As journalists ourselves, we’d like to think that US House candidate Greg Gianforte’s election victory on Thursday — the morning after he body-slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs in front of a roomful of witnesses — is an outlier.
There are extenuating circumstances, to be sure: Of the 700,000 or so registered Montanans, almost 260,000 of them had already voted due to the state’s generous absentee-voting policy, about 70 percent of the people who voted overall. Gianforte won by 23,000 votes.
He was charged with assault the night before his election, and he admitted his crime a couple days later, but not before he denied it on election night.
But it’s tough not to take it personally these days, when our president has called journalists the “enemy of the people” and, at his political rallies before his election, journalists were routinely harassed, and sometimes physically assaulted. A Time photographer was slammed to the ground at a Trump rally in Radford, Va. by a Secret Service agent. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager at the time, shoved a reporter from Breitbart, of all outlets.
Since Trump has ascended to the presidency, a West Virginia reporter, Dan Heyman, was arrested while attempting to ask Health & Human Services Director Tom Price a question about the GOP healthcare bill, the same one Jacobs was asking Gianforte about. And just this week, the windows were shot out at the Lexington Herald-Leader.
It’s hard to watch the rising tide of defenders to Gianforte’s behavior, both in Republican media circles — Rush Limbaugh called Jacobs a “pajama boy” — and on social media, where journalists of late have been subject to all forms of harassment. Ask WRAL’s Laura Leslie why she doesn’t check her Twitter anymore.
They seem to think we deserve it. Because we’re the enemy of the people.
But hostility towards journalists is not only a common symptom of all dictatorships. It’s downright un-American.
There’s nothing more patriotic than vigorously questioning candidates and elected officials about their views on the issues, or inspecting the functions of government as they play out in the real world.
The GOP can crow about the Second Amendment all day, but even a strict Constitutionalist must acknowledge that the First Amendment supersedes all.