When the president of the United States accuses the news media of being the enemy of the American people, it should come as no surprise that a candidate for Congress who is an unabashed disciple of his would physically assault a reporter.
But what is surprising is that Greg Gianforte, a wealthy Montana Republi- can, scored a convincing win last week for the state’s lone congressional seat – despite a misdemeanor assault charge filed against him. Gianforte is to appear in a Montana court next month.
Here’s what President Donald J. Trump posted on Twitter in February that has set the stage for unprecedented attacks on the mainstream media:
“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people. SICK!”
In the Montana special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by Ryan Zinke, who was appointed Interior secretary by Trump, Gianforte received about 56 percent of the vote to 44 percent for Democratic challenger Rob Quist, a country music singer.
Although Quist was given little chance of winning in the solidly red state that Trump won by more than 20 percent in last year’s presidential election, Gianforte’s margin of victory does suggest his physical attack on the journalist made little difference to his supporters.
It is cause for concern, given that Trump made demonizing the press a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. He has continued to blame reporters for his administration’s many miscues.
The cartoon published Saturday on this page made the point that Trump is following in the footsteps of such dictatorial leaders as Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
FREE PRESS AS PILLAR OF DEMOCRACY
A free, unfettered press is one of the main pillars of a democracy, which is why the oath of office Congressman Gianforte took opens with the words “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic ... .”
And here’s a reminder of the First Amendment of the Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Now consider the exchange Gianforte had with Reporter Ben Jacobs of The Guardian newspaper of Britain just before last Thursday’s election, It was published by The Atlantic magazine:
Jacobs: “… the CBO score. Because, you know, you were waiting to make your decision about health care until you saw the bill and it just came out …”
Gianforte: “Yeah, we’ll talk to you about that later.”
Jacobs: “Yeah, but there’s not going to be time. I’m just curious …”
Gianforte: “Okay, speak with Shane, please” [loud scuffling noises, an even louder crash, repeated thumping}
Gianforte: [shouting] “I’m sick and tired of you guys!”
Jacobs: “Jesus Chri –!”
Gianforte: “The last guy that came in here, you did the same thing! Get the hell out of here!”
Gianforte: “Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing! You with The Guardian?”
Jacobs: “Yes! And you just broke my glasses.”
Gianforte: “The last guy did the same damn thing.”
Jacobs: “You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.”
Gianforte: “Get the hell out of here.”
Jacobs: “You’d like me to get the hell out of here; I’d also like to call the police. Can I get you guys’ name?”
Unidentified third man: “Hey, you gotta leave.”
Jacobs: “He just body-slammed me.”
Unidentified third man: “You gotta leave.”
To all those Americans who heard the tape recording of the exchange, consider this: If a prospective member of Congress has no qualms about attacking a reporter for merely doing his job, where does such despicable behavior end?
Gianforte, under pressure from the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, issued an apology to Jacobs – after he had won the election.
President Trump has made it clear that he believes reporters in this country have too much freedom and he wants to make it easier for Americans to sue the media. It’s a slippery slope that even politically subservient Republicans must reject.