Yesterday, Charged with Assaulting a Reporter. Today, Charged with Defending the Constitution.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska had it right: “If the First Amendment means anything, it means you can’t body-slam a journalist.”

Sadly, that lesson seems to be lost on some of Sen. Sasse’s colleagues. On Wednesday, Greg Gianforte was charged with assaulting a Guardian reporter while campaigning for Montana’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Yesterday, he won that seat, and he’ll now also be charged with defending the Constitution and its promise of ensuring a free and vibrant press.

The reporter, Ben Jacobs, approached Gianforte at a campaign rally in Bozeman with a question about the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of the American Health Care Act. Gianforte, who has been dogged by questions about his stance on the bill throughout his campaign, apparently responded with violence. According to Jacobs himself, and confirmed by Fox news reporters who witnessed the event, Gianforte put his hands around Jacobs’ throat, threw him to the ground, and repeatedly punched him, all the while yelling, “Get the hell out of here!” Jacobs’ audio recording of the event is chilling.

This was not an isolated incident. Throughout Gianforte’s campaign, he has been hostile toward the media. The Helena Independent Record wrote in an editorial piece yesterday that Gianforte “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.” Newspapers that endorsed Gianforte despite this record of hostility — including the Independent Record, the Missoulian, and the Billings Gazette — all rescinded their endorsements after the attack.

Recently, American officials have indulged an extremely disturbing predilection for intimidating members of the press. To take just a few examples: Earlier this month, a reporter in West Virginia was arrested for asking questions about the AHCA to two senior government officials in the state capitol. An Alaska state senator reportedly slapped a journalist over a story he didn’t like. Last week, Federal Communications Commission security personnel pinned a reporter to the wall, and then they proceeded to stalk him out of the building for trying to ask a commissioner a question after a public hearing. Former House Member Michael Grimm was filmed threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony and “break [him] in half.” And journalists covering the protests of President Trump’s inauguration were arrested and charged with felony rioting.

Unfortunately, our president has not been helpful in modeling respect for an independent media. President Trump, who famously called the press “the enemy of the people,” has a well-known penchant for calling out reporters in the midst of hostile rallies. Trump’s aide, Corey Lewandowski, was recorded grabbing and yanking a reporter at a press conference — disproving Trump’s suggestion that she fabricated the incident.

We must hold our elected officials to a higher standard. When members of Congress take office, they swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” and to “faithfully discharge the duties” of their office. Those are not empty words, but a promise to uphold the ideals on which this country was founded. Freedom of the press, which is expressly protected by the First Amendment, is one of those ideals. The press has historically served as an unofficial “check” in our system of checks and balances — think Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, warrantless wiretaps, and, of course, Trump — holding those in power accountable for their actions. An attack on the press is an attack on our constitutional democracy.

If we’re going to entrust public officials with our rights and freedoms, they need to prove that they will uphold their oath. That means not only respecting but defending a free press. If politicians can’t live up to their word, we’ll need to hold them accountable. Thankfully, we still have many superb journalists who are up to the task.

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Anonymous

It's beginning to feel a lot like prewar world II Germany more and more each day

Carrol

This is exactly the problem. Once the press is silenced, no one will have a voice and the dictatorship Trump is hoping for will bear fruit. There are laws and a Constition for a reason. Our forefathers knew one day there would be a Trump so they formed these laws to stop what he is trying to do.

Quixote

Unfortunately, the ACLU still won't acknowledge that its own documented retreat from its once-aggressive defense of First Amendment causes is (at the very least) a symptom of the problem. Even though the First Amendment was created to protect the most unpopular forms of speech, we now have a situation where the ACLU seems to pick up on "easy" cases about which it can make lofty proclamations, but still avoids certain politically incorrect issues that might not be popular with the general public. Why, for example, has the ACLU taken no stand with respect to the dissenting opinion, on First Amendment grounds, of a single, isolated judge in America's leading criminal "satire" case? See the documentation at: http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

Anonymous

The first amendment doesn't protect assault. Much ado about nothing. If the reporter pressed charges, he'll have his day in court.

Anonymous

Yes! Resist!

Patricia gooding

I have thought the very same thing. I'm sure there were lots of people who are behind Adolf and then lots of people who just were silent. I don't think we are going to remain silent.

Anonymous

The reporter settled. Makes me sad

Anonymous

Irony at its finest. Felony one day and defender of rights the next. The fact that people still voted for him after the fact is mind boggling. Even worse, he did not own up to his deeds until after the election when he was "safe". He is supposedly an evangelical Christian who needs a re-read of his bible.

Anonymous

Remember most of the votes were in before the election and there were people who asked to be able to change their votes after the assault. I recommend Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny, which clarifies what this attack on a free press means as a lead up to tyranny. Read and share and recommend, please.

Anonymous

He sounds just like his Idol, Trump, they both need to leave so our country can go back to being a democracy.

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