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Axios fires Tampa journalist over DeSantis comment

Bill DeYoung

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Author and journalist Ben Montgomery. File photo.

This story has been updated from its original form, adding comments from Montgomery.

Ben Montgomery, a reporter and editor for the Tampa Bay edition of the national Axios online newsletter, was fired Monday after he replied to a Florida Department of Education press release, calling it “propaganda.”

The FDE email concerned a recent DEI ( Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) roundtable hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“In Florida, we are not going to back down to the woke mob, and we will expose the scams they are trying to push onto students across the country,” DeSantis was quoted in the release.

Montgomery replied to the email within three minutes of receiving it. Shortly afterwards, the Education Department’s communication officer shared Montgomery’s reply on Twitter, which set off a firestorm of comments both pro and con.

Wednesday morning, Montgomery told the Catalyst he was still in a state of shock. “I believed in the mission, I thought,” he said. “I still believe that, besides a few people, Axios knows what it’s doing. But I’m confused by this move, and sad for all of us.

“It hurts me for a little bit, being involved in the dust-up, but I think it hurts democracy. They (Axios) have lost a lot of credibility with people who have read me for a long time. And they have harmed their credibility nationally, I think. It’s sad because there are a lot of really good journalists there doing good work. It shouldn’t have happened.”

Montgomery said he was fired Monday evening by Jamie Stockwell, executive editor of Axios Local, who claimed the reporter’s “reputation in the Tampa Bay area” had been “irreparably tarnished.”

A notice at the bottom of the daily Axios newsletter now reads: Ben Montgomery is no longer a reporter at Axios. This newsletter will be slightly shorter while we fill out our staffing in Tampa Bay.

A former Tampa Bay Times reporter and Pulitzer finalist, Montgomery is also the author of the non-fiction book A Shot in the Moonlight, which chronicles one of the earliest-known cases of a Black victim seeking financial restitution in the courts from his white attackers.

He helped launch Axios Tampa Bay in January 2021.

“I’ve been around for a long time, and I’ve made some mistakes,” he said. “And this was a dumb, ill-advised, frustrated email reaction intended just for the PR professionals on the other end – who I thought might have everyone’s best intention in mind, and take a little constructive criticism.

“It certainly seems minor in terms of costing me a job. I don’t understand where it’s coming from.”

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Al T.

    March 21, 2023at12:20 am

    Florida is no longer a free state and I’ve become appalled by the actions of our governor and the discontent and hatred he has generated. Is there no civility and respect left in our state and country?

  2. Avatar

    Shirley Hayes

    March 18, 2023at5:05 pm

    Hyatt Hotel’s liquor License, Disney loses their deal, Axios reporter fired, what is going on??? Freedom is no longer Free????

  3. Avatar

    John Donovan

    March 18, 2023at8:34 am

    Most media are partisans and the overwhelming majority of those are on the left. They are social media, not news media. News media requires at least a plausible indifference to the political party of the people that are the subject of the story being covered. It’s a rare commodity today. I avoid Axios. Too much social media, not enough news media.

  4. Avatar

    Daniel Holloway

    March 17, 2023at11:32 pm

    Totally dropped the ball at Dozier Ben’s story about the Dozier school was edited for his own advantage the white cemetery was found and the community is bring in another argeologist He was an expert that was never ever in that school and helped white wash the investigation I hope Ron sees this and asks me why

  5. Avatar

    Stefan Glen

    March 17, 2023at10:09 am

    I have not personally chronicled the journalism profession, but I am pretty sure there has always been extremes that care nothing about fair representation. Fair representation usually sounds centrist, obviously, that no longer sells. When a pretend “journalist” uses words like “hurts democracy” in a situation that has nothing to do with democracy (democracy is governance by the majority), he should be shown the door.

  6. Avatar

    Louis Williams

    March 17, 2023at9:28 am

    is this another way to quiet voices that one doesn’t agree with.as opposed to listening and presenting that which will refute such?????

  7. Avatar

    Steve D.

    March 17, 2023at8:04 am

    Axios, like many “news” organizations of its ilk, including the Tampa Bay Times, is nothing more than a Democratic Party talking points rag. Maybe Axios finally realized that a reporter’s official comments exposing this did not advance their long-term credibility.

  8. Avatar

    Sheri

    March 16, 2023at11:38 pm

    Appalling to be fired for a simple email giving feedback to our state government, as any citizen in a free state should be able to do. We are not free in Florida any more.
    Ben’s intelligent writing will be missed, as will his humor.

  9. Avatar

    Jim Smith

    March 16, 2023at10:40 pm

    News reporter Montgomery gets election campaign sludge from a state employee paid by our tax dollars to explain government policy. Montgomery (doing his job) appropriately reminds the civil servant (by private email) that his “news” release is propaganda, not news. The civil servant makes the rebuke public in a splashy “watch me own the woke reporter” fashion – and Montgomery is the one who loses his job? A real news organization would have gone to the mat for an employee doing his job and demanded, at the least, an apology from the political hack. I’m not surprised by yet another sleazy deed of of Tallahassee; that’s just SOP with this administration and not close to their most foul act of the day. The Axios betrayal really stings. The failure of most mainstream state media to express outage demonstrates yet again that they aren’t capable of covering anything more significant than a fast food opening. And Ben Montgomery is a journalism hero.

  10. Avatar

    Beverly Cohen

    March 16, 2023at9:08 pm

    How disappointing to find a mild remark about what did indeed sound like propaganda to me, should cause a knee-jerk firing instead of a considered discussion of the real reason for the initial press release.

  11. Avatar

    LaDonna Meinecke

    March 16, 2023at8:22 pm

    I started getting disillusioned in Axios when in a recent DesMoines Axios edition it was reported that Iowa had the highest cancer rate in the nation reportedly due to obesity and alcohol abuse but no mention that Iowa has likely the most polluted waters in the country. The Republican Governor and legislature over many years have all but given Big agriculture and the pork industry a total pass on toxic runoff. Additionally, the Republican state government no longer requires testing of its waters. So readers are concerned that Axios is tilting too much to the left?

  12. Avatar

    Frank Bird

    March 16, 2023at6:00 pm

    Sounds to me like some pressure coming from our governors office that resulted in the firing. As in the past, the so called Free State of Florida does not allow opposing viewpoints.
    I will be terminating my morning Axios newsletter.

  13. Avatar

    Kayak Joe

    March 16, 2023at3:32 pm

    Ben, please tell us how we can support you.

  14. Avatar

    Drury Ellard

    March 16, 2023at3:14 pm

    I’ve been reading Axios local since its first day. If anything this gives Axios more credibility to me. I liked Ben and his fun spirit, but I also felt that Axios sometimes swam into the waters of opinion rather than news, usually floating too far to the left. The decisive action of Axios is a breath of fresh air to me. I wish Ben well and I’m sure he will be rewarded for his many talents. I’ll actually miss him.

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