Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs tweeted Wednesday that Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in a special congressional election in Montana Thursday, assaulted him:
No video of the incident has emerged, but there’s audio:
Jacobs was trying to get Gianforte, who is in a tight race against Democrat Rob Quist, to answer a question about health care reform. Gianforte, apparently displeased by earlier Guardian coverage of the campaign, asked Jacobs to leave. Then Gianforte reportedly body-slammed him.
A Fox News reporter who witnessed the incident filed a report that’s even more shocking than the Guardian’s account:
Gianforte’s campaign issued the following statement:
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,” the campaign said. “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.
From the audio, Jacobs does not sound at all badgering or aggressive, nor does Gianforte seem to have asked Jacobs to lower the recorder. The campaign’s statement shouldn’t be taken as a factual document, but rather a political one: Jacobs is identified as a “liberal journalist,” after all. Ahead of Thursday election, Gianforte’s campaign has decided to batten down the hatches and make an appeal to the GOP base, people inclined to be suspicious of liberal journalists.
As MSNBC journalist Garrett Haake reported:
This is a shrewd political move by Gianforte, if the reaction from conservative journalists is any indication.
Gianforte himself can be dismissed as an outlier. Last month, he joked with a Christian group about attacking a reporter—and, in that instance, apologized. What’s more worrisome than Gianforte is that the Republican Party has created an entire partisan infrastructure that is so heavily indoctrinated, they will defend a candidate no matter what. We’ve already seen the GOP base turn a blind eye to, or even applaud, Donald Trump’s hostility toward the press. But such nasty, unacceptable behavior goes well beyond Trump and his supporters, and will play a role in American politics for years to come.