ASKING FOR ASSAULT: A phone or recorder in face set off a Montana congressional candidate. If he wins, he can expect more of same in Washington, as photos illustrate.
The Republican candidate for Congress in a special election in Montana today was charged last night with assault for attacking a reporter who persisted in asking his opinion on the Congressional Budget Office scoring of the Obamacare repeal bill passed by the House.
Gianforte assaulted Ben Jacobs of The Guardian when he tried twice to get an answer from the candidate as he was preparing for an interview with a TV news crew. The presence of the TV crew, from Fox News, was vital. The account of the Fox reporter who witnessed the event told in graphic terms how Gianforte assaulted Jacobs for the apparent affront of asking questions.
Faith, Keith and I arrived early to set up for the interview in a room adjacent to another room where a volunteer BBQ was to take place. As the time for the interview neared, Gianforte came into the room. We exchanged pleasantries and made small talk about restaurants and Bozeman.
During that conversation, another man — who we now know is Ben Jacobs of The Guardian — walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte's face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.
At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, "I'm sick and tired of this!"
Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
Jacobs got an audio recording.
The local sheriff who charged Gianforte was a campaign contributor to his race against Democrat Rob Quist, a Bernie Sanders fan whose campaign gained strength through grassroots support and Gianforte's dodging of the health care issue, which apparently has growing resonance around the country. (U.S. Rep. French Hill, take note.)
Gianforte's response in the immediate aftermath, prior to arrest, was instructive as to his personality and the integrity of his staff. The statement said:
Jacobs "entered the [campaign] office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions."
Later, the statement added, "After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ."
Apart from an account of physical contact that varies with that of Jacobs and the Fox reporter, the statement is remarkable.
It is, by the campaign's account, "aggressive" to hold a recorder near a subject's face to get an answer to a question. Two questions amount to "badgering." Both actions apparently justify assault, particularly when the questions come from a "liberal."
I write all this because it's symbolic of the times. Donald Trump has described news media as enemies of the American people and campaigned against "political correctness." Coincidentally or not, we've had a bumper crop of stories of rudeness and physical violence — against minorities of all types and against news reporters. A reporter in West Virginia was arrested for trying to question Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. A reporter was pinned against a wall and prevented from questioning a Republican Federal Election commissioner. An NBC reporter required an escort from a Trump rally. My own contribution to the tenor of the times are at two regular callers — one who calls from a masked number regularly during the work day to offer obscene comments and boast of tossing Arkansas Times in the garbage and another who calls from a masked number, on weekends, to leave recorded messages, generally undecipherable and accompanied by a high-pitched giggly cackle.
The big question: What will Montana voters make of it? Despite the lightning-fast social media, you'd be surprised how long it sometimes takes for news to filter out. What's more concerning is whether beating up a reporter might be GOOD for a candidate. It's a one-person anecdote, but one reporter driving to the scene last night stopped at a convenience store, told a clerk of the event and got this response: "That's my kind of politician."
Trump got 60.6 percent of the vote in Arkansas. If he'd wrung my neck the night before the election with a Fox News reporter as a witness, would he have tallied any fewer votes? Or more?
UPDATE: AP, rounding up quotes, I think found the Trump brigade outlook in a nutshell through words of Republican U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter. Is it appropriate to assault a reporter?
Hunter: “Of course not. It’s not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it.”
This is a popular view, despite a long court precedent against the notion of "fighting words."