U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Florida journalists barred from covering Gov. DeSantis signing of controversial new election law

Incident Details

REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seen in this file photo, gave exclusive coverage of a bill signing to the Fox News program Fox & Friends on May 6, 2021, blocking all local journalists.

— REUTERS/Joe Skipper
May 6, 2021

Journalists from multiple Florida news outlets said they were blocked from covering Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing of a controversial election bill on May 6, 2021, in West Palm Beach.

Among those denied access to the bill signing event were journalists from The South Florida Sun Sentinel; West Palm Beach TV stations WPEC CBS12 and WPTV Newschannel 5; and WPLG Local 10 News, an ABC affiliate in Miami. The only news outlet allowed in to cover the event was the Fox News program Fox & Friends, according to multiple journalists.

Steve Bousquet, a columnist for The Sun Sentinel, posted on Twitter that a DeSantis spokesperson told him the signing was a “Fox exclusive.”

Bousquet told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he had no advance notice that access to the event would be exclusive for Fox. He said that he and other reporters came to a Hilton Hotel near the West Palm Beach airport, where a public announcement had said the bill signing would take place.

Bousquet said the event, held in a hotel conference room, resembled a political rally. Reporters could see part of the event through a window, he said, while some watched on their phones as the Fox News broadcast carried the governor signing the bill.

Bill signings are not required to be held publicly, and sometimes governors sign legislation behind closed doors. However, Bousquet, a longtime Florida political journalist, said he had never encountered a similar situation for a bill signing, particularly on a piece of very high profile legislation.

“This was really astonishing because the amount of public interest and public and press attention on that elections bill was among the highest of any piece of legislation, you know, in decades in Tallahassee,” the capital of Florida, he said.

Anthony Man, a reporter for the Sun Sentinel, posted a series of photos from the hotel on Twitter showing a line of people waiting to enter the event where the “governor will sign new Florida election law on Fox News and demonstrate his conservative bona fides for national Republican audience.” The photos showed a banner and T-shirt supporting a 2024 presidential ticket of Donald Trump and Gov. DeSantis.

Almost an hour later, Man tweeted that while outside the venue, he could hear cheering and chants of “Four more years!” from the crowd inside.

Madeline Montgomery, a reporter for CBS12, tweeted that she had been at the Hilton, where the DeSantis event was planned, since 4 a.m.

Another CBS12 reporter, Danielle Waugh DeRos tweeted a photograph of journalists waiting outside after the event.

CBS12 reporter Jay O’Brien posted on Twitter at 1:58 p.m. to confirm that his channel’s news team would not be allowed in.

“We were a pool camera, assigned to feed this event to affiliates nationwide,” O’Brien tweeted.

“It’s not just us. Not a single reporter is being let in. This in a ‘sunshine’ state that prides itself on open government.”

The Tracker was not able to confirm whether O’Brien was among the journalists denied access to the event.

WPLG Local 10 News reporter Glenna Milberg was at the event as well, according to a story published by the outlet. Introducing Milberg for a segment on the bill signing, a Local 10 News anchor said DeSantis signed the bill live on Fox News while “locking out local media.”

WPTV journalists were also shut out of the event, according to the outlet. Reporter Matt Sczesny said in one report that local media was excluded from the event, and reporter Linnie Supall called the exclusive access given to Fox an “unprecedented move” by the governor.

In a WPTV video, DeSantis can be seen walking to his car after signing the bill.

“It was on national TV, it wasn’t secret,” DeSantis told reporters.

A spokesperson for DeSantis did not respond to a request for comment.

Fox News told The Tampa Bay Times that the network “did not request or mandate that the May 6th event and interview with Gov. Ron DeSantis be exclusive to FOX News Media entities.”

According to Florida First Amendment Foundation staff attorney Virginia Hamrick, the state’s Sunshine Law, which requires meetings between certain officials to be public, does not apply to the bill signing. However, she said that restricting access to the event raises First Amendment issues. “We're concerned by it,” Hamrick told the Tracker.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].