Associated Press (AP) reporter Brendan Farrington wrote a story “DeSantis top donor invests in COVID drug governor promotes.” The story implies that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was promoting the Regeneron COVID-19 treatment to enrich a political supporter. The story, which lacked context, made news for all the wrong reasons.
The central premise of the story was that DeSantis had a conflict of interest supporting Regeneron because one of his main financial backers, Ken Griffin, CEO of the hedge fund Citadel Advisors LLC had a major stake in Regeneron.
The AP story relies on the assumption that there was a conflict of interest in the Governor promoting a treatment for COVID-19 that could benefit a major supporter even if it worked well. The article implied that Governor DeSantis was only highlighting the Regeneron treatment because it would benefit Ken Griffin.
The AP story had some major issues. For one, Citadel Advisors LLC is not one of the top 100 shareholders in Regeneron. Citadel Advisors LLC owns less than 0.1% of Regeneron’s shares. Another issue is that many politicians including President Joe Biden have praised and highlighted Regeneron. According to Governor Ron DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw, Citadel Advisors LLC has much larger investment positions in Moderna and Pfizer, companies that make COVID-19 vaccines.
The left-leaning Politifact, a fact-checking website, found some of the claims that this article reported on to be mostly false when fact-checking the Democratic Underground post (that also highlighted DeSantis’ campaign supporter Ken Griffin’s investment in Regeneron). They cited the small ownership stake that Citadel Advisors LLC had in Regeneron as the reason for the rating.
Ms. Pushaw pushed back on the story. First reaching out to the AP requesting that they issue a retraction. Then she attempted to drum up an outcry from the Governor’s supporters on Twitter. She retweeted the AP tweet promoting their article: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been criticized for opposing mask mandates, is now touting a COVID-19 antibody treatment in which a top donor’s company has invested millions of dollars. DeSantis has been promoting the treatment…” and added “Drag them.” to the retweet.
The AP reporter received mean tweets in response to the story and retweet. The AP wrote an article demanding DeSantis take action against Christina Pushaw to end her “harassing behavior.” The AP also wrote a letter complaining about Ms. Pushaw and Twitter suspended the Governor’s press secretary’s official account for 12 hours.
DeSantis responded with a strongly worded letter to CEO of AP Daisy Veerasingham. An excerpt from the article is below.
“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.
“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.
“That the AP has received vigorous pushback is something that should be expected given the brazenness of your political attack and the fact that your false narrative will cost lives. You cannot recklessly smear your political opponents and then expect to be immune from criticism. This is especially true when the effect of your false narrative jeopardizes the health of those who could otherwise benefit from treatment with monoclonal antibodies.
“I stand by the work of my staff who went out of their way to provide the AP with the factual information necessary to dispel the AP’s preferred narrative. That their response was effective in exposing the AP’s partisan agenda represented a valuable public service, as it reassured many that the Regeneron monoclonal treatment is effective.
“The AP’s attempt to create a political narrative has backfired, as the conspiracy theory has been easily debunked and the credibility of your organization has been further diminished. This is what happens when you decide on the headline and narrative before you begin reporting. The corporate media’s “clicks-first, facts-later” approach to journalism is harming our country.”