Update: Greg Gianforte has won the special election for Montana’s open U.S. House seat. “When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it,” Gianforte told his supporters at his Election Night rally in Bozeman. “That’s the Montana way.”
An audio recording recently captured the moment when a Montana congressional candidate allegedly assaulted a Guardian reporter by body-slamming him and breaking his glasses in a room full of witnesses. Instead of provoking the attack, the journalist could be heard on the recording merely asking a question about the budget and health care.
On Wednesday night, Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte was speaking with reporters at his campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Montana. While asking Gianforte a question regarding the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring on the new health care bill, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs recorded an audio file of the congressional candidate erupting with violence.
Following the incident, Shane Scanlon, a spokesperson for the campaign, released a 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. 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.”
But according to witnesses, including journalists from Fox News and Buzzfeed, Gianforte had grabbed Jacobs by the neck without provocation and immediately slammed him to the ground. Landing on his elbow, Jacobs was later transported to the hospital while Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault.
“I’m sick and tired of you guys!” Gianforte screamed at Jacobs after attacking him. “The last time you guys did the same thing! Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing. Are you with The Guardian?”
“Yes, and you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs responded.
“The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte repeated.
“You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs declared.
“Get the hell out of here!” Gianforte shouted.
“You’d like me to get the hell out of here, and I’ll select to call the police,” Jacobs retorted on the audio recording.
Fox News journalist Alicia Acuna and her colleagues Faith Mangan and Keith Railey witnessed the assault and reported that Gianforte gripped Jacobs by the neck before throwing him to the floor. Although Buzzfeed reporter Alexis Levinson was standing outside the room, she reported seeing Jacobs’ feet flying into the air while hearing Gianforte berating him for no apparent reason.
Last month, Jacobs wrote an article reporting that Gianforte owns approximately $242,000 in shares with two index funds that are financially tied to Russian companies sanctioned by the U.S. According to Levinson, Gianforte’s campaign was openly hostile to Jacobs and refused to give The Guardian an interview earlier that day.
While meeting with a Christian group last month, Gianforte was reportedly asked, “Our biggest enemy is the news media. How can we rein in the news media?”
According to the Helena Independent Record, Gianforte responded by pointing to a journalist and saying, “We have someone right here. It seems like there is more of us than there is of him.”
“Public figures in Montana and throughout the U.S. should condemn the violent assault of a reporter by a congressional candidate,” said Carlos Lauría, program director and senior program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “The role of reporters is even more important on the eve of elections. Gallatin County authorities should show that politicians will be held accountable for attacks against journalists who are merely trying to keep the public informed.”
On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan called on Gianforte to apologize for assaulting Jacobs. Although Gianforte claims that Jacobs initiated physical contact by grabbing his wrist, neither Jacobs nor any of the witnesses confirm his version of events.
“I do not think this is acceptable behavior, but the choice will be made by the people of Montana,” Ryan said during a press conference. “I think he should apologize.”
After repeatedly encouraging violence at his campaign rallies last year, President Donald Trump has labeled the media as an enemy of the people while multiple leaks continue to flow out his administration. Earlier this month, Dan Heyman, a broadcast journalist with Public News Service West Virginia, was arrested for simply asking Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price a question concerning health care. Last week, CQ Roll Call reporter John Donnelly was allegedly slammed against a wall by security guards while attempting to ask Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael O’Rielly a question about net neutrality.
On Wednesday night, at least three Montana newspapers rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte.