A Fox News reporter provided a vivid eyewitness account late Wednesday of an attack on a reporter by Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte that led to him being cited for assault by the county sheriffÂ and to lose his endorsements from two Montana newspapers ahead of the special election set for Thursday.
Both papers, the Missoulian and the Billings Gazette, issued scathing denunciations of Gianforte.
The alleged assault took place at Gianforteâs headquarters in Bozeman, where Foxâs Alicia Acuna and her crew were preparing a story to air on âSpecial Report with Bret Baier.â
As the crew was setting up, Gianforte was approached by the Guardianâs Ben Jacobs, who put a voice recorder âto Gianforteâs face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act,â the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act, she wrote.
âGianforte,â Acuna wrote, âtold him he would get back to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.
âAt that point,â she wrote, âGianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.â
Gianforte was later cited for misdemeanor assault. The sheriffâs department said the incident did not meet the stateâs statutory definition of felony assault.
Acuna and her crew âwatched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, âIâm sick and tired of this!ââ
Acuna said that Jacobs âscrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken.â He asked the Fox reporter and crew for their names but âin shock, we did not answer.â
âTo be clear,â she wrote, âat no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriffâs deputies.â
Her account contradicts a statement issued by Gianforteâs campaign which said that Jacobs, the Guardian reporter, âgrabbed Gregâs wristâ as the candidate tried to grab a phone âpushed in his face.â Jacobs then âspun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground.â
âItâs unfortunate,â said that statement, âthat this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.â
The entire incident can be heard on an audio recording published by the Guardian. The recording does not support the campaignâs claim that Jacobs had been asked to leave but rather reflects some broader grievance with reporters. âIâm sick and tired of you guys,â Gianforte is heard saying. âThe last guy who came here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here.â
Itâs unclear whether it was the subject matter that provoked Gianforte or simply Jacobsâ presence and persistence in questioning him. The Congressional Budget Office estimates released Wednesday on the impact of the Republican health care proposal were not helpful to Republicans supporting the measure (23 million more Americans would be left uninsured by 2026, the CBO projected.) But while CBO numbers are often the source of much political heat and wonky debate, thereâs no history of violence associated with them.
Later, the Gallatin County Sheriffâs Office, in a statement, said that after âmultiple interviews and an investigation â¦ it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault.â
The sheriff, Brian Gootkin, noted in response to questions that he had made a $250 contribution to Gianforteâs campaign. âThis contribution has nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete,â he said.
Following the extraordinary incident, Montanaâs largest newspapers withdrew their endorsements of the Republican in what has become a surprising close race against Democrat Rob Quist to fill the seat vacated by Ryan Zinke when he became President Trumpâs Secretary of the Interior.
â missoulian (@missoulian) May 25, 2017
In a late night editorial, the Missoulian wrote:
âThe Republican candidate for Congress not only lost the endorsement of this newspaper Wednesday night when, according to witnesses, he put his hands around the throat of a reporter asking him about his health care stance, threw him to the ground and punched him âÂ he should lose the confidence of all Montanans.â
âWeâre pulling our endorsement of Greg Gianforteâ said the headline in the Billings Gazette.
âWeâre at a loss for words,â the paper wrote in an editorial. âAnd as people who wrangle words on a minute-by-minute basis, that doesnât happen often.
âWhat happens even less âÂ hopefully never again â is a Montana candidate assaulting a reporter. While there are still questions left unanswered about GOP House hopeful Greg Gianforteâs altercation with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, eyewitness accounts, law enforcement investigations and records are all shocking, disturbing and without precedent.
â â¦ We will not stand by that kind of violence, period.â
The Gazette referencedÂ an incident at a campaign event in which a Gianforte took questions from the audience, including a man who said:
âOur biggest enemy is the news media. How can we rein in the news media?â
The man then looked at the Ravalli Republic reporter sitting next to him and raised his hands as if he would like to wring his neck.
Gianforte smiled and pointed at the reporter.
âWe have someone right here,â the candidate said. âIt seems like there is more of us than there is of himâ
That and âother questionable interactions Gianforte had with reporters â¦ must now be seen through a much more sinister lens,â the Gazette said. âWhat he passed off as a joke at the time now becomes much more serious.â
The Gianforte campaign, it added, âshould be appalledâ by its statement âthat would seem to justify the fight when it said the Bozeman Republican had tussled with a âliberal journalist.â How would the campaign have known the reporterâs political beliefs? And, is it suggesting that itâs acceptable to put your hands on a reporter if you believe their political views are different from yours?â
The Society of Professional Journalists denounced the alleged assault, saying âit is never acceptable to physically harm or arrest a journalist who is simply trying to do his or her job.â
More from Morning Mix