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Montana Candidate Cancels TV Appearances After Assault Charge on Reporter

Variety logo Variety 5/25/2017 Ted Johnson
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Greg Gianforte, GOP candidate for Montana’s special congressional election on Thursday, canceled two planned appearances on Fox News and MSNBC.

Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault several hours after an altercation with a reporter.

A Fox News spokeswoman said that his campaign canceled an appearance scheduled for Thursday. “Meet the Press” tweeted that he had canceled a scheduled appearance with Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily.”

Ben Jacobs, a political reporter for the Guardian, says that Gianforte “body slammed” him and broke his glasses at his campaign headquarters on Wednesday. The Guardian posted audio of the incident, in which Jacobs attempts to ask Greg Gianforte about healthcare, but then there is the sound of a scuffle and Gianforte shouting, “Get the hell out of here.”

The incident was witnessed by a Fox News reporter, photographer and producer. Reporter Alicia Acuna wrote that “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 reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’”

On Fox News on Thursday, Acuna said that she was about two feet away during the incident.

Several hours later, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said that Gianforte was cited after an investigation determined there was probable cause. He is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7, 2017.

Three Montana newspapers — the Billings Gazette, the the Helena Independent Record and the Missoulan — pulled their endorsements of Gianforte.

“There is no time when a physical altercation should occur with the press, or just between human beings,” Ryan said at a press conference. “So that is wrong and should not have happened.” He called for Gianforte to apologize, but said it will be up to voters to decide who they choose for the seat.

He is running for Montana’s open congressional seat after Ryan Zinke resigned to become Secretary of the Interior.

Gianforte’s campaign released a statement that offers a different version of what happened. His spokesman claims that as he was giving a separate interview in a private office, and Jacobs “entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

That version seems to conflict with the tone of the audio, in which Gianforte can be heard yelling, saying “I am sick and tired of you guys” at one point.

The Writers Guild of America East issued the following statement to address the situation: “It is not the job of serious journalists to comfort the powerful, to avoid controversy. In a robust democracy, public officials and candidates for office must respect the essential role of journalists in pursuing difficult questions. Candidate Greg Gianforte’s assault on The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs cannot be tolerated.”

The incident also drew condemnation from journalism organizations, including the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press.

Polls have shown that Gianforte has the edge over his Democratic rival, Rob Quist, in the special election. But a big chunk of voters have already voted, via mail-in ballots.

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