Anatomy of an assault

Readers weigh in on Gianforte vs. the reporter

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Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte, center, sits alongside William Mercer, left, and Todd Whipple Monday, June 12, during his court hearing in Bozeman. Gianforte pleaded guilty to assaulting Ben Jacobs, a Guardian reporter, on the eve of the special election in Montana. (Freddy Monares/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP)

Gianforte proved himself unworthy

Montana, I am disappointed that we have just elected another rich man to represent us in Congress.

Greg Gianforte proved himself unworthy of our trust the day before the election, yet actions do not appear to matter much anymore. In his victory speech, he said Congress should not get paid until the budget is balanced, he will vote for term limits, and is standing with President Trump to “make America great again.” To take him at his word then, he will stand with “conservative” Republicans on health-care legislation that Congress has already exempted themselves from (why would they do that if it is good for us and how is it even allowed under our Constitution?); pass laws that seek to control women and limit their rights; oppress minorities; and disregard science, which will further diminish the health of our planet.

Why are we electing people that want to take away what little “liberal” safety nets exist for the poor, sick and elderly?

Don’t believe the claims that these efforts are being passed for our national security and economic well-being. How secure is a nation if its own people aren’t fed, healthy, and have equal access to education? If we have some measure of those things now, however imperfect, isn’t America STILL a great nation?

I am proud to be a fourth-generation Montanan, but this “make America great again” is nothing but a deception and manipulation by the wealthy and a dysfunctional two-party system. —Kathy Smith, Bigfork

Why Gianforte won anyway

A letter to my Democrat friends:

I know you are all in shock that the good people of Montana should have the gall to elect as our congressman a man who allegedly manhandled a member of the media who tried to shove his tape recorder up his nose.

Surely this should have been the death knell of his political life.

So I suggest you take a week or so off, clutch your pearls, enjoy pate de foie gras, sip your chardonnay in haunts far away from the great unwashed, then re-enter life, and contemplate how such a political disaster could possibly have occurred.

Could it be attributable to one, or some, or all of the following?

—Your candidate was unqualified unless guitar playing is a prerequisite for public office.

—Your candidate’s accomplishments were in the local entertainment field, not in the real world.

—Your candidate was unprepared to discuss the issues.

—Your candidate’s personal finances were a disaster.

—Your candidate was lawsuit happy, suing a respected local doctor and thereby bringing out in public his STD and his marijuana use.

—Your candidate’s bringing Bernie Sanders out from the crypt to stump for him was, well, sort of bizarre for Montana.

—Your candidate was in it for the paycheck.

Seems to me that the Democratic Party has a sort of death wish these days. First Mrs. Clinton playing her role of every man’s ex-wife, running on a platform that she has female genitalia and thereby deserves to be elected, and now a troubadour who wanted to sing his way into the halls of Congress. Might there not be some really qualified folks on the left that you could put up for office, or is the bench really that thin? Mind you, I must confess that I like it this way, sending forth the unqualified and unelectable to stand for public office, but you might want to consider whether the results justify the effort and money expended in the process. —Cy Appel, Whitefish

D.C. will be challenge for anyone with a hot temper

Mr. Greg Gianforte has won the special election for the sole Montana House seat in the U.S. Congress. His 6 percent margin over the Democratic nominee, Rob Quist, earned our congratulations and best wishes.

Our state, because of our population of 1 million and 65,000 people, is limited to only one member in the House of Representatives. Consider the fact that the city of Los Angeles alone has 18 members of the U.S. House and one begins to grasp the challenge facing Montana’s single representative. I was fortunate to serve Western Montana in the U.S. House for seven terms beginning in 1980 and become our lone congressman for two terms starting in 1992. In that rather lonely position one quickly understands the importance of the old-fashioned values of rapport, friendliness, and patience. Neither a hot temper nor tendencies toward violence are considered attributes in the House. Montana has been embarrassed enough.

It is true that most who successfully campaign for political office possess a sense of pride and that is particularly evident in those who arrive in Congress not only victorious in politics but also come there having become recently wealthy from success in business. Hopefully our new congressman, who will be the wealthiest person in the House, brings to his new legislative task a natural sense of humility.

The Washington, D.C., press corps is comprised of very bright and friendly reporters brimming with talent and curiosity. Each has a deep respect for their assigned task of reporting the public’s business. This country cannot survive without the press and its well-educated cadre of individuals determined to ferret out the truth. They deserve the respect of as all our citizens and that includes every elected official as well.

To my thinking, one of the most valued sentiments for a representative from here is a sense of satisfaction. Since returning home in 1997, I have earnestly hoped each of our newly elected Montana members of the House would not use the election as simply a stepping-stone to a run for the Senate. Our state needs seniority in the House.

Good luck and best wishes, Mr. Gianforte. You will need it and so will we. —Pat Williams, Missoula

Should public figures be harassed?

If you were harassed by a person claiming to be a journalist what should you do?

We know that congressional candidate Greg Gianforte was harassed by a person claiming to represent a British journal. Harassment was annoying and steady.

There are claims that Mr. Gianforte’s stern response was sudden and “unprovoked.”

There also are claims that Mr. Gianforte stood up for all of us in his response and that nobody should be harassed. What constitutes a provocation? Is there a right to trespass and dominate private events? Can an activist claim to be a reporter?

Should public figures be harassed while the rest of us are protected by law? What is the best response?

Mr. Gianforte is a Republican. Would we tolerate similar mistreatment of a Democrat? What harassment must you and I tolerate if we are involved in a newsworthy event? Can national tension be reduced?

Missoula protesters recently did their worst to stop calls for facts and figures on mass immigration of refugees. Police could not defend because there had been no violence, only threats and harassment. Reporters refused balanced coverage.

The tension grows. What do you think? —John H. “Jack” Wiegman, Missoula

Gianforte owes apology to all of Montana

Greg Gianforte eventually apologized to the reporter he manhandled on election night. For some the apology was late and inadequate. For others Gianforte shouldn’t have apologized to the “liberal” reporter at all. Such is the divided nature of these times.

If Gianforte owed an apology, though, it was to the people of Montana for reaching the age of 56 and showing the maturity of a 7-year-old.

Gianforte was under stress when he attacked the reporter. Political campaigns are stressful. But so is holding public office. In this session of Congress, Gianforte will have to make tough decisions, sometimes late at night when he is bone-tired and under pressure, on health care, tax reform, the priorities of a balanced budget, energy and the environment, and a host of other contentious issues with big implications for Montana people. Coolheaded and careful judgment will be required.

Both Steve Daines and Jon Tester provide Montanans with sure-footed and responsible representation in the U.S. Senate. Both are respected and effective. Both are relatively young and building valuable seniority. Good for Montana, but not adequate if our sole spokesman in the House is a loose cannon. Thoughtful Montanans can only reserve judgment on Gianforte. He has a lot to prove and little time to transform himself from a lifetime of becoming the man he is.

Violent escapades are not new in American politics, but they can be a sign of the times in which they occur. In 1856 shortly before the country was ripped apart by the Civil War, pro-slavery South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks blind-sided anti-slavery Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner on the Senate floor, and beat the defenseless Sumner so viciously with his cane that he broke it. The result was that Sumner, an invalid for the rest of his life, was made a martyr in Massachusetts and most of the North, whereas “Bully Brooks” became an instant hero in the South, receiving dozens of canes from soon to be Confederates across cotton country.

In 1950, Sen. Joe McCarthy, furious with newspaper columnist Drew Pearson, hurled Pearson against a wall as the guests were leaving a Washington, D.C., dinner, and was vigorously kneeing Pearson in the groin, when young newly elected Sen. Richard Nixon wrestled the burly McCarthy off of the traumatized Pearson.

In the press coverage that followed, the country was deeply divided about whether the liberal Pearson had it coming, or whether the brutish McCarthy was an out-of-control right-wing fanatic. This was near the beginning of the time in history remembered for “McCarthyism.”

Maybe similarly the Gianforte episode is an early indicator of a new period in our political culture already described by some as “Trumpism.”

Broad minded, thoughtfully balanced representation by Greg Gianforte would send a positive signal from a congressman elected by only 50.2 percent, and with something to prove. But if Gianforte identifies with the renegade and divisive “Freedom Caucus,” that will send another signal. Time won’t be long in telling. —Bob Brown, Whitefish

Did Guardian reporter intend to provoke confrontation?

To the press panel on “Face the State” on June 4, let me provide perspective outside the self-serving, self-righteous and self-interested bubble in which you live.

Greg Gianforte’s confrontation with the Guardian reporter did not constitute coverage of a public official. Mr. Gianforte was a private individual running for public office. Accordingly, Mr. Gianforte had no obligation to “humor” the press.

Second, no one surrenders private property rights when they run for office. A campaign office is private property. If asked to leave and a reporter stays, he or she is trespassing.

Third, no comment means no comment. A reporter has no entitlement to badger — asked and answered. No candidate has an obligation to the press. Freedom of the press is freedom from censorship, not a license to operate outside the law or engage in harassing, trespassing or slandering.

Finally, I for one and many people I talk with believe the Guardian reporter, Ben Jacobs, had an agenda, a liberal agenda in-line with the left leaning politics that infect the Guardian, and his goal was to provoke a confrontation specifically to embarrass and damage the campaign of Mr. Gianforte at the 11th hour. —Kevin Corbett, Whitefish

Gianforte vs. aggressive journalism

Although I don’t agree 100 percent with the end result in now-Congressman Greg Gianforte’s scuffle with reporter Jacobs, I feel this matter needs to be addressed as what could have been an orchestrated political assassination attempt against the GOP.

Can one consider the possibility that Mr. Jacobs was choreographed similar to the MoveOn.org protesters that were paid to rally against President Trump last fall? If I were a Republican candidate for any office, I would have an experienced security team that could diffuse any confrontational journalistic privilege from a trespasser to a “closed” venue on the eve of Election Day. How would Gianforte know whether that uninvited microphone shoved into his face at a BBQ wasn’t a weapon? Mr. Jacobs was aggressively approaching a highly publicized candidate with maximum media exposure in an important race and may have instigated the action to get an end result such as this ... either to sabotage a successful campaign at the last moment ... or as an ambulance chaser to ultimately make a civil claim against a powerful multi-millionaire for personal gain.

As a martial-arts instructor and a past personal bodyguard, I can sympathize with Rep. Gianforte’s dilemma here. Let me explain. Mr. Gianforte’s security team should accept liability for not being immediately present to diffuse this situation. This is their job ... to protect their employer. This is what they are trained, licensed and bonded to perform. They dropped the ball, not Mr. Gianforte. Every action should be met with a reaction. If Mr. Gianforte’s security team wasn’t up to the task, I don’t know that any other public figure would have reacted any differently. What if this happened to a female politician? What if the security team was actually present and they physically removed Mr. Jacobs for trespassing and invading Mr. Gianforte’s personal space ... and maybe even took him to the ground to inspect what could have been a weapon. This scenario wreaks of a sabotage by the left to me.

Again, I do not agree completely with Mr. Gianforte taking this small scuffle to the ground, but he may have recognized it as a threat and simply defended himself, when security wasn’t present as they should have been. I would caution Rep. Gianforte to beware and prepare for not only Fake News to be prevalent in his political career, but for some new ambulance chaser to appear out of the woodwork, looking to make a buck, even though Mr. Jacobs was unharmed except for his pride, machismo and broken glasses.

Fake journalism can affect us all in a negative manner. I’ve been a victim of it myself, so I can sympathize. I would encourage the naysayers to give Congressman Gianforte the benefit of a doubt ... as a family man, honest businessman that employed hundreds of Montanans and a good Christian. He earned my vote and that of the majority. Suck it up and hope for the best from your new congressman from the great state of Montana. —Kevin Moore, Bigfork

Reporters need to establish code of conduct

The disconnect is still there — between the press and the average Montana citizen as shown by the reactions to the shoving match between Rep. Gianforte and reporter Ben Jacobs.

Giantorte has been chastised and rightfully so, but the egregious actions of Jacobs which precipitated the incident have been wrongfully neglected to the detriment of all reporters. It’s time for our news organizations to create a board which would promulgate a “code of conduct” like other professions. In so doing they could effectively corral “thuggish reporters” into a more acceptable line of conduct more nearly matching the values and feelings of the citizens of Montana.

Most people I talk to did not feel at all sorry for Jacobs, hence the lack of reaction in the way of votes during the election (in fact many think it may have helped Gianforte). Jacobs was not invited to the press meeting underway. Ignoring this fact, he barged into the room anyway, shoved a microphone in the face of Gianforte and started peppering him with questions even after being asked to leave. His behavior was rude at best and he was guilty of trespass and possibly assault at worst. The reaction, though regrettable, was predictable. Montanans are fair-minded people but also realistic. They know there are many spots in Montana where Jacob’s behavior would have ended up with his microphone protruding out of some posterior orifice tweeting comments the like of which haven’t been heard before with many people speculating he got what he deserved.

Our news organizations have lost their effectiveness for many reasons, not the least of which is the boorish, rude and at times, immature actions of rogue reporters like Jacobs. A “code of conduct” that specifies what is and what is not appropriate for the actions of reporters would go a long ways toward correcting that situation. For instance, if a person does not want to do an interview with a reporter, that is his/her right and it should be respected. Crowding in front of others to press forward your agenda without regards to others should be discouraged and, if continued, punished in some manner or another. Courtesy and politeness should be encouraged. Such a policy would go a long way into bringing respect and credibility back into the reporting profession.

Rep. Gianforte reacted badly to this situation, but Jacob’s actions are worthy of criticism as well. They were completely uncalled for and ultimately ineffective. Indeed his actions have cast a bad shadow over reporters in general which is unfair to our hard working reporters who are trying to do a professional job.

Our news organizations need to clean up this mess with policies which enhance the professionality of reporting not just in Montana, but the rest of our country as well. Such policies would be warmly welcomed. And as for Ben Jacobs I have this advice: If you want to be accepted and effective when reporting in Montana — learn to mind your manners. —Mark Agather, Kalispell

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