Miami Herald reporter accuses Florida governor of breaking the law when she’s excluded from briefing

Screengrab CBS Miami

In what was explained as an attempt to meet the request by some members of the media to maintain social distancing during news briefings, Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis came under fire for limiting the number of journalists in attendance.

The criticism coming from reporters left on the outside looking in, of course.

Some members of the tight-knit Florida press who cover the state capital have taken on an almost hostile demeanor in reporting on the popular governor’s handling of the Chinese virus COVID-19. This coming as DeSantis has been hesitant to issue a stay-at-home order for the Sunshine State, and has come under fire for not shutting down all Florida beaches, leaving the decision up to local officials for the most part.

The Miami Herald’s Tallahassee bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas, who was one of those not selected to attend Saturday’s briefing, took to social media to accuse DeSantis of breaking the law.

“Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to violate the state’s public meeting laws and chose to exclude the @MiamiHerald and @TB_Times from a media briefing at the Capitol. He was so determined to keep us out, he had an FDLE vehicle pick up TV reporter Mike Vasilinda to give him back door access,” she tweeted.

(The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times have a journalism partnership in covering Florida government and state politics.)

Turns out, Klas was one of the reporters requesting adherence to social distancing.

“I asked for social distancing. I didn’t ask to be excluded,” she told the Miami Herald.

In a series of tweets, Klas included further commentary and videos on the matter, to include New Service Florida reporter Jim Turner talking on the phone to someone.

“If I insist on Mary Ellen coming in I have to watch on live screen,” he’s heard saying.

In another video, Klas speaks with DeSantis spokesperson Meredith Beatrice, who tells the reporter the briefing will be aired by a state-sponsored public affairs media service.

Klas shared the questions she planned to ask DeSantis, claiming this was the reason she was excluded. The reporter was quoted in the Herald explaining that attempts to submit her questions beforehand were “unsuccessful,” so it’s not clear how DeSantis would know what she planned to ask.

Another question, which Klas said had been asked previously, pitted DeSantis against President Trump.

DeSantis communication director Helen Aguirre Ferré responded to the controversy by explaining the details behind the decision.

“In an effort to maintain social distancing as some media groups requested, including The Miami Herald, a small pool of Tallahassee reporters representing print, TV and digital were invited to attend a publicly available livestream-briefing with the Governor,” she said in a statement to Law & Crime. “As is customary, a media advisory of the livestream was sent to statewide media. A reporter from Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald was called but the reporter did not return the two calls. Every endeavor is made to ensure the public continues to have full access to information as the safety and security of Florida residents is our greatest concern.”

After thrusting herself into the center of the controversy and getting national attention in the process — again, DeSantis is a Republican — Klas tweeted that it was “especially exasperating” to have to do this, given how that their only goal is “to help keep people safe.”

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Tom Tillison

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