It’s been just over a month since Ron DeSantis’ big reelection victory, and many media organizations have already crowned Florida’s Republican governor the heir apparent to Donald Trump.
In a way, that’s understandable. Trump’s obsession with undoing the results of the 2020 presidential election has driven the former president to openly consort with Holocaust deniers and racists which, seemingly, has pushed him to the brink of political madness.
But the media’s fawning over DeSantis is driven by more than Trump’s decline. It is born of the kind of me-too journalism that involves far more repeating than reporting.
In winning by nearly 20 percentage points in what was expected to be a close gubernatorial race in a battleground state, DeSantis is being credited with moving Florida solidly to the Republican end of this nation’s political spectrum.
But while journalism organizations have reported what happened on Nov. 8 accurately, they have yet to report “the truth about the fact” of the Florida election.
Seventy-five years ago, a Commission on Freedom of the Press created by Time magazine founder Henry Luce concluded that for news organizations to remain free and beyond reproach, they needed to do more than just report factually the events of the day. “It is no longer enough to report the fact truthfully,” the commission said in its 139-page report. “It is now necessary to report the truth about the fact.”
Getting to the truth about the fact of DeSantis’ victory requires a level of reporting that few news organizations so far have engaged in.
In touting DeSantis’ election romp, newspapers across the country gushed over his victory without offering a clear explanation or analysis of what occurred in Florida. They did a lot of repeating but not enough reporting.
Here’s what they missed.
There is scant evidence that DeSantis’ appeal to voters caused a dramatic shift in Florida’s political balance. If anything, the contest between DeSantis and Democrat Charlie Crist seemed to turn off voters more than it turned them on.
Four years ago, 8.2 million Floridians voted for governor in the General Election. This year, just 7.8 million voters in the Sunshine State cast ballots in the governor’s race. In the 2018 governor’s contest, which DeSantis won by less than one-half of one percent, his Democratic opponent was Andrew Gillum, the charismatic mayor of Tallahassee, the state’s capital.
In 2020, Gillum’s rising star faded after his razor-thin defeat amid a drug abuse and sex scandal. This left Florida Democrats with a weak field of candidates to take on DeSantis this year. Crist, a political chameleon, filled this vacuum.
In 2002, Crist — running as a Republican — was elected Florida’s attorney general. Four years later, as the GOP candidate, Crist became the state’s 44th governor. In 2010, Crist ran for the U.S. Senate as an independent after losing the Republican primary to Marco Rubio. In 2014, Crist ran for governor as a Democrat and lost to Rick Scott, the GOP candidate. In 2016, Crist — the Democrat — was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, a position he gave up this year to make his unsuccessful run for governor.
The fact is that DeSantis beat Crist handily. The truth behind this fact is that Republicans didn’t so much flip the state to the GOP as Democrats — with a weak standard-bearer at the top of their ticket — flopped in this election cycle.
Most revealing — and little reported — is that DeSantis’ margin of victory resulted not from a big swing of the political pendulum to the GOP, but arguably because Democratic voters stayed home in droves across the state. While just half of Florida’s registered Democrats voted, two-thirds of registered Republicans cast ballots in this election.
A lot has been made of the fact that DeSantis won Miami-Dade County, a longtime Democratic stronghold where Democrats have 135,229 more registered voters than Republicans. But little has been said about turnout in that South Florida County where 61 percent of registered Republicans voted, compared to just 46 percent of Democrats. This voter turnout — this enthusiasm gap — favored the GOP in several other Florida counties where Democrats outnumber Republicans.
Also, few news organizations gave any weight to the impact of the new DeSantis-mandated election laws on Democratic voters, the GOP secretary of state’s purging of voter rolls, or what might have been the ripple effect of the fear some Black voters had of the voting police force that DeSantis created. Nor have they mounted an in-depth investigation of a finding by student journalists from the University of Florida that in one South Florida county, voter registrations had been changed from Democrat to Republican without the voter’s permission.
So, while the fact is that DeSantis scored a big win in his reelection bid, journalists need to do a lot of investigative reporting to determine the truth about his victory.
DeWayne Wickham is the public editor for The Baltimore Banner