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Hullabaloo


Thursday, May 25, 2017

 

From weird and alarming to dangerous

by Tom Sullivan


Photo by Sebastian Bergmann via Wikimedia Commons.

The Republican candidate in today's special election for Montana's sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives was charged last night in the misdemeanor assault of a Guardian newspaper reporter. Just after 7 p.m. Eastern Time Wednesday, reporter Ben Jacobs tweeted:

Jacobs was attempting to get Gianforte to comment on the just-released Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring of the Republicans' America Health Care Act (AHCA).

By the time All in with Chris Hayes reached Jacobs at the hospital, audio of the encounter had already been posted by the Guardian:

"The fish rots from the head," said a visibly shaken Jennifer Rubin after hearing the tape on All In. A conservative columnist for the Washington Post, Rubin explained that with Donald Trump's behavior towards the press — threatening to jail reporters; calling them the enemies of the people; inviting rally-goers to heckle and verbally abuse them, and offering to pay their post-assault legal fees — this is a natural outcome.

Gianforte's campaign released this statement on the incident:

The New York Times' Nick Confessore adds that Jacobs is all of "100 pounds soaking wet. Just for context when a candidate suggests Ben was 'aggressive.'"

A Fox News crew already in the room witnessed the encounter. Alicia Acuna writes that Jacobs walked into the room and approached Gianforte about the CBO score. Gianforte told him to speak with his press spokesperson, Shane Scanlon:

At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. 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!"

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
The Guardian describes Gianforte as "a tech mogul who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2016." BuzzFeed News reporter Alexis Levinson told the Guardian she overheard Gianforte's staff telling Jacobs the campaign was upset with the Guardian’s previous reporting and would have no time to talk with him:
On 28 April, Jacobs reported on Gianforte’s financial ties to Russian companies that have been sanctioned by the US. Gianforte’s wealth is estimated at between $65m and $315m.
But the CBO scoring released yesterday showed the revamped AHCA would leave 23 million more people uninsured by 2026 than if Obamacare was left in place. The night before the special election, Gianforte was not eager to go on record with a statement.

Perhaps Gianforte is that rare conservative with anger-management issues. Or perhaps Gianforte's internal polling is not as favorable as he'd like. Wednesday morning brought news of upsets for Republican candidates in state legislative races in New York and New Hampshire. In the Georgia 6th District special election for congress next month, polling shows Democrat Jon Ossoff leading his Republican opponent by seven points, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported yesterday that 5,500 new voters have registered ahead of the June 20 election, rarely good news for Republicans.

Then again, half the ballots have already cast for the election in Montana. If Gianforte has a lead going into the election today, many voters won't be able to change their minds as three of the state's newspapers did last night in rescinding their Gianforte endorsements.

Jeet Heer at the New Republic writes that Gianforte has joked to a Christian group about beating up reporters (something Gianforte apologized for). But Heer observes:
What’s more worrisome than Gianforte is that the Republican Party has created an entire partisan infrastructure that is so heavily indoctrinated, they will defend a candidate no matter what. We’ve already seen the GOP base turn a blind eye to, or even applaud, Donald Trump’s hostility toward the press. But such nasty, unacceptable behavior goes well beyond Trump and his supporters, and will play a role in American politics for years to come.
We have seen some strange day in the last couple of weeks. When do days like this go from registering as weird and alarming to dangerous?
The New York Times reports that if convicted, Gianforte "faces up to a $500 fine, or six months in jail, or both." Don't expect a censure from a Republican House.