Gov. Ron DeSantis raised the possibility Tuesday of passing legislation that could lower the bar for prominent people to successfully sue news outlets for defamation.
In a roundtable discussion that featured complaints about the unfair “narrative” of the news media, DeSantis sat behind a desk similar to one of a news anchor with the backdrop of the word “Truth” on a screen. DeSantis spoke with six panelists including attorneys who litigate libel cases, libertarian journalist Michael Moynihan and Nicholas Sandmann, a conservative activist who has spoken extensively about his mistreatment by mainstream media outlets.
While the governor and the panelists weighed various policy options, the event concluded without DeSantis announcing any specific bill or action to be taken, only telling viewers to “stay tuned.”
Since he first ran for governor in 2018, DeSantis has kept traditional news outlets at a distance, preferring instead to grant interviews to conservative broadcasters while framing the general media as a political opponent. His reelection team included clips in campaign ads of him sparring with reporters at news conferences. More recently, DeSantis’ lawyers have argued in court that he possesses executive privilege, similar to a U.S. president, that allows him to shield records of his choosing from the public.
On Tuesday, DeSantis mentioned a 2021 60 Minutes story that focused on Publix’s campaign donations to the governor ahead of the grocery chain getting the right to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in Palm Beach County. DeSantis has previously railed against that report, saying clips were selectively edited and the story was inaccurate. At the time, he held an official event at the Capitol to refute it.
DeSantis said Tuesday that any potential legislation would not be for his benefit. Instead, he and other panelists implied that private citizens are often the victims of inaccurate reporting.
“They come after me — and they do do a lot of slander — but I fight back. I have a platform to fight back … I got thick skin,” he said during Tuesday’s Hialeah Gardens event. “But you have some of these other folks who are just run-of-the-mill citizens, their only possible way of recourse would be to be able to bring an action (in court).”
Although the governor did not offer legislative details, it’s not the first time his office has considered a challenge to the current legal understanding of the First Amendment. Before the 2022 legislative session, his office shared a draft of a bill with a lawmaker that would have, among other things, required the courts to presume statements by anonymous sources are false in a defamation claim.