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May 26, 2017

For those about to cover federal politics in Montana (we salute you)


Score another one for Donald Trump’s America: Greg Gianforte, the congressional candidate who made news this week by body-slamming a reporter, was elected yesterday to the House of Representatives.

Things have been decidedly been non-great lately for American journalists, and only got worse in January when the new president confirmed his belief that he’s in a “running war” with the “dishonest media,” before kicking his term off by appointing a chief strategist who called reporters the “opposition party” and insisted the New York Times’ Michael J. Grynbaum quote him as saying, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut.” He also hired a rattling husk of a press secretary who almost immediately became an utter laughingstock. Meanwhile, he denied some of the world’s most respected news organizations access to his briefing room, while going all Jean-Claude Van Damme on the concept of factuality itself.

Gianforte’s contribution was to bust down the divide between metaphor and reality, JCVDing not the cute idea that some things are true and other things aren’t, but a literal human person trained in knowing the difference. On Tuesday, while campaigning for now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s freshly vacated seat as Montana’s sole US Representative, Gianforte grew frustrated with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for asking what a recording of the incident reveals was a perfectly polite question. His response was to grab the journalist by the neck and slam him to the ground. The initial reporting came from Fox News corresondent Alicia Acuna, who was there when it happened.

Keep in mind that, though Gianforte broke Jacobs’s glasses, lost several newspapers’ endorsements, has now been charged with assault, and sort of looks like an asshole, the boost to his own mansomeness and vireality was immediate, and all but incalculable. Everyone—literally everyone—loves a congressperson who may at any moment decide to shove them into the Octagon and beat the ever-loving shit out of them.

But I jest. Responses to our fast-mounting national shame the incident ranged from performatively chill (“everyone wins”) to exhaustingly grave (“such nasty, unacceptable behavior… will play a role in American politics for years to come”). As for Gianforte, his campaign has issued a statement in which, without apologizing, they describe the altercation as “unfortunate” while offering a recap that is, as the recording of the event makes clear, patently false.

And why shouldn’t they? This isn’t even the first time Gianforte has elaborated his chokehold-heavy interpretation of the First Amendment. And not just that. He’s one of the top supporters of a natural history museum that teaches visitors the earth is less than 6,000 years old. He breaks with party orthodoxy by acknowledging that humans are changing the climate — but is open about the fact that he lacks, in the words of presumably soon-to-be-punched reporter Tom Kuglin, “specific ideas” for addressing it. His recent abandonment of all hesitations about supporting President Trump, sudden and unexplained, has been widely noted in local media. He is hardly a captive to reason.

This is not to question his sincerity (though the Trump turnaround is hard to square), but sincerity is not supposed to be the basis of America’s system of government. Unpunched reporters are. And Greg Gianforte, who believes people rode dinosaurs and finds it “unfortunate” he sometimes has to beat up journalists, is now making federal law in the US government, one more problem impeachment won’t fix.

Give him your lunch money, or else.




Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.