The Montana special election to fill the at-large single Congressional seat took a turn for the ugly this week as Republican candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly physically assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for being too persistent in his questioning.
Because Montana’s election involves mail-in ballots, many of which have already been cast, it’s unclear how much effect the incident will have on election results. However, what is clear is that this is another chilling example of a new political world where candidates and lawmakers feel justified in attacking the press – in some cases literally – simply because it is doing its job.
Both Gianforte and Democratic nominee Rob Quist have never held political office, although Gianforte ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Montana in 2016. But Gianforte received massive support from the GOP establishment for his support of President Donald Trump and his policies, and that support includes not just financial assistance but campaign calls from both the president and Vice President Mike Pence.
Gianforte, like President Trump, is another business mogul turning his fortune into a campaign run, and like the president has ties to far right advocacy groups and social conservatives.
Now, Gianforte has another quality in common with the president: an utter contempt for media that doesn’t simply offer fluff pieces and pr statements as news.
On Wednesday evening, the night before the special election, Gianforte was preparing for a television interview with Fox News when Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs entered the room to try to get the candidate on record about the newly released Congressional Budget Office data on the American Health Care Act – the conservative Obamacare replacement that is likely to kick over 20 million people off their insurance plans. Gianforte refused to answer, and then allegedly became physically violent with Jacobs.
According to Gianforte’s campaign, “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.” Jacobs disagrees with that assessment, and so do the Fox News reporters who witnessed the scene.
“At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” the reporters stated. “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!’” They added, “To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.”
Since the incident, Gianforte has been charged with misdemeanor assault, and all of the local publications who endorsed him for office have now rescinded that endorsement.
“We previously supported Gianforte because he said he was ready to listen, to compromise, to take the tough questions,” writes the Billings Gazette. “Everything he said was obliterated by his surprising actions that were recorded and witnessed Wednesday. We simply cannot trust him. Because trust — not agreement — is essential in the role of representative, we cannot stand by him. While we clearly made a poor choice in our original endorsement, an even bigger mistake would have been to stand by it, or say nothing even though this editorial appears on Election Day and may open us to criticism of trying to unduly influence the outcome.”
What happened in Montana is alarming, but what is more alarming is that it isn’t unprecedented, thanks to the Donald Trump era of politics. It was only a little over a year ago that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged for assaulting a reporter at a campaign event. Not only were there no long term repercussions for that act, Lewandowski was hired on as a political analyst and now may be returning to the White House as an advisor.
Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago a West Virginia reporter was detained and handcuffed by Capitol police for being too persistent when asking Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price a healthcare question.
Whatever the results in the special election, it is clear that Gianforte is unfit to hold office and at the very least should resign if he does win. If Republicans do not demand that of him, we will know for certain that the President’s disdain for the media – and the constitution – has spread through the entire party, and that no journalist will ever again be completely safe.
And if that is the case, no person in the U.S. will ever be completely safe, either.
Please sign and share this Care2 petition asking the Republican party to demand civility in Washington and take a stand against violence. Tell the Republican party to demand Gianforte drop out of the race now.
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