Reviews | The ousted journalist was right to denounce Ron DeSantis’ propaganda
As usual in personnel matters like this, Axios has confirmed that Montgomery is no longer working there. But as Poynter’s Tom Jones reports, Axios won’t explain why. Were there any extenuating circumstances behind Montgomery’s departure? If so, the Poynter report, the Washington Postthe Wrap, the New York Post, Creative hobbies in Tampa Bay and Fox News failed to uncover any such evidence. As far as we know, Montgomery can be a threat to society and needs house arrest and 24-hour supervision. But I think not. Until a greater resolution arrives, we can assume that a very good journalist was ousted 1) for doing what journalists do every day; and 2) for doing what journalists are supposed to do.
It’s easy to side with Montgomery in this dispute. The Flacks have never been in the realm of truth, an uncontroversial observation that needs no defense. Since the early days of public relations, the flack’s job has been to bathe the client in the cold flattery of the northern light and undermine anyone who opposes him. Call it advocacy, call it persuasion, call it spin or call it propaganda, but a flack’s main job is to frame selected facts in a context that will make their client shine. Ask any salesperson.
Most government press releases contain a dose of propaganda, a statement that also doesn’t need much defending. Government press releases are designed to present information that will advance the agency’s policy point. We rely on journalists to uncover this deception, to do additional reporting, and to give readers the full story that government spokespersons have deliberately evaded. It forces reporters to push back when a politician’s staff dumps a load of manure into a press release and then expects the press to choke on it like hot butter cookies. Put aside your personal politics and views on DEI and DeSantis for a moment and read the press release that Montgomery got to play on. Then decide for yourself whether its purpose was to honestly explore an issue or to spin coverage in favor of a pre-determined agenda.
If Montgomery’s response to the press release sounds histrionic to you, know that histrionics work both ways in the war of mongooses and cobras. Government critics often give reporters the bluest, darkest licks when news stories displease them. Many of these tirades make Montgomery’s email response look like a bow by comparison. It is normal for source-journalist relations to sometimes become strained if the objective is to find information. The real worry is when sources and reporters get too comfortable and the tough questions stop coming. When that happens, the news turns to mush.
Now, for reasons of etiquette – and in order to maintain a working relationship that will benefit readers – it’s best for journalists to toughen up their skins and refrain from overreacting when a flack distributes propaganda or marginal news material. The key to pushing back is not putting the flack “in its place”, but obtaining valuable information for readers. “The world would be better off if more journalists responded to press releases from more politicians with, ‘This is not news and don’t waste my time with this drivel,'” my former editor Garrett M told me. .Graff.
Along the same lines, can we persuade more flacks to wear body armor? Most public relations people I’ve worked with in my career haven’t been as snappy and vengeful as DeSantis and his reporters seem to have been in their dealings with the press. I don’t know of any public relations person who is such a delicate flower that he gets mad if I call a statement from his office “propaganda.” Most would smile and say, “That’s my job. How necessary was it for the Florida Flacks to turn this skirmish into a battle royal that cost Montgomery his job? Of course, stoking a maelstrom may have been precisely the point: It gave DeSantis another opportunity to show himself to the press-hating GOP base as he prepares to enter the 2024 presidential race.
That said, there’s no reason to turn this skirmish into a martyrdom case for Montgomery. Nor is there any evidence that he seeks such a blessing. “I regret being so short,” Montgomery said. “In the style of Axios, I used clever brevity and it cost me.”
Pushing back is an essential part of journalism, as Jim VandeHei, co-founder of Axios, accomplished journalist and one of my former big bosses here at POLITICO, recently wrote in Axios. VandeHei recounts the time when a decade ago things went sour between POLITICO and Fox News’ Roger Ailes. As a POLITICO executive, VandeHei tried to calm the waters, but nothing worked. Then in 2013, a POLITICO article had Ailes fuming and yelling at VandeHei during a phone call, his response being the kind you might get from a furious flack. VandeHei offered this retort:
“Roger, fuck you.”
Ailes’ screams continued until he hung up.
VandeHei did the right thing that day. And he wasn’t fired for it.
Message to the flacks: send flowers or send an e-mail to [email protected]. Or get fired for my impudence. No new email alert subscriptions are honored at this time. My Twitter feed wears a bulletproof vest. My Mastodon And Job accounts think that life is a Montessori school. My RSS food floats like a mongoose and stings like a cobra.