Republican candidate Greg Gianforte ‘body slams’ Guardian reporter in Montana
The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting, “Get the hell out of here.”
Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire running for the seat vacated by Ryan Zinke, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter.
“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”
Jacobs subsequently reported the incident to the police. The Gallatin County sheriff’s office is investigating.
A statement by campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon blamed Jacobs for the altercation, saying that he “entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions”.
“Jacobs was asked to leave,” the statement reads. “After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground.
“It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”
Scanlon’s account appears to be contradicted by audio of the abortive interview recorded by Jacobs. The audio does not capture Jacobs being asked to leave or lower his recorder, but does contain an apparent reference to the Guardian’s previous attempts to report on Gianforte. “I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte said. “The last guy who came here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?”
“Yes! You just broke my glasses,” Jacobs replied.
“The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte said.
“You just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs said.
“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte yelled.
“The Guardian is deeply appalled by how our reporter, Ben Jacobs, was treated in the course of doing his job as a journalist while reporting on the Montana special election,” Guardian US editor Lee Glendinning said in a statement. “We are committed to holding power to account and we stand by Ben Jacobs and our team of reporters for the questions they ask and the reporting that is produced.”
The altercation took place at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Montana. Gianforte was in a side room with a local television news crew when Jacobs attempted to ask his question, according to Jacobs.
“I decided there was no harm in asking one question, and the worst thing that could happen was they would tell me to go to hell,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs’s account was partially confirmed by BuzzFeed News reporter Alexis Levinson, who wrote on Twitter that she had been in an adjacent room during the incident.
“This happened behind a half closed door, so I didn’t see it all, but here’s what it looked like from the outside – Ben walked into a room where a local tv crew was set up for an interview with Gianforte. All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor. Heard very angry yelling (as did all the volunteers in the room) – sounded likeGianforte…”
Levinson later tweeted that Gianforte left the event without speaking and that the Gallatin County Sheriffs department was taking witness statements.
Levinson told the Guardian by phone that before the incident, she overheard Gianforte’s staff telling Jacobs that the campaign was upset with the Guardian’s previous reporting and that the candidate would likely not have time to talk to him. Jacobs then entered the side room to try to talk to Gianforte.
She said that the crash from the altercation was very loud and interrupted the entire office: “Everyone in the room heard it. Everyone in the room went silent.” She also said it wasn’t clear who might have directly witnessed the clash, adding “Ben walked out holding his glasses that were visibly broken and said, ‘He just body-slammed me’.”
Gallatin County sheriff Brian Gootkin confirmed to the Guardian that his department was “currently investigating” the incident and declined to comment further.
The special election has attracted national attention, and spending has reached $17m as the race has tightened. Democrat Rob Quist is a political novice and folksinger. Quist declined to comment on the altercation when approached by reporters on Wednesday.
Gianforte is a tech mogul who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2016.
On 28 April, Jacobs reported on Gianforte’s financial ties to Russiancompanies that have been sanctioned by the US. Gianforte’s wealth is estimated at between $65m and $315m.
Last month, the Missoulian newspaper took Gianforte to task for his attitude toward the press. At an event hosted by the Advancing Conservatism Society, an audience member reportedly said: “Our biggest enemy is the news media. How can we rein in the news media?”
Gianforte responded by pointing at a reporter and saying, “We have someone right here. It seems like there is more of us than there is of him.” The Republican later told the Billings Gazette that his comments were a joke.
The Missoulian editorial board interpreted Gianforte’s statement as “demonstrat[ing] Gianforte’s agreement that news media are ‘the enemy’”. “While his apology is appreciated,” they wrote, “Gianforte needs to take pains to set a better example of civility from now on.”