There’s saying, “I’m sorry,” and then there’s putting your money where your mouth — and fists — are. Greg Gianforte has settled the case stemming from his assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs last month on the night before the special election in Montana, at least in the civil realm. The paper and Jacobs agreed to drop the case after the new member of Congress agreed to contribute $50,000 to an organization dedicated to the security of reporters:
Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican who assaulted a Guardian journalist on the eve of his election to the US House of Representatives, has issued a full and unequivocal apology to the reporter and agreed to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The congressman-elect apologized to the reporter, Ben Jacobs, in a letter received late on Wednesday as part of an agreement that settles any potential civil claims.
“My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful,” Gianforte wrote. “As both a candidate for office and a public official, I should be held to a high standard in my interactions with the press and the public. My treatment of you did not meet that standard.”
Gianforte said the $50,000 donation to the CPJ, an independent not-for-profit organization that promotes press freedom and that protects the rights of journalists worldwide, was made “in the hope that perhaps some good can come of these events”. He added: “I made a mistake and humbly ask for your forgiveness.”
Until now, the Guardian notes, Gianforte has avoided discussing his campaign’s initial statement on the incident, which blamed Jacobs for the assault. His letter walks that back too, explicitly stating that “you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you.” Subsequent audio and witness statements made it clear that the initial campaign statement was false, but Gianforte had never repudiated it until now — presumably for legal reasons, although it’s not really clear how silence helped matters.
It’s still not entirely over for Gianforte. He still faces a misdemeanor assault charge, and he’s now admitted to the allegation in public on multiple occasions. That could carry a jail term of six months, but for a first-time offender, it’s more likely to result in a fine and some community service, especially if the victim is not pressing for more. One has to suspect that a plea deal is being arranged, and sure enough, NBC’s Montana affiliate reports that Gallatin County prosecutors have confirmed those negotiations.
Even with those negotiations still in motion, this is clearly the right thing for Gianforte to do. Those who seek to govern others should demonstrate that they can govern themselves. We may have issues with the way the media does their jobs, but their role requires them to ask tough questions so that public servants have public accountability. Physically assaulting them for asking those questions would put a serious chill on accountability, and rewarding that behavior would incentivize more of it, and eventually would promote politicians into power who wouldn’t shy away from using physical force on others as well as media.
Other than that, it will be interesting to see how Gianforte’s defenders and supporters react to this news. He got a surprising amount of praise for his “manliness” for putting a member of the media in his place. Will an acknowledgment of guilt and a five-figure check to a media-support organization cause him to lose that support?