ORLANDO, FLORIDA — In September of last year, Republican challenger Scotty Moore arrived at WESH-2 in Winter Park, expecting to debate his Democrat rival, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto. However, once staff at the TV station found out that Moore was unvaccinated, he was told that he would not be allowed to participate in the televised showdown.
“Things are out of control,” Moore told The Florida Standard at the time. “It’s really preventing people from District 9 hearing my voice because of their crazy decision that’s not even based on science,” he added.
Moore’s attorney, Benjamin Gibson of Shutts & Bowen, immediately filed a complaint against WESH-2, which is owned by Hearst Television. The Republican Party of Florida joined the complaint.
“The decision by WESH-2 to cancel the Congressional District 9 debate because of a candidate’s vaccination status is discriminatory, unlawful and will not be ignored by the Republican Party of Florida,” RPOF Chairman Joe Gruters told Florida’s Voice at the time.
Now – nearly five months later – the TV station has suffered the consequences of violating Florida’s non-vaccine discrimination law.
“VIOLATED THE LAW”
In a letter dated February 7, 2023, the Florida Department of Health issued a maximum $10,000 fine against WESH-2 for two violations of section 381.00316, Florida Statutes, which prohibits discrimination based on vaccine status. Moore’s campaign staffer was also denied entry based on the COVID-19 vaccine policy, which explains the fined amount – $5,000 for each violation.
“The Florida Department of Health (Department) finds that WESH-2 violated the law when it prohibited two invitees from entering the WESH-2 studio and participating in a debate hosted by WESH-2 because these individuals denied having received COVID-19 vaccination,” the letter states. It is signed by Director Douglas H. Woodlief of the Division of Emergency Preparedness and Community Support.
But the $10,000 fine won’t remedy the fact that through WESH-2’s actions, voters were denied the opportunity to receive important information that could have impacted their political choices and the election.
Darren Soto ended up winning the race for Congress with 53.6 percent to Scotty Moore’s 46.8 percent of the votes in Florida’s 9th District.