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Opinions | President Trump greenlights assaults on reporters

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/19/2018 Erik Wemple
Republican congressional then-candidate Greg Gianforte in 2017 in Great Falls, Mont. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) © Provided by WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post Republican congressional then-candidate Greg Gianforte in 2017 in Great Falls, Mont. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

When he was called to the podium at a rally in Missoula, Mont., on Thursday night, Rep. Greg Gianforte had this to say to the main speaker: “Let me just say, on behalf of all of Montana, Mr. President, thank you for giving us hope again.”

With that, Mr. President delivered his message of hope by endorsing the physical abuse of journalists.

“Never wrestle him. You understand that? Never. Any guy who can do a body-slam. He’s my kind of,” said President Trump, mimicking the act of body-slamming someone,”he’s my guy. … So I was in Rome with a lot of the leaders from other countries … And I heard about it. And we endorsed Greg very early, but I had heard that he body-slammed a reporter.”

Applause and cheers rose from the audience.

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“And he was way up. And he was way up, and I said … ‘Oh, this is terrible, he’s going to lose the election.’ Then I said, ‘Well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him.’ And it did. Nah, he’s a great guy. Tough cookie.”

Want to know what a “tough cookie” is Gianforte? He’s such a “tough cookie” that when Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian, approached him in May 2017 with a question about health-care policy, Gianforte tried to duck the question. When pressed, he simply short-circuited, grabbed Jacobs, slammed him to the floor and cheap-shotted him. He’s that much of a “tough cookie.”

The Erik Wemple Blog has written about the incident too many times, thanks in part to Trump himself, who last month, at another Montana rally, asserted that Gianforte had fought for the state”in more ways than one.” He also credited with being a “true champion” and a “fighter and a winner.”

Apparently Trump doesn’t find much of a distinction between “fighting” and “attacking a defenseless reporter who’s just trying to get a question answered.”

The latter is a criminal offense, which is why the body-slam ended up on a court of law. The congressman pleaded guilty to the offense but received no jail time, instead getting a sentence of community service, anger management and a fine. He also apologized for his behavior, calling it “unprofessional, unacceptable and unlawful.” The regret at least appeared genuine, and surely Gianforte wished he’d put this much-covered episode behind him.

The problem is that it impressed Trump. A congressman who’s a sufficiently “tough cookie” to assault an unsuspecting reporter, and then go on to win an election: That’s just too irresistible a sequence for a demagogue with an arena full of people to fire up. Just think of all the people out there learning, perhaps for the first time, how to impress the president of the United States. Go out there and show him what a “tough cookie” you are.

In a statement last year, Jacobs himself said, “While I have no doubt that actions like these were an aberration for Congressman-elect Gianforte personally, I worry that, in the context of our political debate, they have become increasingly common. In recent years, our discourse has grown increasingly rancorous and increasingly vile. This needs to stop.”

It hasn’t, and it won’t so long as Trump remains president. With most incorrigible and corrupt people, there’s always a hope that, when they come face to face with the awfulness of their ways, they might just retreat. It has become clear that with Trump, there’s no such hope. In late summer came the news that a 68-year-old California man, Robert Chain, had allegedly made a series of death threats against journalists at the Boston Globe while invoking the anti-media language of the president. “You’re the enemy of the people, and we’re going to kill every f—ing one of you,” Chain allegedly said in one threat.

Yet Trump plows ahead. Guardian US Editor John Mulholland released this statement:

The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian. To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the first amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it. In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them.

Decent people are already denouncing these comments. As for a presidential apology, well, that would be a sign of weakness from a man who admires “tough cookies.”

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