The day before an already ugly special election for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat, it got uglier when Greg Gianforte apparently roughed up reporter Ben Jacobs, who had asked Gianforte about his view on the Congressional Budget Office’s score of the Republican health care bill.
An audio recording of the confrontation was posted online, replayed on cable news, and a race that had garnered national attention received substantially more. What listeners heard was Gianforte growing irritated about Jacobs’ line of questioning. And after a crashing sound, the state’s newly elected U.S. congressman said, “I’m sick and tired of you guys! The last guy who came here did the same thing.” To which Jacobs responded, “You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.”
A Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna working on a piece for “Special Report with Bret Baier” witnessed the altercation. Her account made it sound worse than even Jacobs did, writing that, “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him … then began punching the reporter.” She later clarified that Gianforte “had one hand on each side of his neck.” Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault.
It was a sad representation of Montana. National reporters parked themselves at polls the next day interviewing voters about their reaction to the news. And, of course, a few of them said the reporter deserved it. Then there were the inevitable online comments posted in support of Ginaforte’s actions, which were highlighted as proof that our state’s voters treat elections like blood sport.
Perhaps Gianforte was at his wit’s end after a grueling election cycle, which followed a grueling failed bid for governor. Maybe his ire toward The Guardian was simmering and boiled over when Jacobs put a recorder to his face. But listening to the interaction, where a fairly mundane question was asked about the news of the day (the CBO score), Gianforte’s response was at once bizarre and frightening.
While he has, on occasion, openly sparred with the state’s press, Gianforte was also endorsed by three of its largest newspapers: Billings Gazette, Missoulian and Helena Independent-Record, which before rescinding their support had touted his business acumen and willingness to compromise. Gianforte highlighted the endorsements in commercials.
Gianforte was stung by coverage of his unclear views on health care and irked over questions about his support for public lands. But his opponent, Democrat Rob Quist, had his own share of skeletons exposed over the course of the 85–day campaign. It was reported that the longtime musician had defaulted on a bank loan, underreported income on his taxes and was cited for marijuana possession.
When more than $17 million, the most ever, is poured into a U.S. House race in Montana, there’s bound to be some bruises — but figuratively not literally. And stories this election cycle didn’t nearly reach the level of fallout in previous statewide races.
In 2014, during Steve Daines’ run against Sen. John Walsh, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Steve Bullock after Max Baucus vacated the seat, the biggest story of the election cycle was that Walsh plagiarized portions of a research paper in graduate school. It effectively ended Walsh’s political career. He withdrew from the race and Daines cruised to victory.
Whatever caused Gianforte to snap isn’t entirely clear. Some blame President Donald Trump’s rhetoric toward the media. I don’t. But our congressman won’t last long in the halls of the capitol if he doesn’t like microphones shoved in his face.