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Three of Montana’s biggest newspapers backed away from Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate for the state’s open seat on the US House of Representatives, on Wednesday after he was accused of body-slamming a reporter.
The Missoulian, the Billings Gazette, and the Independent Record rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte after news, including an audio recording, of Gianforte’s violent encounter with Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, went viral. Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault after an incident that apparently came in response to a question from Jacobs about the Congressional Budget Office’s latest evaluation of the American Health Care Act released earlier Wednesday.
- The editorial board at the Billings Gazette said: “We previously supported Gianforte because he said he was ready to listen, to compromise, to take the tough questions. Everything he said was obliterated by his surprising actions that were recorded and witnessed Wednesday. We simply cannot trust him. Because trust – not agreement – is essential in the role of representative, we cannot stand by him.” An article from the Independent Record offered this rebuke: “Democracy cannot exist without a free press, and both concepts are under attack by Republican US House Candidate Greg Gianforte … These are not things we can continue to brush off.” The Missoulian’s editorial board wrote: “Gianforte committed an act of terrible judgment that, if it doesn’t land him in jail, also shouldn’t land him in the US House of Representatives.”
The Missoulian had offered Gianforte only a conditional endorsement on May 14. In its announcement, the paper’s editorial board said the candidate “has the education, experience, brains and abilities to be successful in Congress” but cited his devout religious beliefs as potential red flags in matters of science and women’s issues.
The Missoulian’s endorsement also came less than a month after a separate article in the newspaper said Gianforte “needs to take pains to set a better example of civility.” In that April 27 editorial, the paper criticized Gianforte for signaling his agreement with a constituent who called news media the “enemy.”
Democrats outraged, Republicans mostly silent
Gianforte is the lone Republican among four candidates vying for Montana’s open congressional seat. He was seen by some as having an advantage in a state that Donald Trump won by 20 points in November.
Despite that, Democratic Party organizations and top lawmakers within the party were among the loudest voices rebuking Gianforte on Wednesday. Rep. Eric Swalwell, of California, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, said: “An attack on a reporter is more than a crime. It’s an attack on our free press, a foundation of our democracy that is cracking these days.”
Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota tweeted: “The media is an essential part of democracy, not the ‘enemy.’ Americans must condemn this assault on the free press.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee advised Gianforte to drop out of the race in a statement that also rebuked the National Republican Congressional Committee for endorsing the Gianforte campaign’s account of the incident. Critics said the account contradicted what could be heard in an audio recording of the incident.
Top congressional Republicans remained mostly quiet about the altercation hours before polls were to open in Montana on Thursday. Polls suggest an unexpectedly tight race in the reliably conservative state. Democrats are keeping a close eye on the Montana contest and others, which could provide a glimpse of party performance in the 2018 midterm elections.