As an isolated incident, grabbing a reporter by the neck and throwing him to the ground is frightening—but as a part of a growing Trump narrative of attacking journalists, it is, once more, a sign that we are living in post-democratic times.
Longtime Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna and her production team witnessed something they never had in their journalistic careers, violence against one of their colleagues.
Late Wednesday, The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs posted on Twitter that he’d been physically assaulted Republican candidate Greg Gianforte to fill Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) May 24, 2017
The Guardian followed up by posting audio of the attack:
It should be noted that Jacobs is not a sensationalist or a fabulist and did not want to be the center of the story. He and the Guardian staff have been doing some extraordinary ongoing coverage in Montana along with other spots in America that turned to Trump to see how they’re faring in the aftermath of the November election.
Jacobs stepped into a room of an election-eve “meet-and-greet” and asked Gianforte about the CBO score on the new GOP healthcare plan. Gianforte escalated right away shouting, “Get the hell out of here.”
“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” wrote Acuna, who witnessed the assault. “Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’”
Gianforte’s office followed the GOP playbook and quickly tried to shift blame. Spokesman Shane Scanlon said in a statement that “liberal journalist” Jacobs barged into an interview in a private office and “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face and began asking badgering questions.”
Of course, Jacobs was simply doing his job and Gianforte blew a gasket. The candidate has been charged with misdemeanor assault and a pair of local newspapers—the Missoulian and the Billings Gazette rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte.
The troubling thing—beyond all the troubling things about this—is Gianforte’s actions and his ensuing justification of them didn’t just come out of nowhere.
Trump, since his electoral college victory in November, has said and done the following when it comes to journalists:
- The day after his inauguration, he told a crowd of intelligence officers he has “a running war with the media.”
- He characterized the media as “the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”
- He accused news media outlets of lying about the size of his inauguration crowds. He, in fact, was lying.
- During inauguration week, the Trump International Hotel in Washington banned journalists.
- He used the pulpit for his first press conference to single out and denigrate a CNN reporter. He said the reporter was “fake news.”
- During the same press conference Trump also singled out Buzzfeed News, calling it a “failing pile of garbage.”
- “They are the opposition party,” a senior Trump official told Esquire. “I want ‘em out of the building.”
- Trump spent one of his first post-election meetings with reporters, held at his office Trump Tower in November insulting their coverage calling it “outrageous” and “dishonest.”
- Fresh off an electoral victory, he used his Twitter platform to lambast The New York Times and the media in general for allegedly inciting protests.
- Trump broke protocol by traveling without the customary pool of reporters.
And then, of course, his tweets:
The Fake Media (not Real Media) has gotten even worse since the election. Every story is badly slanted. We have to hold them to the truth!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2017
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
"One of the most effective press conferences I've ever seen!" says Rush Limbaugh. Many agree.Yet FAKE MEDIA calls it differently! Dishonest
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
Members of the American press aren’t currently threatened with regular violence or censorship like their counterparts in Turkey or Venezuela; fortunately our free-press norms have not yet been taken away and there is still a rule of law to back up the rights of journalists like Jacobs who are attempting to deliver truthful and incisive coverage.
But what does it say that Turkey and Venezuela are even in the conversation or that Gianforte’s actions didn’t force a call from his party to drop out of the race immediately and his staff to come up with a letter of apology?
We have a U.S. president, under investigation for colluding with a foreign adversary, who regularly calls news outlets that are doggedly reporting the truth, garbage. We have outlets like Fox News that are willing, eager even, to promote his lies. We have death cult-like GOP leadership that his hijacked the once-proud party and now muse about killing journalists with swords, regularly suggest jailing journalists and does not endorse the Freedom of Information Act.
Being a journalist is tough enough. The pay sucks, the hours are endless and in 2016 alone 116 of them were killed on the job. But these are men and women, the vast majority of whom are committed to putting their needs aside in attempt to suss out the truth and give what they can to the greater good, who we unequivocally rely on to keep our institutions in check and prevent this whole experiment from collapsing.
Unfortunately, the assault on Ben Jacobs seems more like the beginning of tyranny against the truth and those who dig for it rather than the end.