Politico downplays Texas and Florida COVID-19 surges in political horse race coverage for Republican governors

Article cites Abbott and DeSantis gaining right-wing support for “hands-off” response to pandemic, as hospitals become overwhelmed

Two days in a row, Politico has run flattering articles about Republican governors in the two states that have become some of the country’s worst hot spots for coronavirus — Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida — and treated the public health calamities in those states as just another part of the political jockeying for 2022 and 2024, rather than presenting a looming crisis that needs to be addressed.

Both governors have banned local governments and private businesses from practicing mask or vaccine mandates. Local governments have begun defying these laws, anyway, even as DeSantis has threatened to defund the salaries of school superintendents over requiring masks. But after taking such hardline positions against controlling the spread of the virus, one-third of all cases nationwide recorded two weeks ago were in just the two states of Florida and Texas.

Politico, however, ran a glowing profile of Abbott on Wednesday morning, beginning with a flattering photo and the headline “‘He’s Not Charismatic. … I Think That Has Been Part of His Success.’” The sub-headline folded the state’s COVID-19 troubles into the middle: “Texas Governor Greg Abbott lacks his predecessors’ star power. He’s constantly dodging attacks from the right. His state is facing another Covid surge. Yet nobody is even close to him in the governor’s race.”

The main focus of the article is Abbott’s political resiliency, and how he has adapted to challenges from the Republican far-right by adopting issues they have pushed as his own, such as the carrying of guns in public without permits — as well as banning local efforts to control the pandemic.

Only in the 10th paragraph did Politico tell readers about the consequences of kowtowing to the far right on public health policy: “More recently, as Covid cases have surged in the state and overwhelmed the healthcare system, Abbott has enlisted medical personnel from out of state and requested that hospitals postpone elective procedures — while banning mask and vaccine mandates.” The article also waited until the 29th paragraph to mention the local defiance of the ban on mask mandates.

screen grab

On Tuesday, Politico ran a news piece on DeSantis’ fundraising numbers, “DeSantis rakes in cash as Florida's Covid wars rage,” which similarly positioned the state’s rapidly rising pandemic figures as just another part of the political horse race.

“The recent support is fueled, in part, by DeSantis’ hands-off response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” the article said in the third paragraph, before briefly acknowledging the growing crisis in the state — but still in a political context. “It’s become an issue the GOP governor has used in email fundraising pitches to conservatives across the country as Florida has becomes the national epicenter for the virus’ reemergence, including 134,506 new cases last week and near daily breaking of Covid-related hospitalization records.”

The article then went into further details on the GOP governor’s fundraising, such as noting: “DeSantis’ committee brought in $4.3 million last month, and has more than $40 million in the bank. … The haul speaks to DeSantis’ popularity nationwide, and positions him well if he chooses to run for president in 2024.”

Only in the 11th paragraph, however, did it return to the real-life consequences of DeSantis’ “hands-off response” to controlling the pandemic: “Not only are cases increasing, but on Monday Florida had 13,614 Covid hospitalizations, which is 134 percent of the previous peak in July 2020, according to the Florida Hospital Association. The group says the statewide average of inpatients with Covid-19 is nearly 30 percent.”

And even after noting that “Democrats, parents and health care professionals have denounced [the] governor’s resistance to Covid restrictions,” the only direct quote in the article from a critic of DeSantis’ pandemic policy came from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who is running against him for governor in 2022 — thereby continuing to frame the state’s surge in cases as just another partisan issue in the gubernatorial contest.

Previously, Politico ran a glowing profile in March titled “How Ron DeSantis won the pandemic.”