(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES)
A national political reporter for the Guardian newspaper said Montana GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte body-slammed him and broke his glasses Wednesday before a campaign event in Bozeman.
“Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” reporter Ben Jacobs wrote on Twitter. He added in a second tweet: “There was a local TV crew there when Gianforte body slammed me.”
In an audio recording posted by the Guardian, Jacobs can be heard persistently asking Gianforte about health care. Then there is a sudden crashing noise, and Gianforte can be heard shouting at the reporter: “I’m sick and tired of you guys! The last time you came in here you did the same thing! Get the hell out of here!”
Jacobs was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. “He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said in a story for the Guardian’s U.S. edition. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”
In a statement, Scanlon said Jacobs had entered an office where Gianforte was giving a separate interview and “began asking badgering questions.”
“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,” he said.
He concluded: “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that it is investigating the incident and was expected to hold a news conference Wednesday night.
The incident was partially witnessed by a BuzzFeed reporter Alexis Levinson, who tweeted the following account of events:
The incident comes one day before a hotly contested special election in Montana between Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist. Gianforte has a reputation in Montana political circles for being prickly, and has been known to be especially testy with reporters. In one widely circulated radio interview on Montana Public Radio he repeatedly sparred verbally with the reporter.
While the bizarre development quickly dominated the news, in Montana and around the country, its political impact remained to be seen.
More than 250,000 absentee ballots had already been cast by Wednesday, which could end up being well over half the total.
Some members of the public were quick to rally to Gianforte’s side, calling Jacobs a liberal reporter who baited the GOP candidate. “You give yourselves too much credit,” read one reaction on Twitter, directed at reporters covering the alleged assault. “You think voters will abandon their candidate cuz some lib journo made up BS.”
The incident lasted less than 60 seconds, according to audio posted by the Guardian.
Jacobs asks Gianforte how he felt about the score on the congressional health care bill just published by the Congressional Budget Office, which was the biggest congressional story of the day.
“You were waiting to make a decision about healthcare until you saw the bill, and it just came out,” Jacobs said.
“We’ll talk to you about that later,” Gianforte said. At this point in the conversation, both men’s voices are calm.
“Yeah, but there’s not gonna be time. I’m just curious if—“
“Okay, speak with Shane, please,” Gianforte said, apparently referring to Scanlon.
“But—“ Jacobs said, and then the audio gets staticky, and a crashing noise can be heard.
Gianforte can be heard raising his voice in anger.
“I’m sick and tired of you guys!” Gianforte yelled. “The last time you came in here you did the same thing! Get the hell out of here!”
“Jesus!” Jacobs said.
“Get the hell out of here! The last time you did the same thing. You with the Guardian?”
“Yes, and you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs said.
“The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte said.
“You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs said.
There was a moment of silence.
“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte said, his voice starting to calm.
“You’d like me to get the hell out of here, I’d like to also call the police,” Jacobs said.
Then, Jacobs addressed others in the room, apparently one or more aides for Gianforte: “Can I get you guys’ names?”
“Hey, you gotta leave,” another man responded.
“He just body-slammed me.”
“You gotta leave,” the man said again.
“This happened behind a half closed door, so I didn’t see it all, but here’s what it looked like from the outside — Ben walked into a room where a local TV crew was set up for an interview with Gianforte. All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor. Heard very angry yelling (as did all the volunteers in the room) — sounded like Gianforte.”
Levinson said Jacobs then walked out holding his broken glasses in his hand and said, “He just body-slammed me.” An aide then told Jacobs to leave, Levinson said.
Jacobs reported the incident to the police, and the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene, Bozeman Daily Chronicle reporter Whitney Bermes tweeted.
Another BuzzFeed reporter said Gianforte left the area before his campaign event was set to begin.