Axios Tampa Bay fires reporter Ben Montgomery over response to DeSantis DEI email

'This gives the trolls another scalp,' Montgomery told CL.

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click to enlarge Former Axios reporter, and 2010 Pulitzer finalist, Ben Montgomery on the Hillsborough River last weekend. - Photo c/o Ben Montgomery
Photo c/o Ben Montgomery
Former Axios reporter, and 2010 Pulitzer finalist, Ben Montgomery on the Hillsborough River last weekend.
Ben Montgomery was on a hell of a run when the phone call came in.

"I had like 41 million points, man," he told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Montgomery was playing a Godzilla pinball machine somewhere in Savannah, Georgia where he'd flown to be with his girlfriend on her birthday.

But the call last Monday night, from Axios Local Executive Editor Jamie Stockwell, was about another monster: Ron DeSantis, whose press team, hours earlier, had sent a press release about how the governor held a roundtable "Exposing the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Scam in Higher Education."

It was the second time in as many weeks that DeSantis—who's become the poster child for turning anti-woke grievance into legislation—had to play defense. The week before, the guv held another presser to spew rhetoric about the "book ban hoax."

Montgomery, one of two reporters who founded and lent credence to Axios' Tampa Bay newsletter, read over the DEI email looking for something he could include in the email which subscribers receive in between 6 a.m.-7 a.m. seven days a week.

DeSantis' email included quotes from the governor and five of the his woke-warriors, including Christopher Rufo who DeSantis appointed to the New College of Florida Board of Trustees. Montgomery didn't see much substance in the release, so he replied  by writing, "This is propaganda, not a press release."

Less than an hour later, Alex Lanfranconi, Communications Director for Florida's Department of Education, and famous for his antagonistic approach to outlets who so as much question what the governor says, posted a screenshot of Montgomery's response, with the caption, "This afternoon, Tampa based @axios journalist @gangrey decided to respond to our press release with the below."

Montgomery told CL that to his editor, he'd flushed his credibility as a reporter down the toilet. Lanfranconi 's Twitter post was racking up impressions and being lapped up by bots and trolls, with some real user reaction mixed in.

Stockwell, who took the executive editor job at Axios Local a year ago, fired Montgomery on the phone last Monday night. By Tuesday, his internal Slack account had been deactivated, and today Axions (what the company calls its people) were told that Montgomery—a Pulitzer finalist in 2010—was no longer with the company.

The political nature of his reply to DeSantis' press office, and the fact that Lanfranconi's post had been broadcast all over Twitter, were the reasons for his termination, Montgomery, who was making six figures at Axios, told CL. Nevermind that DeSantis and his communications team have politicized everything from the lives of transgender youth to the pregnancy outcomes of mothers struggling to put food on the table.

Stockwell did not respond to a request for comment. Instead, via a spokesperson, Axios Editor-In-Chief Sara Kehaulani Goo told CL, "This reporter is no longer with Axios. Out of respect for our employees, we do not discuss conditions of departure."

"This gives the trolls another scalp," Montgomery told CL. He won't go back to Axios, even if the backlash from the firing compels his old boss to renege.

"I'm pissed," Montgomery said of his firing. "I'm pissed that it makes the press look weak, and I'm pissed about the message this sends about the chilling effect this kind of intimidation from the governor's office has on solid, truthful reporting."

On Wednesday, Montgomery retweeted Vanity Fair Staff Writer Charlotte Klein, who shared the news of his firing.

"Some personal news: I made crepes this morning for the first time in years. Strawberry compote and whipped cream," he wrote. "They were delicious."

This is a developing post.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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