Last May, a Florida Department of Health employee named Rebekah Jones accused Governor Ron DeSantis (R) of firing her for refusing to minimize the number of COVID-19 deaths, so he could reopen the state. In the last week, Charles C.W. Cooke has posted a definitive refutation of her claims at National Review, but one item has been missing from the story: the role the legacy media played in spreading Jones’ false claims.
Cooke shows how Jones claimed she had constructed Florida’s COVID-19 “dashboard” on her own, despite the fact that she merely entered other people’s data into the database. In addition, he shows that while she claimed she was ordered to change the original data, she had no access to that data to begin with. After changing her initial story in the first few days, Jones accused the well-respected Deputy Secretary of Health Dr. Shamarial Roberson, of asking her to change data and called Roberson a “liar, fraud, murderer.” Jones has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through multiple GoFundMe pages to set up an alternate COVID-19 website which, Cooke argues, overestimates the number of coronavirus-related deaths because Jones lacks adequate statistical knowledge and nuance. Police, whom Jones called “Gestapo,” raided Jones’ home in December after she reportedly stole the personal information of 19,000 state employees, and she turned herself in to authorities in January on a felony hacking charge.
Although Cooke writes that Jones was no “whistleblower,” the legacy media have spent the last year promoting her as a living indictment of Gov. DeSantis as a heartless, deceptive autocrat willing to sacrifice the elderly and schoolchildren for the almighty dollar. Cooke drew attention to that media coverage on Monday’s “Morning Joe.”
“It’s been shared by … [MSNBC prime time hosts] Joy Reid and Rachel Maddow, who appear on this network, by Chris Cuomo on CNN,” Cooke said. “And it’s astonishing to me that nobody has really looked into this, because while this has poisoned millions of minds, it’s easily rebuttable just by looking at public information.”
But Cooke’s comments only glance the surface of the legacy media’s biased coverage and misinformation in the Rebekah Jones saga alone (let alone their broader war against Ron DeSantis). Here are some of the most significant moments:
CNN’s Brianne Keilar reported on the Rebekah Jones story on May 19, 2020, saying the government’s COVID-19 “transparency decreased in recent weeks since Rebekah Jones and her team were booted out.”
The same day MSNBC’s Ari Melber said that Jones “was actually removed from the job after being told, reportedly, to censor information”; his guest, former Obama adviser Dr. Zeke Emanuel, said, “This is just purely a way of deceiving the public.” Also on May 19, former Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace warned MSNBC viewers of “a government effort to censor scientific information and keep it from going public – an extraordinary charge to even contemplate given the size of Florida’s vulnerable population.”
The next day, Politico repeated Jones’ side of the story and claimed it fed into a narrative of DeSantis’ deception:
Jones told [Florida Today] that she was fired for refusing to manipulate data. … So let’s just make this clear: The full story may not be out yet, but this is another example of the DeSantis administration having to deal with questions about transparency. … The problem for DeSantis World is that is a recurring theme, not just a one-off situation. If there’s nothing to hide, then there’s no reason to make it so hard to get information.
Media coverage stretched into the next month, when MSNBC had Jones on the June 12 edition of “The Beat with Ari Member” to accuse DeSantis’ team of “deflating their number of [positive] tests” and supporting policies that “could potentially cost more lives.”
On June 24, then-host of CNN’s “New Day,” Alisyn Camerota, began her interview with Jones by quoting Jones’ latest, “very damning” allegations:
Yesterday, you put out some very damning tweets of what you say Florida is still doing. So let me just read to folks at home. You say, “I have multiple sources at the Department of Health who have just told me that they have been instructed this week to change the numbers and begin to slowly deleting deaths and cases so it looks like Florida is improving next week in the lead-up to July 4th, like they’ve, “made it over the hump.” Next tweet, “I have independently verified they have deleted at least 1,200 cases in the last week. They’re only reporting all of the cases now so they can restrict reporting next week to make everyone think it’s over. I’ve had two Department of Health employees in different offices confirm.”
To her credit, Camerota asked Jones for “evidence beyond word of mouth” and showed some skepticism at Jones’ story.
By last June, liberal cable news outlets were so invested that they had to defend her from her critics. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell vouched for Jones’ reliability on June 15, asserting:
Your work has been praised by Dr. Deborah Birx and others. Your credibility has been unquestioned. Has anyone in state government said there’s a reason to question your credibility about this?
In reality, last May DeSantis revealed:
She’s not a data scientist. She’s somebody that’s got a degree in journalism, communication & geography. She is not involved in collating any data; she does not have the expertise to do that. She is not an epidemiologist; she is not the chief architect of our web portal.
Rather than ask Jones about these significant questions of her credibility, CBS News invited Jones to critique DeSantis’ statements about COVID-19 in July. O’Donnell also invited Jones back to close out his July 13 episode, where he told viewers flatly, “Rebekah Jones was fired by the state of Florida after refusing to manipulate coronavirus data”; he added that DeSantis’ official coronavirus numbers were “not even close” to the real numbers offered by Jones.
Yet no one was as effusive as CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who told his audience flatly, “She was right.” On August 31, Cuomo opened one of his many interviews with Jones by saying:
[W]hat’s more scary about [COVID-19] is not being told the truth about the numbers and what’s happening. That’s why we covered Rebekah Jones. Remember her, the ousted manager of Florida’s coronavirus data tracking dashboard? Jones said then, “Hey, they’re not doing numbers the right way in Florida.” She got savaged. She was right. She said she was asked to manipulate the numbers. Her superior said she was fired for insubordination. She then filed a whistleblower complaint. But now, she’s going to take us inside the reality of what’s happening with schools.
Jones told Cuomo that several states, including Florida, “are using HIPAA as a shield to not release data” indicating a supposed explosion of COVID-19 infections among schoolchildren. Particularly in Florida, “leadership didn’t like what the numbers showed, so they pulled back” the data from public view.
On December 7, Jones told Cuomo that seizing her computers and records amounted to “just a very thinly veiled attempt of the governor to intimidate scientists and get back at me while trying to get to my sources.”
The network repeatedly aired Jones’ home video footage of the police raid, in which she claimed the police aimed a gun at her face and pointed a gun at her children. But CNN did not point out that her video shows neither of those occurrences.
Instead, CNN anchor Jim Sciutto told his viewers, “Listen to this story, because it’s concerning.” His co-anchor, Poppy Harlow added, “I have a sense there is more here” to the story than DeSantis let on.
CNN reporter Drew Griffin claimed that Jones’ story undermined “Governor Ron DeSantis [who] has faced stiff criticism for his handling of the virus, refusing to order shutdowns, institute mask mandates and some say, downplaying the numbers of Floridians who’ve become sick and died.”
On December 10, Chris Cuomo again interviewed Jones, saying she had endured “a lot of bullying and bad stuff.” Jones used “Cuomo Prime Time” to accuse DeSantis of “trying to flush out people that they view as being disloyal within state agencies.”
Five days later, Jones went on MSNBC and told Joy Reid, “I was fired back in May for refusing to actually change numbers and make the state look like it was ready to reopen when, by our own metrics, it was not.”
Jones told “The ReidOut” she had not caused the data breach she was accused of — but added curiously, “Even if that had happened at my house … there’s no justification for that many armed police to come into my house to get a computer.”
At Reid’s insistence, she took aim at DeSantis, saying that “nothing that he has done with this virus, since the beginning has been honest. Nothing.”
— Joy-Ann (Pro-Democracy) Reid 😷 (@JoyAnnReid) December 16, 2020
As late as January, NPR noted Jones’ claim that she was fired for refusing to manipulate data and reported that Jones “helped create Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard.”
This March 11, Cosmopolitan’s Emily Bloch claimed, “Rebekah Jones Tried to Warn Us About COVID-19. Now Her Freedom Is on the Line.”
The legacy media accuse conservative outlets of spreading baseless “conspiracy theories.” Yet they promoted just such a tall tale for months, because it tarnished the reputation of Ron DeSantis.
Chris Cuomo once told Rebekah Jones that his show, “Cuomo Prime Time,” would “stay on [her story] until the end.” When will he admit the show is over? As of this writing, he hasn’t retracted, or even acknowledged, the numerous false statements made on his platform.
Even Joe Scarborough spread more misinformation about MSNBC on Monday while clearing the air about Jones. “We covered the first few stories, and then it kind of disappeared, at least for us,” he said. MSNBC’s viewers, and everyone armed with this article, know that’s not true. While Scarborough deserves tremendous credit for inviting Cooke to set the record straight, he has yet to come clean about the full extent of cable news negligence in the false story his network helped promote.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.