Fight erupts between Gianforte, national reporter


 

A national political reporter claimed he was assaulted by Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in the Montana U.S. House race, Wednesday evening in Bozeman.

“Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Ben Jacobs, a political reporter for the Guardian, wrote on Twitter. Jacobs works out of Washington, D.C., for the Guardian, a daily newspaper published in the United Kingdom.

 

“There was a local TV crew there when Gianforte body slammed me,” Jacobs said.

In an emailed statement to the Tribune, Gianforte spokesman Shane Scanlon said Jacobs initiated the confrontation when he entered an interview uninvited.

“Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. 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,” Scanlon wrote.

“I’m sick and tired of you guys. The last time you were here you did the same thing,” Gianforte allegedly said to the reporter. Gianforte is heard making the statements on an audio recording posted by the Guardian.

“You just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs is heard responding.

“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte says.

Fox News, which had a reporter at the scene of the altercation, reported Wednesday night that Gianforte “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.” The reporter and two Fox crew members “watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top of the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!'”

In a press conference Wednesday night, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said the investigation is ongoing and asked the public to stop calling 9-1-1, which was tying up the dispatch phone lines.

“What happened today, I’m going to tell you right now, we cannot give you much information at all and the reason being is because we still have an active investigation going on as we speak,” Gootkin said.

According to Tweets from Bozeman Daily Chronicle Reporter Whitney Bermes, the sheriff’s office has been in contact with the Gallatin County Attorney, as well as five reported witnesses to the incident. The sheriff’s office is collecting all evidence in the investigation, including the audio recorded, presumably by Jacobs. The sheriff’s office is also unaware if Gianforte reported any injuries, according to Bermes.

Wednesday’s incident comes just one day before the special election in which Gianforte is running against Democratic candidate Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks. Polls thus far have shown Gianforte with a single-digit lead over Quist. 

The Montana special election has drawn national and international attention, especially as Thursday’s election neared. The race has attracted major media outlets and political players stumping for the candidates, including Vice President Mike Pence, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The alleged scuffle led cable news outlets throughout the night on the eve of the election and also was the top trending topic on Twitter.

The Quist campaign declined to comment on the incident.

Wicks offered his take on what happened.

“It’s been a long time since he’s not been able to solve everything with money and lawyers and he’s feeling frustrated that things are spinning out of his control,” Wicks said.

In terms of the election outcome, the voters will decide that tomorrow.

“I have a feeling he lost it,” Wicks said. “It will depend on how votes are coming in … My prediction is that it’s a three-way race tomorrow night.”

“The Guardian is deeply appalled by how our reporter, Ben Jacobs, was treated in the course of doing his job as a journalist while reporting on the Montana special election,” Guardian US editor Lee Glendinning wrote in an email to the Tribune. “We are committed to holding power to account and we stand by Ben and our team of reporters for the questions they ask and the reporting that is produced.”

The Guardian reported on April 28 that Gianforte has financial ties to a number of Russian companies that have been sanctioned by the United States. His spokesman said Gianforte did not oversee his portfolio on a day-to-day basis. Instead Gianforte focused on the “overall performance.” 

At a campaign stop in Hamilton in April, a Gianforte supporter asked Gianforte how to rein in the news media, which the man called “Our biggest enemy.” Gianforte smiled and pointed to a Ravalli Republic reporter and said “We have someone right here. It seems like there is more of us than there is of him,” according to the Ravalli Republic.

“This is a significant event within 24 hours of voting and is a focusing event,” said Jeremy Johnson, associate professor of political science at Carroll College. “Something like this could influence people who are on the fence about voting or undecided about the candidates.”  

“Over 250,000 ballots were already cast as of yesterday so probably the majority of votes are already in so the effect of this event will be more limited than if most ballots were cast on election day,” he said.

 

Veteran Montana politics reporter Chuck Johnson said in his near-50 year career, he’s never heard of anything like the scuffle that took place Wednesday evening.

“I started covering stuff in the early ’70s,” he told the Tribune. “I don’t recall anything like this happening before.”

The Tribune will update this story as it develops.

– Reporter Phil Drake contributed to this story.

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