with an Aug. 17 story by Associated Press reporter Brendan Farrington headlined “DeSantis top donor invests in COVID drug governor promotes.” The report, citing financial and elections records, detailed that the Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel owns $15.9 million in shares of Regeneron Pharmaceutical Inc., maker of the antibody treatment DeSantis has been urging Floridians sick with COVID-19 to take. Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, meanwhile, has donated more than $10 million to a political committee that supports DeSantis.
Using public records to connect the dots between people in power and the influential donors who fund their campaigns is just a routine part of political reporting. Farrington included the context that hedge funds typically have a wide range of investments — and quoted Pushaw pointing out that Citadel, with $39 billion in holdings, owns far more shares in vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna. The story also noted that the mega hedge fund BlackRock, which has mostly donated to Democrats, also owns shares of Regeneron.
When cool heads on Twitter pointed out that the story is, in fact, accurate, Pushaw’s complaint became about the headline (which is also accurate). She made the astonishing leap in logic that it might even dissuade sick people from seeking the antibody treatment if they think the governor is only touting it for his own political gain. The COVID crisis in Florida is not that people are avoiding lifesaving treatment. It’s that so many need it.
Nonetheless, Pushaw disparaged the story as a “baseless political narrative” and has been one-upping her own outrageous rhetoric since. Soon after the story went online, Pushaw tweeted a link to it and wrote “drag them,” a social media call to action to flood a user with mocking messages. She denied that was her intent, but Pushaw’s 30,000+ followers heard the call anyway. Farrington wrote that he woke up in the middle of the night to hateful messages and death threats.
Pushaw’s Twitter account was suspended for 12 hours and she deleted the “drag them” tweet. But if there’s any question about her level of remorse, she has since tweeted about the story more than 200 times, calling it a “hit piece” and Farrington a “media activist.” She warned Farrington that if he didn’t change the story, she would “put you on blast.” She also retweeted a message that said “Light. Them. Up.” in reference to the AP. Reminder: This is a public employee whose job is to disseminate information about the governor’s actions and policies and respond to inquiries from the media.
Press secretaries’ interactions with reporters are often adversarial — that’s healthy in a democracy — but Pushaw, for all her righteous indignation, prefers to play in the dirt.
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She landed her $120,000-a-year gig with DeSantis after writing to his office about wanting to help combat “pervasive … false narratives” in the press. She’s prolific on Twitter — and has had to delete and apologize for posts before — often tapping into controversies like mask mandates and repeatedly tweeting at reporters who challenge DeSantis policies.
DeSantis — who is now fundraising off the AP story by claiming it’s all a conspiracy — built a national profile as a guest on Fox News slamming any media figure, liberal pundit or Democratic politician who criticized Donald Trump. Pushaw speaks the same language as DeSantis and Trump, a noxious glossary of bullying, pettiness and demagoguing. It may be effective for riling up the Twitter trolls, but it’s beneath them. It’s beneath us all.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.