UPDATED: Backroom Briefing: Going After the ‘Legacy’ Media

Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida. Resending to correct explanation of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis boosted his war on the news media to a new level this week, holding an invitation-only roundtable in South Florida to decry “legacy-media defamation practices.”

The glitzy town-hall style event included a handful of panelists billed as “victims of media defamation,” lawyers and journalist Michael Moynihan, who co-hosts a podcast that attacks the “rhetorical news cycle.”

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Much of Tuesday’s hour-long chat centered on a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case known as New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which held that the First Amendment limits public officials’ ability to sue for defamation. DeSantis is among a growing number of Republicans urging the Supreme Court, which has a majority of conservative justices, to revisit the ruling.

The governor said he’s accustomed to criticism from the media but that average people need more protections from defamatory or libelous reports.

“You know, me, they come after me and they do a lot of slander, but I fight back. I have a platform to fight back. So, it’s a lot easier for me and, you know, people here trust me a hell of a lot more than they trust the media. So it ends up being fine,” DeSantis said at the event, shown on social-media platforms. “We work it out. You know, it’s not a big deal. I’ve got thick skin but you have some of these other folks who are just run-of-the mill citizens, their only possible way of recourse would be to be able to bring an action because they don’t have the platform, you know, that I have.”

While DeSantis can’t force the Supreme Court to overturn the Sullivan ruling, he’s prodding state lawmakers to adopt changes aimed at making it easier for maligned folks to get relief from journalists.

“At the end of the day, it’s our view in Florida that we want to be standing up for the little guy against some of these massive media conglomerates,” he said.


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Florida Senate Democrats don’t have any doubt that DeSantis is running for the White House.

And for proof, they point to issues in this week’s special legislative session. Disney. Illegal immigration. Election fraud.

“Florida taxpayer dollars are being used for the governor to campaign for president,” Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, told reporters Monday.

“Now, there’s nobody at this table who honestly thinks we have a good immigration policy right now. There’s no one at this table who will say Joe Biden is doing a great job with immigration,” Pizzo continued. “However, it’s their authority. … When you need driver’s license help, call my office. When you need a passport, you have to call your congressional office. There’s a separation in levels of government.”

Pizzo added that he expects Republicans, afraid of being primaried from the right, will remain in lockstep with the governor.

“Our colleagues have stopped thanking God anymore, and they now thank the governor on everything,” Pizzo said.


There’s been no love lost this week between teachers unions and DeSantis, as leaders of the American Federation of Teachers and the Florida Education Association criticized the governor for engaging in “culture wars.”

The barbs began flying as Randi Weingarten, president of the national teachers union, appeared in Tallahassee to announce two $35,000 grants that will go to unions in Leon and Pinellas Counties. The grants are part of a nearly $500,000 program that is primarily geared toward helping recruit and retain teachers.

Weingarten compared DeSantis’ recent education moves to culture wars of old.

“It doesn’t go unnoticed around that country that, you know, the governor here has engaged in a culture war. We’ve had culture wars in the country and in the world before. The whole fight about whether we could teach evolution was a culture war about 100 years ago,” Weingarten said during a news conference.

Christina Pushaw, rapid response director for DeSantis’ 2022 campaign and the governor’s former press secretary, shot back at Weingarten.

“’Governor DeSantis is waging a culture war!’ shouts the school union boss who pushes queer theory and CRT indoctrination in classrooms, while taking teachers paychecks for the Democratic Party,” Pushaw tweeted.

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President Joe Biden didn’t call out U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., by name during Tuesday’s State of the Union address, but he made his point about Scott’s proposal to sunset — and possibly re-enact — federal laws.

Biden said that “instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset.”

Biden pushed forward as the comment drew loud boos from GOP lawmakers.

“It is being proposed by individuals. I’m politely not naming them, but it’s being proposed by some of you,” continued Biden, who also was expected to focus on Social Security and Medicare while appearing Thursday in Tampa.

Scott, the former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a news release that Biden “rambled for a while” in his speech and that he “will not be intimidated by Joe Biden twisting my words.”

As part of Scott’s ”12 Point Plan to Rescue America,” the former governor suggested all federal legislation sunset in five years, with Congress having to determine if the laws should be kept.

Scott went on in post-speech releases to say “Biden is confused” and that the suggestion he wants to cut Social Security or Medicare “is a lie and is a dishonest move.”

“Does he think I also intend to get rid of the U.S. Navy?” Scott continued. “Or the border patrol? Or air traffic control, maybe?”

Senate Republican leaders didn’t back Scott’s proposal during last year’s elections. But Democrats used it to help reframe the elections.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “A reinsurance tsunami is about to hit Florida. The state has worked to fix the broken insurance market but is now facing an existential threat of companies not being able to purchase adequate reinsurance.” — former state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg (@JeffreyBrandes).

Other stories you may want to read:

Rick Scott Fights War With Biden and McConnell Over ‘Sunsetting’ Social Security Misinformation

Anna Paulina Luna Shreds Washington Post for ‘Incredibly Racist’ Smear Piece

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