Tallahassee, Fla. – Last night, Miami Herald published a report by Sarah Blaskey and Ben Conarck with a misleading headline that misrepresented the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) evaluation of the Florida Department of Health (DOH) collection, analysis, and reporting of the state’s COVID-19 data. Several reporters and commentators shared the article on social media. In doing so, they spread disinformation by twisting the facts to discredit the hard work of thousands of public servants keeping Floridians safe, healthy, and informed throughout the pandemic.
MEDIA MYTH: The Miami Herald report misled the public by falsely implying that DOH is in danger of losing its accreditation.
THE FACTS: The Herald interviewed Eric Toner, a scholar in Maryland who is not even listed as a representative of PHAB. Toner could not comment on DOH specifically since he has no direct knowledge of the situation, but he made a general statement: “If an accredited health department is told by an accreditation board that they need to do something better…the next step would be probation or losing accreditation.”
However, no official representative of PHAB gave any indication that DOH was ever in any danger of losing accreditation. In fact, PHAB president Paul Kuehnert praised the department’s COVID-19 surveillance and reporting: “Based on what we have seen with Florida, the professionals at the Department of Health are doing a really excellent job.” These are Kuehnert’s own words, quoted in the Miami Herald article — albeit in the nineteenth paragraphMiami Herald’s decision to “bury the lede” in this story is irresponsible at best and negligent at worst.
MEDIA MYTH: PHAB criticized DOH for “failing to maintain accurate records regarding COVID-19 infection rates in schools,” issued incomplete data, and neglected Miami-Dade and Broward schools. (Mary Ellen Klas, Miami Herald)
THE FACTS: In response to a complaint from a political activist in Broward County, PHAB conducted an exhaustive six-month investigation of DOH and found “nothing concerning about the department’s data collection or analysis.” This is a direct quote from the Miami Herald article, again buried under paragraphs of innuendo and speculation.
Klas’ comment is a glaring example of public health disinformation given undue credibility by association with a mainstream media outlet. Klas quoted the complaint, but misattributed the quote, falsely framing it as an excerpt from the accreditation board’s evaluation of DOH. When Klas was informed of her mistake, she refused to issue a correction, instead publishing more social media commentary to push the same false narrative.
MEDIA MYTH: According to the Miami Herald report, “Florida’s COVID-19 data has been the subject of national scrutiny since Rebekah Jones, who built the DOH dashboard and maps on COVID-19 cases, claimed she was asked to ‘manipulate data’ in order to justify lifting emergency orders and restrictions on businesses. Jones was fired last May for ‘insubordination’ after publicly challenging the department’s transparency.”
THE FACTS: The reasons for Jones’ removal from the DOH COVID-19 dashboard are public and have nothing to do with “publicly challenging the department’s transparency.” A May 13 report debunked this false narrative by describing the pattern of insubordination Jones’ supervisors had documented prior to her separation from DOH.
Last week, Jones admitted that she had lied about her most explosive allegation: That DOH leadership had pressured her to hide data on Florida’s COVID-19 deaths. “Deleting deaths was never something I was asked to do,” Jones wrote in a now-deleted Tweet. Neither Miami Herald, nor many of the other Florida media outlets that amplified Jones’ defamatory remarks and baseless conspiracy theories for months on end, reported on this development.
Prior to publishing this article, Miami Herald reporters were fully aware of the inconsistencies and falsehoods in Jones’ story, the reasons for her removal from the COVID-19 dashboard in May 2020, and the lack of evidence for her outlandish conspiracy theories. Conarck, Blaskey, and Klas had access to the relevant public records from DOH to verify the developments leading up to Jones’ termination. Nevertheless, Miami Herald yet again elevated their preferred narratives to unfairly discredit DOH’s successful COVID-19 tracking and public health response. 
Floridians deserve transparent, credible reporting on COVID-19, and the dedicated professionals of DOH have delivered on that promise for our state. Thanks to the efforts of DOH, Florida has gained national recognition as a leader in transparent, accurate COVID-19 data reporting. For example, The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project gave Florida an “A” grade for data completeness.
Miami Herald and other media outlets have fallen far short of this standard. By spreading health misinformation, framing stories in a misleading manner, and refusing to correct the record when provided with accurate information and documentation, Miami Herald is complicit in undermining Floridians’ trust in media and public health authorities alike.

Comments are closed.