After physically assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for asking him a question about the Republican health care bill, Gianforte received his sentence on Monday: community service, a $385 fine, and 20 hours of anger management sessions.
In handing down the sentence, Judge Rick West stated, “You accepted responsibility. You apologized.” But remember, Gianforte initially outright lied about the incident, which he blamed on the “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist.” He did not issue an apology until after he won election to Montana’s lone House seat, when it was no longer a political liability to do so. Now he’s getting off with the lightest of slaps to the wrist. (The Guardian wryly reports that after the hearing Gianforte scurried out of the courtroom, ignoring most of reporters’ questions.)
This fits into an alarming trend of deteriorating press freedoms. The U.S. now ranks 43rd on Reporters Without Borders’ Word Press Freedom Index, thanks in part to Donald Trump’s numerous verbal assaults on the media. Just last week, the Daily Beast reported that Aaron Cantú, a staff writer at the Santa Fe Reporter who covered inauguration protests, was swept up in a mass arrest and has been indicted on eight felony counts. He faces up to 75 years in prison if convicted. In May, Dan Heyman, a reporter for the Public News Service, was arrested for asking HHS Secretary Tom Price about Obamacare repeal. Trump himself reportedly told former FBI Director James Comey to throw journalists in jail for publishing leaks.
Gianforte’s sentencing shows how much politicians can get away with. The war on the press is real, and the right is leading the charge.