Incoming AP Chief Executive Daisy Veerasingham wrote a letter to the Republican governor concerning several tweets his press secretary, Christina Pushaw, posted in response to an AP story about DeSantis promoting a COVID-19 antibody treatment that one of his biggest donors had invested in.
In a since-deleted tweet, Pushaw wrote “drag them,” a message Veerasingham said put a target on the reporter.
“That was a direct effort to activate an online mob to attack a journalist for doing his job. It resulted in a torrent of abusive comments directed at the reporter,” she wrote.
The @AssociatedPress is writing @GovRonDeSantis today re: his press secretary, @ChristinaPushaw, and her "direct effort to activate an online mob to attack" a @FLPressCorps reporter. "We call on you to eliminate this attack strategy from your press office," the AP's exec VP asks. pic.twitter.com/ghyK7Lwy2K
— Troy Kinsey (@TroyKinsey) August 20, 2021
The letter highlighted another tweet from Pushaw in which she “threatened that if the journalist did not change the story to her liking, she would ‘put you on blast,’” Veerasingham said, adding that Pushaw also set a deadline for the reporter to change the story and retweeted another person who called on followers to “Light. Them. Up.”
Journalists are regular targets of “abuse, rape threats, people stalking their family members and hacking their online personas,” Veerasingham said. “While we can disagree about stories, it is unacceptable and dangerous for a public official to encourage the systemic bullying of journalists.”
“We call on you to eliminate this attack strategy from your press office, and assure the people of Florida that there is no place for it in their state government,” she concluded in her letter.
DeSantis’ office did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment, but Pushaw addressed the matter in several tweets.
“The only words that threatened public health and safety were the words in the AP hit piece, specifically the headline,” she wrote in one tweet, suggesting that the story about DeSantis’ financial ties to the antibody treatment would discourage people from seeking treatment.
In another tweet, she wrote that the AP is “embarrassed that they got caught pushing potentially deadly misinformation narratives that were conclusively debunked, so they’re trying to deflect and make the story into ‘Republicans Pounce.’ Don’t fall for it.”
DeSantis continues to maintain his opposition to any local mandates requiring face masks or vaccines in various high-risk settings. On Thursday, Florida saw another record high number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, nearly double the peak seen in 2020 before vaccines were widely available to all adults.
Reports show that DeSantis has taken unusual steps to win flattering media coverage. A Tampa Bay Times investigation last week found that he has a close relationship with the conservative network Fox News, and that the two parties have coordinated coverage and talking points.
“We see him as the future of the party,” one Fox News producer wrote in an email obtained by the newspaper.
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