In February 2016, I sat in the press area for the GOP presidential debate in Greenville. One of the people I met was a reporter for The Guardian, Ben Jacobs. We introduced ourselves and chatted for a few minutes before the debate started. Ben was friendly and engaging. Hardly the “aggressive” type as he’s been portrayed in some quarters.
When the story broke that Montana Republican Greg Gianforte assaulted Jacobs, the reaction from some conservatives on social media was, “Ben is lying.” Ben used the term “body slammed” and people conjured up images of a professional wrestler picking up an opponent and slamming them to the ground.
People assumed because Jacobs is a “liberal” who writes for The Guardian, he either made up the story or exaggerated what happened. Even with audio available of what happened, some people still didn’t believe it, content in being suspicious because of “liberal reporter.”
There was a Fox News team there to interview Gianforte, and they witnessed the incident. Ironically, what they describe sounds worse than Jacobs’ description:
During that conversation, another man — who we now know is Ben Jacobs of The Guardian — walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte’s face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, 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.
Once the report spread, the narrative shifted in some conservative circles to “he lied,” to “He deserved it,” or “Who cares?”
Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center tweeted the following:
Jacobs is an obnoxious, dishonest first class jerk. I'm not surprised he got smacked.
— Brent Bozell (@BrentBozell) May 25, 2017
Laura Ingraham suggested Jacobs should have jumped up and start throwing punches:
Politicians always need to keep their cool. But what would most Montana men do if "body slammed" for no reason by another man?
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) May 25, 2017
Ingraham, of course, supports Donald Trump who spends a lot of time telling everybody how “unfair” the media is to him.
What happened here is another example of tribal politics getting in the way of reason. There is never an excuse for a politician to assault a reporter for asking questions. There are hundreds of photos to see with politicians talking into a sea of microphones, digital recorders, and smartphones. It comes with the job.
It’s sad to watch some conservatives wave it away because they don’t like the media.