Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is taking another page out of Donald Trump’s playbook for his burgeoning presidential campaign: harnessing his own media echo-chamber.
A recent investigation from Grid found that a handful of local right-wing websites have managed to get exclusive access to the governor’s administration, while DeSantis himself evades and even threatens the rights of the mainstream press in his state.
For example, one of the publications, The Florida Standard, was the first news outlet to acquire the syllabus to the AP African American Studies course that the DeSantis administration loudly rejected back in January. The story was promoted by DeSantis aide Christina Pushaw who tweeted it out to her 279,000 Twitter followers.
The website is also less than a year old, with a masthead of five staffers total. Will Witt, its founder and editor-in-chief, only lists a position as a social media manager for the right-wing propaganda outfit PragerU on his LinkedIn before he reportedly launched the Standard last summer.
A handful of local news websites with a right-wing bent have popped up recently: The Florida Standard, Florida’s Voice, and Florida Media Integrity are all less than two years old, as Grid noted.
Some of the journalists behind the new publications told Grid that they had become acquainted with DeSantis over the years. Javier Manjarres, who launched The Floridian in 2017, said that he launched the website after years of “friendly interviews” with the governor for another website. He also claimed that the outlet’s DeSantis boosterism is less about him than their web traffic.
“He makes news almost every day or every other day—and everyone knows that,” he told Grid. “We write fairly about him. We try to not make it about pushing his agenda.”
DeSantis has had a largely antagonistic relationship with the press for years, and it’s only disintegrated further in recent weeks as he pushes legislation that threatens journalists’ rights in Florida. Last month the Republican-led state house introduced a bill seeking to roll back legal standards put in place to protect news media covering government officials.
And as he gears up for an expected run for the 2024 presidential election, he’s mostly avoided interviews with mainstream media outlets, but still manages to make headlines by pushing outrage-inducing policy proposals. It’s all seemingly part of a broader effort to boost his standing among MAGA Republican voters ahead of the next presidential election, where he will likely challenge Donald Trump for the GOP nomination.
“It’s a smart strategy for him right now,” New Hampshire-based GOP strategist Jim Merrill told the Tampa Bay Times. “His policy pronouncements and other avenues to communicate a message, I think it’s an effective way for him to stay front of mind for voters before he’s even campaigning.”
But while he’s mostly iced out longstanding Florida papers like the Tampa Bay Times or the Miami Herald for sit-down interviews, he had an exclusive chat with the Florida Standard.
“I have a state to run, I’ve got a lot of stuff on my plate, I’ve got a family, I’ve got a lot of things. I’ve got to pick and choose what I want to do,” he told Witt, the editor-in-chief, “and I think that there are a lot of corporate media outlets in this country that are just dedicated to pursuing partisan narratives and trying to smear people who dissent from those narratives.”
They then discussed how “successful” his administration has been, and how Florida is “doing better than” most other states.