While many are watching when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis might announce a run for president, he’s making noise — and drawing massive criticism — for initiatives in Florida, including proposed restrictions on press freedom.
Ron DeSantis: Should We Be Worried?
When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is mentioned in national political coverage, it’s often in the context of the possibility that he will run for president, whether he has much of a chance of defeating Donald Trump in a Republican primary, and whether longtime Trump supporters are ready to defect from the former president in favor of Ron DeSantis.
But there’s another big DeSantis story that sometimes gets lost: Initiatives that he has undertaken in Florida, which opponents say are of questionable constitutionality.
This included the Stop WOKE Act, signed by DeSantis, which among other things bans the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” in the state’s schools. DeSantis has also drawn fire of late for a proposed academic standards bill, which one critic said would “end academic freedom, shared governance, and university independence in FL public higher education in favor of one man’s authoritarian control of public university decisions.”
Most recently, according to Politico, Republicans in Florida are pushing to “weaken state laws that have long protected journalists against defamation suits and frivolous lawsuits.”
Ron DeSantis had held a roundtable earlier this month that both foreshadowed the legislation, and indicated strongly that running against the media will be a large part of his presidential campaign this year.
The idea, per Politico, is to get the issue into the courts, in order to spark an eventual challenge to the 1964 decision New York Times v. Sullivan.
That decision, which originated in a full-page ad placed in the Times by supporters of Martin Luther King, Jr., made it harder for public officials to sue journalists.
“There is a strong argument to be made that the Supreme Court overreached,” Alex Andrade, the lawmaker who introduced the bill, told Politico. “This is not the government shutting down free speech. This is a private cause of action.”
Free press advocates quoted by the site had strong words about the legislation.
“I have never seen anything remotely like this legislation,” Seth Stern, director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told Politico. “I can’t say I have seen every bill ever introduced, but I’d be quite surprised if any state Legislature had seriously considered such a brazen and blatantly unconstitutional attack on speech and press freedoms.”
The bill would allow plaintiffs to sue media outlets in order to collect attorneys’ fees, and also a provision stating that “comments made by anonymous sources are presumed false for the purposes of defamation lawsuits,” per Politico.
The Orlando Sentinel had reported in 2022 that a top staffer for the governor had worked on a proposal for similar legislation, which “sought to challenge decades-old First Amendment protections for the news media and make it easier for high-profile people to win defamation lawsuits.” That bill never reached the agenda last year but appears to have made a comeback.
This is happening around the same time that DeSantis’ press secretary announced that he will boycott any interviews with NBC News or MSNBC after host Andrea Mitchell asked Vice President Kamala Harris about DeSantis’ threats to crack down on The College Board’s AP African American studies course. DeSantis, however, rarely sits for interviews with national outlets other than Fox news.
“What does Governor Ron DeSantis not know about Black history and the Black experience when he says that slavery and the aftermath of slavery should not be taught to Florida schoolchildren?” Mitchell asked.
Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.