After he was accused of physically attacking a reporter, Greg Gianforte had some very visible defenders while he went invisible for election day Thursday.
The Republican candidate for Montana’s open congressional seat canceled his national TV appearances after he was charged with misdemeanor assault on suspicion of body-slamming a national reporter for the Guardian at his campaign headquarters in Bozeman.
Audio of the apparent attack went viral and Montana’s largest newspapers rescinded their endorsements less than 24 hours before polls were set to close Thursday night in Gianforte’s race against Democrat Rob Quist, who had not commented on the incident.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) called on Gianforte to apologize, saying: “There’s no time where a physical altercation should occur with the press or just between human beings.”
Yet Gianforte had plenty of prominent allies who either blew off or strongly hinted justification for Gianforte’s alleged assault on a journalist, Ben Jacobs, who had asked him about healthcare policy.
“It’s not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it,” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) said, according to a tweet by the Associated Press’ Mary Clare Jalonick.
Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, has been a subject of unflattering stories written by Jacobs, and was among those who turned to Twitter to share his opinion.
“Jacobs is an obnoxious, dishonest first class jerk,” Bozell wrote. “I’m not surprised he got smacked.”
“What kind of a wuss files charges over broken glasses?” tweeted Derek Hunter, a contributing editor at the Daily Caller. “Someone who wants to influence an outcome, that’s who. #JournalismIsDead”
Laura Ingraham, editor in chief of LifeZette, a conservative publication, challenged Jacobs’ manhood for calling the police on Gianforte.
“Politicians always need to keep their cool. But what would most Montana men do if ‘body slammed’ for no reason by another man?” Ingraham tweeted. “Did anyone get his lunch money stolen today and then run to tell the recess monitor?”
Popular radio host Rush Limbaugh took a similar route.
“I must join the chorus of people condemning what happened out there,” Limbaugh said on his show. “This manly, obviously studly Republican candidate in Montana took the occasion to beat up a pajama-clad journalist, a Pajama Boy journalist out there.”
In a statement Wednesday, Gianforte’s campaign initially painted Jacobs as a “liberal” aggressor who accidentally sent himself tumbling to the ground after Gianforte grabbed Jacobs’ phone and Jacobs grabbed Gianforte’s wrist. (Jacobs later called the campaign’s account untrue.)
But it turned out the incident was witnessed by a Fox News crew, who soon provided a far more violent account of events. Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna wrote of being stunned when “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground,” adding that “at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”
Later Thursday, some Fox News commentators offered justifications for Gianforte’s behavior in on-air appearances.
“Apparently this snowflake reporter invaded Gianforte’s safe space, and we have a saying up there: You mess around, you mess around, you might not be around,” former Navy SEAL Robert J. O’Neill said on Fox News’ “Specialists” show, complaining about journalist’s “ambush” tactics.
“I’m not condoning the body-slam,” said O’Neill, who took part in the raid to kill Osama bin Laden. But he quickly added: “I think it’s kind of funny, based on my history.... You’ll get the bull’s horns in Montana.”
One of the show’s contributors, Rachel Campos-Duffy, added of Jacobs: “This guy was not a reporter looking for a fair story. He was obviously doing a takedown on him ... and he got a little bit of Montana justice.”