On Wednesday night, the special Congressional election in Montana took center stage in national news after Republican candidate Greg Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault in the alleged “body slam” assault of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. Quickly, the charges have had consequences for Gianforte, with Montana newspapers withdrawing endorsements.
The Missoulian, the Helena Independent Record, and the Billings Gazette, all major newspapers in the state, published editorials pulling their endorsement of Gianforte late Wednesday night. The Billings Gazette noted that for them, this is “without precedent,” as the paper has never rescinded an endorsement before.
In the Gazette’s withdrawal of endorsement, bylined to the paper’s editorial board, it’s made clear that while they are “troubled” by the greater implications of the incident, making it about the right to a free press “would be to miss the point.” That if the allegations and eyewitness accounts are accurate, what’s on Jacobs’ recording “is nothing short of assault.”
The Missoulian, meanwhile, withdrew its endorsement on the basis that the original endorsement was because “we took [Gianforte] at his word” that he would set aside ideology to vote for what’s best for Montana.
Gianforte had pledged to give his thoughts on the American Health Care Act once the Congressional Budget Office score on the version passed by the House of Representatives was out. Since the score was out, and Jacobs’ question about that is what apparently angered him, it called his promise into question even before the alleged assault was factored in.
The Helena Independent Record focused strictly on the alleged violence and the greater implications on a free press. “In the past, he has encouraged his supporters to boycott certain newspapers, singled out a reporter in a room to point out that he was outnumbered, and even made a joke out of the notion of choking a news writer,” the editorial noted.
“These are not things we can continue to brush off.”