Thus far, Donald Trump’s presidency has been characterized by a series of crises. His campaign is under investigation for its ties to Russian agents; his Muslim ban has been blocked by the courts; his health-care legislation is being rewritten by the Senate; and his forays into diplomacy have embarrassed the United States and its allies. But as we lurch from scandal to scandal, let us not lose sight of the fact that we are witnessing a dangerous, sustained, and increasingly violent assault on the free press.
On May 24, The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs approached tech multimillionaire Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate for Montana’s seat in the House of Representatives, to ask his position on the American Health Care Act after the Congressional Budget Office determined that it could strip as many as 23 million Americans of coverage. Instead of answering the question, Gianforte slammed Jacobs to the ground and broke his glasses. Later that night, his campaign issued a statement claiming that Gianforte had been attacked by a “liberal journalist.” The next day, he won the special election.
Before the incident, Gianforte and outside groups had vastly outspent his Democratic challenger, folk singer Rob Quist, and as many as half of the votes had already been cast by mail. But it remains deeply disturbing that a candidate who physically assaulted a reporter is now headed to Congress—and also that, in the 24 hours following the attack, Gianforte’s campaign raised almost $100,000. For a certain section of the electorate, it would seem, violence against the press isn’t a disqualifier in a congressman; it’s a bonus.
After an audio recording emerged that corroborated Jacobs’s account, and after Fox News reporters who were present also confirmed it, the Gallatin County sheriff cited Gianforte for misdemeanor assault. That didn’t stop Vice President Mike Pence from congratulating Gianforte on his “great win,” adding that he looked forward to having him “Make America Great Again.” The president himself was abroad during the election, but he took time on his first day back home to tweet that this was a “Big win in Montana for Republicans.” Perhaps the most candid assessment of the administration’s position was offered in a tweet by Grover Norquist: “Congratulations to tax pledge signing Greg Gianforte who just body slammed tax hiking Democrat pol.” In plain English, this means that violence against the press is fine, as long as it results in tax cuts.