Thursday, June 8, 2017

Conservatives aren't going to be thrilled about Gianforte’s $50,000 donation to press freedom group

Posted By on Thu, Jun 8, 2017 at 10:53 AM

Greg Gianforte isn't doing his re-election bid any favors.

The congressman-elect acknowledged his “unlawful” conduct in a letter Wednesday to the reporter he is accused of body-slamming last month, part of a settlement with The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs that shields Gianforte from a civil lawsuit and, paradoxically, sets the stage for him to resolve the pending criminal charge without pleading guilty.

In accepting the deal, Jacobs can’t object if Gianforte pleads “no contest” to his misdemeanor assault charge in Gallatin County Justice Court, a type of plea whereby the defendant neither disputes the facts of the case nor admits guilt. In addition to his written apology, Gianforte will donate $50,000 to the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists. (Jacobs will not receive any money.)

“I had no right to respond the way I did to your legitimate question about healthcare policy,” Gianforte’s letter states. “You were doing your job.”

The Guardian first reported the settlement late Wednesday, and Gianforte’s team provided additional details to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and other Montana media outlets.

Gianforte’s letter also acknowledges, somewhat obliquely, that the first statement his campaign issued about the incident on the eve of the May 25 special election contained false information. Before the polls closed, the campaign responded to Jacobs' account by claiming that the reporter had grabbed Gianforte’s wrist and spun both men to the ground. The campaign blamed “this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist” for disrupting a barbecue for volunteers.

“Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you,” Gianforte wrote Wednesday.

The letter goes on to describe the “critical role” of journalists in society, calling First Amendment press protections “fundamental to who we are as a nation.”

It’s those boilerplate sentiments about the media, even more than Gianforte’s violence or his campaign’s lies, that are bound to make party leaders wince. Gianforte is now in the awkward position of apologizing to a member of the press just as Republican strategists are seeking to ramp up rhetorical attacks on the media as a strategy for electoral success.
click to enlarge Greg Gianforte gives his victory speech May 25 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman, a day after being charged with misdemeanor assault for attacking a reporter. - PHOTO BY DEREK BROUWER
  • Photo by Derek Brouwer
  • Greg Gianforte gives his victory speech May 25 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman, a day after being charged with misdemeanor assault for attacking a reporter.
On June 2, the same day Gianforte filed paperwork for his 2018 reelection campaign, McClatchy newspapers' D.C. bureau reported that GOP officials across the country hope to turn next year’s midterm races into a referendum on the media, instead of on President Donald Trump.

“That means embracing conflict with local and national journalists, taking them on to show Republicans voters that they, just like the president, are battling a biased press corps out to destroy them,” the paper reported.

GOP strategists pointed to the fact that voters and conservative commentators stood by Gianforte—and followed his initial cue in criticizing Jacobs—as proof of how deeply the party's base distrusts media. In Montana, state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, posted a Facebook status after Gianforte’s body slam saying she’s noticed a “definite trend in agitator tactics being used by liberal operatives acting as reporters” and has experienced the phenomenon herself.

But Gianforte will have a harder time casting himself as a victim of the biased press after admitting to his own “unlawful” assault—and giving $50,000 to an organization whose mission is to "defend the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal."

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