Despite Media Narrative, DeSantis Was Right and Cuomo Was Wrong | Opinion

The pandemic policies followed by Florida have been proven correct, while New York's were a disaster. But the mainstream media hasn't noticed.

Few politicians have had their public profiles enhanced by a crisis as much as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's was by the coronavirus pandemic. By the same token, few have absorbed as much abuse for their crisis management as has Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Cuomo's nationally televised press conferences became must-see TV in the early days of the pandemic. But his celebrity was largely a product of the desire of many in the media to contrast his sober and empathetic demeanor with that of President Donald Trump, whose confrontational daily pressers were deemed by many an example of how not to unite the country during a crisis.

By contrast, DeSantis was widely condemned as a governor without a clue. Video of beaches that remained stubbornly open while the rest of the country was shutting down in March fixed him as a pandemic villain. DeSantis was reviled as the moral equivalent of the shortsighted mayor in the movie Jaws who refused to act to save lives in spite of clear warnings.

Weeks later, as the spread of the COVID-19 virus has ebbed and the curve of new cases and fatalities has flattened, enough time has passed to be able to assess just how wrong the narratives about Cuomo and DeSantis both were. Contrary to their respective images as hero and goat of the crisis, it was the latter who appears to have known what he was doing and the former who has made fatal blunders.

Cuomo's legacy should forever be tarnished by a New York State Health Department order that mandated that nursing homes could not refuse admittance to recovering coronavirus patients. Despite protests from administrators and the families of residents, as late as April 25—several weeks into the crisis—Cuomo was still publicly insisting that the order be enforced. It would not be until six weeks after it was first issued that Cuomo rescinded the rule.

While Cuomo's apologists claim his motive was to ensure that these patients had a place to stay, New York's health mandarins and the governor chose not to place them in the largely empty beds at the Javits Convention Center or on the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort, which had been rushed to New York harbor.

The result was nothing less than a slaughter, with thousands of elderly residents of the homes dying as COVID spread like wildfire through facilities that were ill-equipped to deal with the challenge. More than 5,000 deaths have been reported in the homes, and some estimates claim the real number may ultimately be shown to be double that figure. Either way, a sizable proportion of the 23,282 fatalities in New York state, as of this writing, may be directly linked to a Cuomo decision.

Cuomo's alibi for his mistake was to say that he was following instructions from the Trump administration despite his vocal criticism of the White House. And in a damning and equally lame effort to cover up this catastrophic error, New York's Health Department has now deleted the page in which the fatal order was published.

The contrast with Florida's record is both striking and ironic.

Despite the predictions of doom about DeSantis' decisions, the impact of the pandemic on Florida has been relatively light, especially when one considers the heavy concentration of elderly retirees in the state. As of this writing, only 2,382 people have died in Florida, which stands in contrast to the man-made disaster in New York.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Joe Raedle/Getty Images

DeSantis issued orders to ensure that his state's nursing homes were not inundated with coronavirus patients. In fact, he worked to get them out of the homes rather than turning them into virus hotspots, as Cuomo did.

While the national media obsessed about open Florida beaches, DeSantis seemed to understand that they posed little or no threat to those most at risk from the disease. His approach appears to have been far more rooted in the facts about the disease than did Cuomo's approach, despite the claim that Republicans don't believe in science.

Why, then, has the national media continued to extol Cuomo while the same outlets that lambasted DeSantis for his supposed mismanagement have moved on to other stories without correcting the record?

The answer is simple: politics.

DeSantis successfully ran for governor of Florida as a de facto Trump clone, and few non-conservative outlets have shown any interest in viewing the situation in Florida as anything but a confirmation of their prevailing narrative about Trumpian chaos. The same explanation applies to the way much of the press has ignored the fact that the decisions of another Trump ally—Georgia Governor Brian Kemp—to open up the economy in that state before those of others has not yet resulted in a new wave of deaths.

Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came off very poorly in a Columbia University study published last week that showed, contrary to the way their conduct had been initially reported, how their slowness to act in March likely led to the loss of more than 10,000 lives than might have been saved had they acted sooner. But the national media has instead focused, as always, on the latest Trump scandal or gaffe.

DeSantis and Kemp should not hold their breath waiting for vindication from those who damned them as incompetent. If there is anything that we have learned about coverage of the pandemic, it is that politics, rather than science, is what determined who would be anointed as a wise leader and who would be mocked as a pandemic fool.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.