Rebekah Jones And The Silence Of The Florida Today.

You may remember the story of Rebekah Jones. Jones was a former employee of the state of Florida who accused the State and specifically Governor Ron DeSantis of manipulating data concerning the number of cases and deaths due to COVID-19.

Jones got a lot of press. She was believed almost without exception (we were one of those exceptions) but one of her biggest supporters and reporters was the Florida Today newspaper. If you search today for “Rebekah Jones” on the Florida Today website, you will find 88 articles discussing or mentioning Jones’ claims. Only one article contradicts Jones’ claim that she was fired to refusing to manipulate “data” and instead was fired for violating Florida Department of Health policies.

Florida Today got a whole lot of column space while attacking a conservative governor and giving Jones a platform to spew forth a lot of claims – none of which were true.

Charles C. W. Cooke at the National Review did what the FloridaToday and other media outlets did not due.

He looked into the claims of Jones and did some actual research.

In a May 13, 2021 article, Cooke writes:

Jones’s journey began on May 18, 2020, on which day she was dismissed by the Florida Department of Health. Today, she claims that she was fired because she had refused to take part in a massive cover-up. But as her personnel file shows, not only was there no cover-up but the agency did everything it could to de-escalate the situation around this employee before it eventually became untenable. Indeed, as the records clearly show, indulging Jones had been its approach from the outset. At the time she was hired, the state government knew from its background check that Jones had completed a pre-trial intervention program in Louisiana in 2018, thereby securing a “no conviction” record for “battery of a police officer,” and it knew that she had entered into a deferred-prosecution agreement with the State of Florida in 2017 after being charged with “criminal mischief.” And yet it hired her anyway. Had she applied for a more important role, the forest of red flags that Jones leaves wherever she goes might well have prevented this mistake—especially given that she did not mention any of them in her application. But Jones wasn’t there to fill an important role. She was there to run a website.

That matters, for, with the enthusiastic help of the press, Rebekah Jones has unremittingly inflated the prominence of the position she held. And yet when one reads through the FDOH documents that chronicle the affair, one is struck by how dull and unheroic the whole thing really was. There are no “whistleblowers” anywhere in this story. There is no scandal. There is no grand fight for truth or justice. There is just a replacement-level government employee who repeatedly breaks the rules, who is repeatedly mollycoddled while doing so, and who is fired only when she eventually renders herself unworthy of the department’s considerable grace.

Jones’s bad behavior was first formally reported on May 6, 2020, when the IT director at the FDOH, Craig Curry, emailed the department’s labor-relations consultant, Tiffany Hicks, “looking for guidance” on “properly documenting actions of one of my employees and to get guidance on proper preparation in case action needs to be taken.” Among the “actions” that Curry sought to “document” were that the employee—Rebekah Jones—had written “posts on website [sic] and social media regarding data and web product owned by the Department that she works on without permission of management or communications”; that she had released infographics that “should have been identical to data published by our communication department” but were not; and, most seriously, that she had possibly exposed “personnel data” in the process. Asked to clarify the problem by Hicks, Curry confirmed that between April 9 and April 30, 2020, he had verbally told Jones to stop talking to the press without permission, and, more specifically, that he had told her to stop releasing health-department data or representing her employer without consent.

In her response to Curry, sent later that day, Hicks proposed one of two actions: that Jones should either be “separated” (i.e., fired) or else be put through a “Management Counseling” procedure that would “address and document the recent incidents.” The latter process, Hicks explained, “would be informal and would not be placed in the employee’s personnel file.” But “if similar behavior continues,” she added, “it is a [sic] management’s decision to move forward with termination.” Apparently, the department chose the second action, because, by the end of the day, Jones was still working at the FDOH, albeit in a slightly altered role. In his notes, Curry records that, having been “instructed by management to replace Ms. Jones as primary on the COVID Dashboard,” he called her “to notify her that she was being removed from her duties as primary GIS [geographic information system] developer on the department’s COVID-19 dashboard.” Again: This was not a termination. As Curry explicitly noted, Jones “was informed that she was maintaining her role as GIS team manager and was to resume normal day to day responsibilities, but she was to cease any duties and administrative roles associated with the COVID-19 GIS dashboard.”

Jones accused Dr. Shamarial Roberson—the well-respected chronic-disease epidemiologist who is currently serving as Florida’s deputy secretary of health,to “delete cases and deaths” in order to present a rosier version of what was happening in the state.

This was contrary to Jones’ earlier statements and debunked by the Associated Press when Jones herself stated she was using accurate data from the FDOH.

Through all of this, the media, and specifically the FloridaToday has been silent.

Well, that is not entirely true. When police served a warrant on Jones for her computer, FloridaToday published her account of what had happened, and didn’t bother to look into the allegations, statements, and body cam footage from the officers. It was much more compelling for the FloridaToday to run with Jones’ attacks on the state, the DeSantis, and calling the police the “Gestapo.”

This tendency continues today. Much of the national attention that Jones has received is the result of her insisting that, having learned about her “whistleblowing,” Governor DeSantis used his “Gestapo” and “raided” her house, putting her children in danger. But this, too, is a ridiculous lie. Late last year, the police did indeed execute a search warrant on Jones. But they did so because a data breach at the FDOH—in which the personal information of 19,000 employees was stolen—was traced back to the IPv6 address that Comcast had assigned to Jones’s house. Governor DeSantis had nothing to do with it. The search warrant—which alleges that Jones committed a felony by not only temporarily accessing personnel data she had no right to access but permanently stealing it—was initially signed by Judge Joshua Hawkes, a Republican appointee, but subsequently upheld by Judge John Cooper, an elected judge in heavily Democratic Leon County. (Florida does not have explicitly partisan judicial elections.)

Jones now claims that she was “terrified” by the police’s visit. But even this seems to be highly questionable. Not only did she prepare for the visit by creating a made-for-the-cameras sign that read “Biden hire me!”—hardly the instantaneous work of someone who is surprised that the cops are at the door—but she subsequently spread a host of extraordinary claims about the conduct of the police that, after festering online for a while and spawning a swiftly dropped lawsuit from Jones, were flatly disproven by the release of the body-camera footage. As the Tampa Bay Times recently noted, despite Jones’s having “claimed on Twitter that the agents ‘pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids,’” the bodycam video “does not appear to show police pointing their guns at anyone in the house.” On the contrary: It shows the police waiting outside patiently for 22 minutes; it shows them trying to minimize the disruption to her children by encouraging her to come and talk to them at the door; and it shows them repeatedly calling Jones to find out why she wasn’t cooperating. After the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) had released the footage, a spokesman confirmed what anyone who watches it can see: that at no point during the search did the agents point their guns at anyone in the house.

They did, however, find enough of what they were looking for in Jones’s home for another Leon County judge, Nina Ashenafi Richardson, to sign a warrant for her arrest. In January, Jones turned herself in. She is currently awaiting trial. Thus did her stint at the FDOH end as her stints elsewhere seem to have ended: in disgrace, in termination, with the cops showing up at the door, and, eventually, in the filing of charges.

You won’t read anywhere that the warrant issued for Jones’ house was for stolen employee data. You will read how the warrant made her and other scientists afraid of similar raids – if they believed Jones’ narrative that the raid was in retaliation for her alleged and false “whistle blowing” over the COVID data. But Jones’ narrative is false – demonstrably false – and yet media – including the FloridaToday – ran with the story and even worse, has not printed any retraction or statement that they got the who story wrong.

This is appalling.

On almost every article on the FloridaToday website, there is a plea to “support journalism” by subscribing to the FloridaToday.

What is missing, and proven by this case, is that the FloridaToday wants people to support “journalism” that is not accurate, nor accountable to anyone.

Jones should be ashamed of her behavior and the lies she propagated. The media should be ashamed of furthering those lies in spite of the evidence that Jones was not telling the truth.

That won’t happen in either case because to be ashamed, one first has to have a moral compass.

We encourage people to read Cooke’s article at the National Review as it has more disturbing facts to this story.

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