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Clarity or deception in ‘60 Minutes’ report on Florida’s vaccine rollout? A news literacy lesson.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) speaks to the media on March 5 at a drive-through vaccination site in Ocala, Fla. (Alan Youngblood/Ocala Star-Banner/AP)
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This is the latest installment of a weekly feature on this blog — lessons from the nonprofit News Literacy Project, which aims to teach students how to distinguish between what is real and what is not in this age of digital communication.

The material comes from the project’s newsletter, the Sift, which takes the most recent viral rumors, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and journalistic ethics issues and turns them into timely lessons with discussion prompts and links. The Sift, which is published weekly during the school year, has more than 10,000 subscribers, most of them educators.

The News Literacy Project also offers a program called Checkology, a browser-based platform designed for students in grades six through 12 that helps prepare the next generation to easily identify misinformation. Checkology is free for educators, students, school districts and parents. Since 2016, more than 29,000 educators and parents in all 50 states and the District of Columbia have registered to use the platform. Since August, more than 1,000 educators and parents and more than 34,000 students, have actively used Checkology.

You can learn more about the News Literacy Project and all of the educational resources it provides in this piece, but here is a rundown:

Founded more than a decade ago by Alan Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter at the Los Angeles Times, the News Literacy Project is the leading provider of news literacy education.

It creates digital curriculums and other resources, and it works with educators and journalists to teach middle school and high school students how to recognize news and information to trust — and it provides them with the tools they need to be informed and engaged participants in a democracy. It uses the standards of high-quality journalism as an aspirational yardstick against which to measure all news and information. Just as important, it provides the next generation with an appreciation of the First Amendment and the role of a free press.

Here’s material from the April 12 edition of the Sift:

Clarity or deception?

An April 4 report from the long-running CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” on disparities in Florida’s vaccine rollout has touched off a wave of criticism questioning the piece’s accuracy and fairness.

The controversy stems from the report’s unsupported suggestion that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis used the state’s vaccination program to engage in a “pay-to-play” scheme with the supermarket chain Publix when he announced a distribution partnership with the company in January, shortly after it donated $100,000 to his political action committee.

But critics of this segment of the report say it failed to provide substantive evidence of wrongdoing and mischaracterized key details. The report also included footage from a press briefing at which “60 Minutes” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi asked DeSantis about the Publix relationship.

However, important parts showing DeSantis denying wrongdoing (at 32:30 in footage of the briefing) weren’t included in the clip. The director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Jared Moskowitz, and Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, who are both Democrats, have backed up the governor’s account.

CBS News defended the edits and stands by the report.

At the conclusion of its April 11 episode, “60 Minutes” acknowledged criticism of its report and read several letters from viewers. DeSantis, meanwhile, has responded to the incident by going on the offensive, broadly accusing “partisan corporate media” of maliciously trying to damage him.

Note: Most of the “60 Minutes” report presented accurate information about well-documented racial and economic disparities in the state’s coronavirus vaccination distribution. But the controversy over the DeSantis allegations overshadowed that reporting.

Also note: CBS said DeSantis declined to be interviewed by “60 Minutes” for the report.


Discuss: Can journalists include everything a source says in their reporting? How should journalists decide what portions of interviews to include and which to leave out?

Idea: Use this video comparison (see below) from the News Literacy Project to highlight for students the edits “60 Minutes” made to the governor’s response to Alfonsi’s question. Do they agree with the claim by CBS that these were justifiable edits made for clarity? Or do they agree with claims by DeSantis that the editing was deceptive and unfair?

Viral rumor rundown

NO: A recent Gallup poll did not show an 11 percent approval rating for President Biden.

YES: According to Gallup, Biden’s average approval rating since taking office is 56 percent.

YES: Biden’s Gallup approval rating among Republicans was 11 percent in the early days of his term and fell to 8 percent among Republicans in March.

NO: Biden does not have the lowest approval rating of any president in U.S. history.

NO: The state of Georgia is not removing Coca-Cola products from all state-owned buildings after the company’s CEO, James Quincey, issued a statement criticizing the state’s new voting legislation.

YES: A group of eight Georgia Republican state legislators on April 3 wrote a letter requesting “all Coca-Cola Company products be removed” from their offices.

Discuss: Why do you think this post was shared at least 1,000 times even though it provides no evidence for its claim?