On Monday, Gallatin County Justice Court sentenced Greg Gianforte to 40 hours of community service for assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. Judge Rick West also ordered the representative-elect to complete 20 hours of anger management classes. Gianforte has pled guilty, apologized to Jacobs, and pledged to donate $50,000 to Committee to Protect Journalists. In court, he described the assault as follows: “I grabbed his wrist. A scuffle ensued, and he was injured, as I understand it.”
That’s accurate, I guess, but it is phrased in a way that minimizes his responsibility. A “scuffle ensued” when Gianforte attacked Jacobs. “He was injured” by Gianforte. It is good that the representative-elect understands that, since he is the one who did it. This statement suggests that Gianforte has learned his lesson, and the lesson is that he can assault a reporter and suffer no meaningful consequences for his actions.
His party has learned a lesson, too. According to McClatchy, Republicans across the country are planning to make 2018 a “referendum on the media” by “embracing conflict with local and national journalists, taking them on to show Republicans voters that they, just like the president, are battling a biased press corps out to destroy them.” That’s exciting. I think it’s a stretch to say a biased press corps is out to destroy Republican voters, though. The problem with this strategy is that it assumes voters also view press coverage as an obstacle to their agenda, when the press is how voters learn what politicians are up to.
Here’s a timely example of how the press and voters are actually on the same side. In the hours after Gianforte assaulted Jacobs, his campaign released a statement claiming that the “liberal journalist” grabbed Gianforte and caused them both to fall. That wasn’t true. Gianforte threw Jacobs to the ground and punched him. The accurate version of events only came out because a Fox News crew was in the room at the time. Through his spokesman, Shane Scanlon, Gianforte lied to voters. He then refused to speak to reporters for the next 24 hours, throughout election day, evidently hoping his campaign’s false statement would hold up long enough for Montanans to vote.
Never forget that Rep. Gianforte’s endgame was to get elected based on false information. He lied to voters and stonewalled the press. There is no reason to believe he thinks we are all in this together against the fake news. He is the fake news. You can read all about in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!