JIM SHARPE

Physically assaulting a reporter is wrong — unless they’re liberal?

May 25, 2017, 1:11 PM | Updated: 3:58 pm
Republican candidate for Montana's only U.S. House seat, Greg Gianforte, sits in a vehicle near a D...

Republican candidate for Montana's only U.S. House seat, Greg Gianforte, sits in a vehicle near a Discovery Drive building Wednesday, May 24, 2017, in Bozeman, Mont. A reporter said Gianforte "body-slammed" him Wednesday, the day before the special election. (Freddy Monares/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP)

(Freddy Monares/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP)
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Reporters are supposed to be annoying. It’s their job to not let stuff go.

If they do, politicians and public officials just might get away with ripping off taxpayers or pulling the wool over the eyes of voters. It’s exactly why a free press is mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

Even though I disagree — sometimes vehemently — with some of my liberal friends in the media on how the press should conduct itself (and I do think that, overall, there is a liberal bent to the media) to call them out as liberal in order to justify an assault on them is absolutely shameful.

But that’s exactly what the campaign of Greg Gianforte did.

After the the tech millionaire, who is running for Congress in Montana, decided he didn’t want to talk to Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs about the Congressional Budget Office score on the Republican House healthcare bill, he allegedly body-slammed Jacobs to the ground and struck him.

Wow. Maybe Ronda Rousey should run for office.

I can laugh about the encounter because Jacobs wasn’t seriously injured and, frankly, I was in much more dangerous situations when I was a reporter (like when I almost got blown up in Iraq), but this bullying of the press business is serious stuff.

Philip Elliot wrote about a piece about it for Time that suggests there’s been an uptick in violence toward political reporters but I want to address the justification for it — which I find more disturbing than an overall trend that may or may not exist.

Gianforte was backed by President Donald Trump. The president made the news media very uncomfortable last year by encouraging his supporters to boo them at rallies. Members of the press legitimately felt threatened although nothing physical happened to them, short of the Corey Lewandowski-Michelle Fields incident which was at least a bit overblown.

I don’t think Trump’s backing made Gianforte a jerk overnight. It’s probably been a lifetime of Gianforte thinking he’s above being questioned that led to yesterday’s incident. However, I do think that his campaign team was emboldened by Trump’s war with the press to explain the incident away.

Here’s the lame statement from Gianforte spokesman Shane Scanlon (emphasis mine):

“Tonight, as Greg [Gianforte] 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,” Scanlon 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.”

Let’s ignore the fact that several people in the room dispute this telling of the event (including a Fox News crew) and focus instead on the justification.

Please indulge me and substitute just one word from Scanlon’s statement: the word “liberal.” Now, replace “liberal” with the color of the reporter’s skin or (more fairly) the word “conservative” and you really start to understand that Gianforte thinks it’s okay that he assaulted Jacobs not because of what he did – but because of who he is.

But what’s even more frightening is that he believes voters will think that was justification too.

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Physically assaulting a reporter is wrong — unless they’re liberal?