Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist, Ben Montgomery, recently fired from Axios Media for calling out a DeSantis administration Dept. of Education PR flack for sending out propaganda, not a press release, joins us to discuss the climate of fear in the Florida media created by DeSantis, and DeSantis’ weaponization of our tax-payer funded communications shops in State government agencies like the Dept. of Education.
According to Axios, after Ben sent his brief, private email calling out the DoE press flack for sending “propaganda, not a press release,” Ben had “so tarnished his reputation as a journalist in the Tampa Bay area” that he had to be terminated for “cause.” This is the “new thing,” Ben noted, that people who are on the public’s payroll, whose salaries are being paid by us to get information out from state agencies, have been politicized and have become openly political and “completely adversarial with the press.” Now, if someone goes to them seeking information, often their correspondence is turned against them–it is screen-shotted and framed on Twitter in a way that encourages attacks from the right-wing. “The press deserves a lot of criticism,” says Ben, “but this is different. It is mean-spirited and meant to disrupt lives.” Ben lost his job, but in others, he believes it has a “quieting effect on those who might try to gain information and pursue the truth.”
The right-wing thinks Ben looks like a Marxist
After Ben’s email was posted to Twitter by the Department of Education press agent, there was a minor Twitter storm of criticism of Ben by the right wing and by “many bots,” some of whom even disparaged his appearance as looking like a Marxist. Ben believes that this was the reaction the press agent hoped to achieve from the DeSantis base, discrediting Ben and his reporting as the work of a left, liberal partisan. The DeSantis press offices have now become arms of the DeSantis 2024 Presidential campaign, and, Ben asserts, “we have let this happen.” “This is what we’re seeing that’s new. All politicians have used press offices to distribute information that is favorable to them…What’s different about this is the combative nature and the weaponization of [reporters’] words seeking comment or information to make us look like we’re activists or left-wing loonies.”
Hear Ben’s entire interview and MidPoint commentary here, and listen to The Skinny, a new WMNF News show featuring Ben and a rotating cast of other reporters from Florida Phoenix, Creative Loafing and other media, every Friday at 11 am: