Rebekah Jones was the fired Florida health officer who became a media darling after accusing the Ron DeSantis government of pressuring to alter the state’s COVID data. Her claims fell apart quietly last week.
Jones claims that the Florida Department of Health altered coronavirus numbers at Republican governor’s request to allow state to reopen during the peak of the pandemic. An internal report from Inspector General Michael J. Bennett who investigates whistleblower complaints in Florida, declared Jones’ story to be false.
The report stated that “based upon an analysis of all the evidence, the alleged behavior, as described by complainant, didn’t occur.”
William A. Jacobson, Cornell Law School professor and media critic believes that Jones’ mainstream media coverage continues the tradition of treating unbelievable people as credible based upon how damaging their accusations would have been to a Republican in power.
Jones spent two years making public claims about DeSantis’ falsification of data. She used her media fame to become a Democratic candidate for Congress, challenging Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).
Jones’ initial claims were supported by mainstream media. The glowing coverage raised her profile at a national level.
Ex-CNN star Chris Cuomo made Jones semi-regular, speaking with her at least five times. Jones was also featured on MSNBC, The Miami Herald, The Washington Post, and NBC News. She was also profiled in Cosmopolitan.
Jeffrey McCall, a professor of journalism at DePauw University, said that Jones’s support by the establishment media was less about correcting COVID data than it was about discrediting DeSantis.
“The media narrative about DeSantis was that DeSantis recklessly mismanaged Covid while trying reopen his state. Stories had to be promoted to support this theme. McCall stated that Jones’s story fit this narrative perfectly. CNN promoted Jones’s claims with insufficient support and vetting, making her the media darling.
Clay Waters, a Media Research Center contributor, wrote that Jones’ “sordid story” is now officially over.
The Miami Herald published an editorial a year ago praising Jones for her “whistleblower status”. The title of Jones’s article was not remarkable at the time and didn’t confer any credibility on her claims. Anyone who worked or served in a Florida state agency can claim criminal wrongdoing and is protected from retaliation. The Herald nonetheless celebrated her status, calling it “a victory over state secrecy” for all of us.
Critics attacked the Herald’s editorial before the inspector general’s investigation disproved her claims.
Waters stated that the Herald published “provocative articles” in support Jones. Waters also minimized the disturbing allegations of Jones cyberstalking a boyfriend and other encounters with the law.
Charles C. W. Cooke, a senior writer at National Review, didn’t like the Herald’s coverage and replied to a tweet by a reporter after the report of the inspector general was revealed.
Jones was fired for insubordination. National Review uploaded her personnel files and found repeated infractions by her superiors. These included postings on social media about data and web products owned by the Department without permission from management or communications, and possibly exposing personal data on the GIS dashboard she managed.