By Brian Burgess, The Capitolist
Dozens of media shops, each in Florida and nationally, printed the sensational story of Dr. Rebekah Jones, a state Division of Well being worker who was fired by the administration of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, after – she says – she refused to control information to help the governor’s plan to reopen the state.
However a deeper take a look at the underlying info expose a much less sensational, but all-too-common narrative: a media feeding frenzy attributable to a deep-seated want to report on scandal and cover-ups, which Rebekah Jones’ claims delivered – if solely they had been true.
Let’s decide via the person items of wreckage from this crashed-and-burned narrative one after the other:
Declare #1: Rebekah Jones was the “architect” of the Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The reality: Jones was extra just like the drywall hanger of the dashboard slightly than the “architect.” The dashboard was constructed on the identical visible mapping instrument that Johns Hopkins College made famous at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. The truth is, Florida’s instrument appears extraordinarily related. That’s as a result of Johns Hopkins College shouldn’t be the “architect” of the dashboard, both. The instrument is definitely constructed not on any of Florida’s many information servers, however utilizing ready-made modules from a subscription service known as ArcGIS. Jones’ job was to load information into these modules and determine the way it appeared to guests.
Declare #2: Rebekah Jones was a coronavirus “scientist”
The reality: Jones has a doctorate diploma in geography. Her talent set, as relevant to COVID-19, was in mapping information, as we defined above. That’s it. No particular abilities in epidemiology, biology, and even public well being. Relying on the narrative a media outlet needs to convey, utilizing the time period “scientist” in headlines about coronavirus carries with it a really particular connotation, main readers to consider Jones was concerned within the entrance strains of coronavirus analysis. If media shops insist on describing her as a “scientist,” they owe their readers a fuller rationalization of her position, and will, at most, describe her as a “information scientist,” although even that could possibly be deceptive and would nonetheless be misconstrued for political acquire.
Declare #3: Rebekah Jones was requested to control information to help the governor’s plan to reopen Florida
The reality: Jones was requested to briefly disable the power to export information from the dashboard in order that it could possibly be verified that the information matched different sources.
We beforehand gave credit score to the Tampa Bay Occasions for precisely describing Jones’ position in managing the COVID-19 dashboard. In addition they precisely describe occasions resulting in Jones termination. Don’t misunderstand – the Occasions remains to be responsible of making an attempt to make Jones a martyr. Check out how they describe what occurred:
[On May 4th] the [EventDate] column vanished from the “Particular person Instances” information, which lists anonymized information for each confirmed case in Florida. The Palm Beach Post reported the disappearance the subsequent day, Could 5.
The Tampa Bay Occasions routinely checks for adjustments within the information and archives new updates. Shortly earlier than 10:12 a.m on Could 4., information nonetheless included the EventDate area, exhibiting information with listed dates that folks reported signs as early as January 1. By 3:02 p.m., the column was gone.
For a lot of the subsequent day, Could 5, the column was both lacking or empty, with each row itemizing “None.” Lastly, it returned shortly earlier than 8:02 p.m.
In case you’re struggling to see what all of the fuss is about, you’re not alone. By the Occasions personal account, a single column of information grew to become briefly unavailable for a day and a half. The one different merchandise worthy of be aware within the Occasions’ story is that the state’s official epidemiologist (i.e. an precise medical scientist, not a knowledge mapper, like Jones) requested to have the power to export information from the dashboard briefly disabled whereas well being officers confirm that the dates match different official sources.
That is important. The Tampa Bay Occasions had the complete rationalization for why the information was briefly unavailable, however they and different media shops determined to run with “coronavirus conspiracy” as a substitute. The truth is, the Occasions headline claims Jones was requested to “delete” information. No the place within the story itself does the phrase “delete” seem. It’s another clickbait headline.
Declare #4: Rebekah Jones was fired as a result of she refused to adjust to orders to cover the reality about COVID-19
The reality: The concept that Jones is someway a martyr for reality about coronavirus and a sufferer of a DeSantis administration cowl up is a story too many media shops had been prepared to leap on.
She was fired for insubordination, in keeping with the DeSantis Administration:
“Rebekah Jones exhibited a repeated course of insubordination throughout her time with the division, together with her unilateral choices to change the division’s COVID-19 dashboard with out enter or approval from the epidemiological crew or her supervisors,” DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Ferre mentioned in a press release. “The blatant disrespect for the professionals who had been working across the clock to offer the necessary info for the COVID-19 web site was dangerous to the crew.”
Jones is not any stranger to insubordination. In 2016, she was arrested on the campus of her employer, Louisiana State College, for refusing to obey the orders of a police officer:
On June 13, 26-year-old College employees member Rebekah Jones was booked on one depend of battery on a police officer, one depend of remaining after forbidden and two counts of resisting arrest, Scott mentioned. Scott mentioned officers arrived on the Sea Grant constructing when Jones refused to go away on the request of LSU Human Assets. Scott mentioned Jones initiated bodily contact towards two LSUPD officers whereas resisting arrest and officers had been pressured to subdue her.
It’s not clear why LSU’s Human Assets division requested certainly one of their very own employees members to go away the realm.
Jones additionally has an intensive prison historical past in Leon County, the place she’s been arrested and charged with three felonies, together with one for theft, and a handful of misdemeanor instances together with “sexual cyberstalking,” a case the place she created an internet site and used it to sexually harass her ex-boyfriend. The web site has been taken down, however photographs from the case exist in Leon County courtroom information.
Many of the fees filed towards her got here after she was employed by the Division of Well being, so they might not have turned up in any background examine.
The underside line: Rebekah Jones was fired for efficiency points, not for “refusing to control information.” And her intensive prison historical past, which predates her employment in Florida, lends credence to the DeSantis administration that she was only a troublesome worker who’s now disgruntled and making an attempt to get media consideration about her firing. The simplest method to get media consideration proper now could be to say a Republican elected official is concerned in a conspiracy to cowl up COVID-19 information detrimental to reopening the state financial system.
The media shops listed above is not going to problem retractions. They may double down on the concept DeSantis’s administration is withholding / manipulating / deleting / altering information. That, too is completely false. However mark these phrases, the embarrassment of touting Rebekah Jones as their coronavirus martyr will shortly fade into the mainstream media reminiscence gap.