Florida reporter fired after calling DeSantis event ‘propaganda’ press release

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An Axios reporter in Tampa said he was fired this week after responding to an email from the Florida Department of Education regarding an event featuring Governor Ron DeSantis (R), calling the press release “propaganda”.

Ben Montgomery said he received a call on Monday evening from Jamie Stockwell, editor of Axios Local, who asked Montgomery to confirm that he had sent the email before saying that the journalist’s “reputation in the Tampa Bay area” had been “irreparably tarnished”.

The press release sent Monday afternoon said DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, hosted a roundtable “exposing the diversity equity and inclusion scam in the workplace.” Higher Education”. He also called for a ban on the use of public funds to support DCI efforts.

“We’re going to expose the scams they’re trying to put students across the country through,” DeSantis said in the statement.

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Montgomery, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, replied to the email three minutes after receiving it. “This is propaganda, not a press release,” he wrote to the Ministry of Education’s press office.

About an hour later, Education Department communications manager Alex Lanfranconi shared Montgomery’s response on Twitter, where she has since been. seen more than 1 million times.

Montgomery said the press release had “no substance”, adding that he “read the whole thing and it was just a series of quotes about the seriousness of DEI”.

Axios editor Sara Kehaulani Goo confirmed that Montgomery was no longer employed by Axios, but declined to comment further.

The GOP majority in the state legislature also proposed a series of laws that would reshape elementary and secondary education in the state and ban gender studies, limit transgender pronouns, and erode tenure.

This isn’t the first time the DeSantis communications team, who campaigned on a war on the “woke,” or his administration published exchanges with journalists or criticized the news media.

Last April, DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw declined an interview request with The Washington Post and suggested to her Twitter followers that the Post was trying to blackmail her by writing a profile about her. She eventually offered limited cooperation with the reporter.

Lanfranconi has posted photos of emails and articles from journalists in recent weeks, questioning their work, and wrote that the New Yorker joined “the list of elementary school porn endorsers” on the magazine’s cover.

The Florida Department of Education spokesperson and the governor’s communications office did not respond to requests for comment.

Montgomery, who has worked as a reporter in the Tampa Bay area since 2005, said he’s seen similar incidents happen to reporters in Florida.

“It is extremely important that their organizations stand up on their behalf and realize that this is just a political tactic to win right-wing votes and disrupt the lives of hard-working journalists,” he said. declared.

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Named a Pulitzer finalist for his reporting that exposed abuse at a Florida boys’ reform school, Montgomery was hired by Axios in late 2020 and sent out his first newsletter in January 2021 as part of the media’s growing presence in the local journalism. He said staff were often assured in their early days at the company that “we’re not going to let trolls run the newsroom” and so were “not afraid” to send the e e-mail to the press office.

Axios allowed journalists in 2020 to join racial justice protests after the police killing of George Floyd, but barred its journalists from protesting for or against abortion rights two years later.

The reaction in the newsroom was a mixture of sadness for the loss of a colleague and fear that something similar could happen to them, according to a person familiar with internal meetings who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal exchanges.

Montgomery said his former colleagues expressed their “outrage” to him about what had happened.

“It might seem like a small thing for a guy from Tampa, Florida to be out of a job for a minute,” Montgomery said. “But it has ripple effects for an administration that’s gotten really good with the press and scoffed at a lot of people — good people.”

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