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Rebekah Jones, the fired Florida health official who became a media darling in 2020 after she accused the Ron DeSantis administration of pressuring her to fudge the state’s COVID data, saw her claims quietly fall apart last week.
Jones has long claimed the Florida Department of Health manipulated coronavirus numbers at the Republican governor’s behest to allow the state to reopen at the height of the pandemic. However, her story was declared to be bogus by an internal report by Inspector General Michael J. Bennett, who investigates whistleblower complaints in the Sunshine State.
“Based upon an analysis of the available evidence, the alleged conduct, as described by the complainant, did not occur,” the report said.
CNN’S JAKE TAPPER RETWEETS CRITICISM OF REBEKAH JONES AFTER PROMOTING HER FAKE CONSPIRACIES ON-AIR
Cornell Law School professor and media critic William A. Jacobson believes mainstream media coverage of Jones “continued the tradition of treating incredible people as credible based on how damaging their accusations would be to a Republican” in power.
“In this case, the target was Republican star Governor Ron DeSantis, so anything went. Now that the story has been exposed as a fable, CNN and other media who hyped the accusations have mostly moved on,” Jacobson told Fox News Digital.
Jones, who channeled her media fame into becoming a Democratic candidate for Congress challenging Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., spent two years making public claims that DeSantis’ administration falsified data.
“Our office feels that the report speaks for itself so we aren’t adding further comments,” a DeSantis spokesperson told Fox News Digital.
Jones’ initial claims were bolstered by the mainstream media, and the glowing coverage elevated her profile on a national level.
CNN HEAVILY PROMOTED REBEKAH JONES’ FAKE CONSPIRACY ACCUSING DESANTIS ADMIN OF ALTERING COVID DATA
From May 2020 to December 2020, Jones made at least nine separate on-air appearances on CNN shows, most often on “Cuomo Prime Time.”
Former CNN star Chris Cuomo made Jones a semi-regular on the show, speaking to her on at least five occasions. Other outlets, including MSNBC, Miami Herald, The Washington Post and NBC News helped build Jones’ profile, and she received an adoring profile in Cosmopolitan.
DePauw University journalism professor Jeffrey McCall said the establishment media’s boosting of Jones had less to do about getting COVID data correct than it did about trying to discredit DeSantis.
“The media narrative on DeSantis was that he was recklessly mismanaging Covid while trying to reopen his state, and thus, stories had to be pushed to support that theme. The Jones saga fit that narrative nicely, so she became the media darling, with outfits like CNN promoting Jones’s allegations with insufficient support or vetting,” McCall told Fox News Digital.
“The manipulation of COVID data in the early stages of the pandemic was surely a news story needing full coverage from multiple perspectives, but the media found it too easy to support Jones without fully considering context or even what her motivations might have been,” McCall continued. “It will be interesting now to see how much traction this inspector general’s report gets from the establishment media. Odds are it will get little visibility, lest the media have to scrape some egg off of its collective face.”
CRITICS BASH MEDIA FOR HAVING ELEVATED REBEKAH JONES AMID NEW REVELATIONS OF HER ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR IN REPORT
Media Research Center contributing writer Clay Waters wrote that the “sordid saga” of Jones is officially closed.
“She claimed she was told to falsify data and was fired for not doing so — data she never had access to. And a new state report shows Jones wasn’t told to falsify data at all,” Waters wrote.
“Jones is not a scientist, as some press coverage stated, but a data mapper with a master’s degree in geography. She is also a conspiracy theorist hyped in the press, appearing as a DeSantis basher on CNN with disgraced former host Chris Cuomo, and hailed by lefty host Joy Reid on MSNBC,” Waters continued. “But perhaps most disappointing was Jones’ hagiographic treatment in the news pages of the Miami Herald.”
A year ago, the Miami Herald was pounded for an editorial hailing Jones receiving “whistleblower” status. At the time, the title was unremarkable and did not bestow any additional credibility upon her claims. The status is available to anyone who works or worked at a Florida state agency and makes claims of criminal wrongdoing, and prevents retaliation for advancing those claims. But the Herald celebrated her status anyway, calling it “a win over state secrecy for the rest of us.”
Critics blasted the Herald for the editorial, and that was before the inspector general’s report debunked her claims.
Waters wrote that the Herald also published “provocative articles in support of Jones, while minimizing the disturbing charges of Jones cyberstalking a former boyfriend, and other run-ins with the law.”
National Review senior writer Charles C. W. Cooke didn’t appreciate the Herald’s coverage, either, and responded to a tweet sent by a reporter for the paper after the inspector general’s report was unveiled.
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“Your paper spent two years laundering Jones’s lies. It laundered her initial lies. It laundered her lies about lying. It laundered her lies about the whistleblower process,” Cooke wrote. “It’s been a disgraceful performance.”
Jones was officially fired for insubordination; her personnel files, uploaded by National Review, revealed repeated infractions documented by her superiors, including posting on “social media regarding data and web product owned by the Department that she works on without permission of management or communications,” and potentially exposing personnel data on the geographic information system (GIS) dashboard she managed.
Fox News’ David Rutz and Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.