In August, a producer for “The View” emailed Ron DeSantis’ team hoping to book the Florida governor on the daytime talk show in the days before the midterm elections.
DeSantis declined the offer to chat with Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar. Instead, he sat down with Will Witt, the 26-year-old founder of the Florida Standard, a conservative website that launched just days earlier. The governor took the opportunity to complain about the mainstream media and tout his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, under the heading: “EXCLUSIVE: Governor Ron DeSantis and Will Witt Interview.”
Over the last year, DeSantis has given just a handful of interviews. Almost all of them have been with Fox News primetime or morning hosts or major conservative podcasters. But he’s also carved out time for the Florida Standard and a similar site called Florida’s Voice, which launched in 2021.
The publications offer an unfiltered platform for his message. And they’ve returned the favor of his attention with flattering coverage and headlines like “‘Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival’: DeSantis Launching Book to Detail ‘Battle-Tested’ Victory Plan for the U.S.”; “DeSantis-Endorsed School Board Candidates March to Victory”; and “Casey DeSantis: ‘I Am a Testament That God is Great and God is Good, and Hope is Alive.’”
Witt, who built a following as a young conservative pundit with the nonprofit video producer PragerU, told Semafor that the publication has been well received in the governor’s office and in Republican political circles in the state.
“It’s so nice when you have someone who recognizes what you’re doing and really appreciates it,” he said.
One person with knowledge of the Florida Standard’s backing told Semafor it was the brainchild of pro-DeSantis donors in Florida, who wanted to start a right-of-center publication to push back against what they saw as unfair legacy media coverage of the governor. Wilt told Semafor that the company is for-profit and will rely on advertising and sponsorships, many of which he brings in himself through his notoriety on the right.
He declined to say who owns the site.
The Standard’s more well-established rival, Florida’s Voice, is partially backed by Alfie Oakes, the MAGA grocery store king of Southwest Florida, who has appeared on the publication’s podcasts and advertises on the site.
DeSantis finds himself in the luxurious position of being able to brush off traditional media while receiving exceedingly friendly coverage from tame local websites and a national conservative press that’s desperate for an alternative to Donald Trump in 2024.
Within Florida, this has been a winning combination. The governor was easily reelected without doing a single sitdown interview with a traditional newspaper editorial board in his state. He declined to give press credentials to many reporters hoping to cover a traditionally open-press GOP fundraising dinner earlier this year. And he largely avoided interviews with traditional news outlets in the leadup to the gubernatorial race, though he agreed to sit downs with Telemundo and some local Florida TV stations following Hurricane Ian earlier this year.
Christina Pushaw, the rapid-response director for DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign, wrote on Twitter earlier this year that “if ALL conservatives simply stop talking to them, the legacy media will lose any shred of credibility or interest to Americans who follow politics. It won’t be worth paying for straight DNC opinion. We should use our platforms to build up new media.” (The governor’s staff did not respond to requests for comment.)
It’s unclear, however, whether DeSantis could run a national presidential campaign through sympathetic conservative channels alone. His hostility toward the mainstream media may echo Donald Trump’s in spirit, but he seems to be taking Trump’s press philosophy a bit more literally than the former president ever did.
Trump spent most of his career playing a game of love and hate with massive, conventional media, from the New York tabloids to NBC, which carried “The Apprentice.” During 2016, Trump regularly called in not just to Fox News but CNN, MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” and NBC News. During the Republican primary he dialed up reporters at various print and smaller digital outlets to chat.
I worked at Insider then, and I have vivid memories of political reporter Hunter Walker putting the then-Republican candidate on speaker phone.
Unlike Trump, the governor also has a smaller rolodex of personal friends in conservative media. He’s friendly with some prominent pundits, most notably Tucker Carlson. And while he largely steers clear of beat reporters in the state, DeSantis still occasionally talks privately to longtime Florida blogger and one-time Republican congressional candidate Javier Manjarres, whose relationship with DeSantis predates his time as a backbench congressman.
“He’s an amigo,” Manjarres told Semafor.
For now, DeSantis is working on finding national figures who will be as devoted to him as Will Wilt and the Florida Standard. Earlier this year, he hosted a dinner in Tallahassee with a long list of conservative online figures including Benny Johnson, Newsweek opinion editor Josh Hammer, and Dave Rubin, among others.
Room for Disagreement
DeSantis’s touchy remoteness isn’t limited to journalists, the skeptics of his national ambitions say, and will ultimately doom him.
“DeSantis is not a fun and convivial dude. He prefers to keep his earbuds in. His ‘Step away from the vehicle’ vibes are strong,” The Atlantic’s Mark Leibovich wrote in a story whose URL is “desantis-awkward-trump.”
- Our own Dave Weigel wrote earlier this year about how Republican candidates across the country now have an “array of sources that deliver political news they trust, including podcasts and TV shows that interview Republicans without what DeSantis called “gotcha’ questions.”
- Throughout his time in office, DeSantis has grown to view the press as an easy foil, saying last year that many Republicans “would try to impress the corporate media. Don’t work with them. You’ve got to beat them. You’ve got to fight back against them.”
- DeSantis wouldn’t even talk about his past as a decent baseball player. When a sports writer for the Tampa Bay Times reached out to interview him about playing baseball as a kid, the governor’s office “declined to make him available to talk about baseball not even for 10 minutes. His staff did email two bland quotes.”
Corrections: An earlier version of this article named Meghan McCain as a host of “The View” last summer. She left in 2021. And an earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that DeSantis had not participated in an interview with a legacy news outlet since late 2021. He spoke to Telemundo and some Florida stations about Hurricane Ian.