It was corroborated by another reporter standing outside the room. A Fox News crew was inside the room and witnessed it. The audio recording is backed up by eyewitnesses.
At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of “I’m sick and tired of this!”
Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. He then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
Without question, this is bad. It’s at least simple battery, and there could be other charges forthcoming when (and I’m sure it’s coming) an arrest is made.
Let me be clear: there is no recovery from this.
In Montana, there is a way that men handle conflicts. Maybe a punch in the face, or a body slam is one way to handle conflicts–if certain lines are crossed. Legally, that’s a concept called “fighting words.” A reporter asking about health care is not fighting words. Gianforte broke and did something from which there is no recovery.
Worse, Gianforte’s spokeman issued a statement that doesn’t comport with the facts everyone else (and the audio recording) claims.
When I saw Levinson’s first tweets, I was unsure what happened. It’s all too clear now. Shane Scanlon, Gianforte’s spokesman’s statement is useless nonsense. Levinson has been summoned by law enforcement to be interviewed, another Buzzfeed reporter tweeted.
They will arrest Greg Gianforte. He will be charged.
There’s a way for him to do the right thing. The manly thing. We all know what that is. Obviously he should apologize, although it’s a bit late for that. But he should appear publicly and show actual remorse. “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ” is not an apology.
Beyond the apology, there’s a right thing for a man to do when he’s running for Congress. A man who reacts violently because a reporter walked into his campaign headquarters that was swarming with press and a camera crew, and asked questions he didn’t want to answer should not be walking the halls of the Capitol building.
It’s better we found out now. But doing the right thing will make all the difference in Gianforte sleeping better at night. It will make all the difference tomorrow, and the next day. Nobody thinks he’s going to win this fight (whether he wins the election or not), because we all know what a man should do.
UPDATE: It’s been pointed out that Ben Jacobs is a well-known former Democrat activist and rabble-rouser. He almost certainly jumped with glee after he got Gianforte to do something to him. On the audio, you don’t hear Jacobs say “stop punching me,” he only says “you broke my glasses,” then immediately proceeds to bring authorities in to it.
The New York Times was quick to note that Gallatin County Sheriff Gootkin donated $250 to Gianforte’s campaign last March. If Alicia Acuna’s sworn police statement doesn’t match her filed story with Fox News, then we have a different problem altogether. I assumed initially that the plethora of witnesses would establish the narrative pretty well.
But there is room for doubt.
Whether there’s doubt or not, what Gianforte must do is not in question. If there’s a different narrative here, he needs to bring it up and soon.
All that’s left is for Gianforte to man up, and do it.