by Laurel Duggan
Christina Pushaw, press secretary for Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has been putting Democrats and the corporate press on defense by refusing to play along with what she says are partisan narratives.
Pushaw has garnered national attention for her active and sometimes aggressive interactions with journalists. Her strategy may serve as a playbook for conservatives who are ready to reject the media’s framing and communicate with the public on their own terms.
The media’s interest in Pushaw is a product of their obsession with DeSantis, Pushaw told the DCNF, which began in 2020 when Florida opened schools and businesses earlier than other states and became subject to constant media criticism. DeSantis largely ignored his media detractors, and Pushaw’s strategy mirrors her boss’s: she doesn’t play along with the media’s framing of an issue if it’s misleading or overtly partisan, and she uses her platform on Twitter to cut past the spin and communicate with people directly, she explained.
It has come to my attention that some liberal media activists are mad because they aren't allowed into #SunshineSummit this weekend. My message to them is to try crying about it. Then go to kickboxing and have a margarita. And write the same hit piece you were gonna write anyway.
— Christina Pushaw 🐊 🇺🇸 (@ChristinaPushaw) July 22, 2022
“Legacy media is used to being gatekeepers, to setting the narrative and having everyone, including politicians, just go along with that,” she said. With the credibility of the media collapsing and more people looking to social media and other sources for news, mainstream media outlets are losing their ability to shape the narrative, she said. “That’s why this was so triggering for them. They’re not gatekeepers anymore and that’s making them very anxious. … They don’t get to dictate to us what is truth and what’s false when they have such a track record of lying.”
When Florida lawmakers were considering the Parental Rights in Education bill, which banned classroom instruction on sexuality and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, Pushaw made a point of correcting reporters who misleadingly referred to the legislation as the “Don’t Say Gay bill.” She suggested calling it the “Anti-Groomer Bill” instead, which she said was more accurate.
“Teaching kids that they can be born in the wrong body and that they can choose their own pronouns and gender when they’re in kindergarten, that is grooming,” she said.
If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.
— Christina Pushaw 🐊 🇺🇸 (@ChristinaPushaw) March 4, 2022
“That was one thing, I think, that really set off media activists, because they are not used to us conservatives using their tactics against them,” she said. “Why should we accept their framing and defend ourselves from these completely ridiculous and absurd accusations when the main issue is that Democrats are lobbying against a bill that just protects kids from gender indoctrination in kindergarten?”
Pushaw, a California native, began working for DeSantis in May 2021 after working for several years at conservative and libertarian-leaning organizations.
Criticisms of Pushaw generally focus on her aggressive approach to Twitter, such as the 2,000-word article complaining about her tweets published in The Washington Post July 27.
The Associated Press pushed Twitter to suspend her account in August 2021 after she tweeted criticisms of an AP article which had insinuated that Florida’s monoclonal antibody treatments were part of a corruption scheme, including tweets that read “drag them” and which told the author she would “put [him] on blast.” She said the suggestions of corruption were inaccurate despite lengthy clarifications she provided to the author, and she thought the article could have scared people away from using the treatment.
“I try to directly refute and debunk misinformation, disinformation and flat-out smears from the the media as well as from some partisan critics, and that’s how I really use my Twitter account,” she said.
Pushaw sometimes shares screenshots of her interactions with journalists on Twitter if she takes issue with the way a story is being framed or thinks statements from her office are being misrepresented. But her office receives hundreds of emails from journalists on a daily basis, and if an inquiry is in bad faith, rests on a faulty premise or is repeating partisan talking points, she first addresses the issue directly with the reporter, she said.
“With the national media, oftentimes it seems like they’ve written the story before they reach out to us and they don’t give us adequate chances to respond. Even if we do respond, they will cut up our answers,” she said. “I try to work with every reporter before they write the story. If a reporter doesn’t give anyone on my team a chance to respond but just publishes something, then I’ll call them out publicly. If they publish something that’s not true but it looks like they’re trying to get it right, I will reach out to them directly.”
This approach doesn’t apply to every writer, Pushaw explained.
“That’s with actual journalists. There are some people that I don’t consider to be journalists, like Taylor Lorenz (the Washington Post columnist), or the ladies of The View; they’re commentators. They’re pundits, and they have a track record of repeating things that aren’t true,” she said.
Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for the Florida Department of Health, said Pushaw’s strategy is precisely what DeSantis needs in the face of unrelenting and biased media coverage.
“She understands the moment, and she understand the passion that the Governor has to do what is right for Floridians,” he told the DCNF.
Throughout the interview Pushaw frequently redirected the focus back to DeSantis, particularly to his achievements and to what she believes the media has gotten wrong about his administration. Pushaw has been featured in numerous articles from national media outlets, but she insists the attention is misguided.
“They try to make me into this powerful figure when I am really a communications staffer,” she said.
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