Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte’s alleged “bodyslam” of a liberal reporter is coming under scrutiny, as competing eyewitness accounts paint two very different pictures of what actually transpired.
Businessman Gianforte holds a double-digit lead in Thursday’s special election in Montana’s only U.S. House district, outpacing cowboy hat-wearing Democrat Rob Quist. Gianforte has the support of Don Trump Jr. and Trump supporters nationwide.
Gianforte was given a citation for misdemeanor assault after a Wednesday night incident at a Bozeman campaign rally. Gianforte scuffled with left-wing Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, resulting in Jacobs allegedly breaking his glasses. But who started the scuffle, and how did it go down?
According to Jacobs:
Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) May 24, 2017
According to the Gianforte campaign’s statement:
“Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian’s Ben 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, pushed them both to the ground. It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”
Jacobs claimed that local TV station personnel witnessed the event, but so far no video has emerged of the incident. Rather, an alleged audiotape of the incident has come out, promoted by Jacobs.
In the audio, Gianforte repeatedly refers to an action by Jacobs, saying, “The last guy did the same damn thing.” It is unclear what Jacobs did to Gianforte, and the muffled sounds do not indicate which party started the fracas:
— Guardian US (@GuardianUS) May 25, 2017
Alicia Acuna, a general assignment reporter in the Fox News Denver bureau, offered an eyewitness account that was more violent than Jacobs’ version, and included “punching” that was not referenced by Jacobs on the audiotape.
According to Acuna’s tale: “At that point, 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!” Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken.”
But another reputed eyewitness tells a completely different story, refuting both Acuna and Jacobs. Montana dentist Christie says that there was no bodyslam, and “they both fell,” which would confirm Gianforte’s account of events.
Christie has locked her Twitter account due to media requests, but her extensive account of events, which she also gave to police, is still publicly displayed.
“Jacobs was putting mic/phone in Greg’s face Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist and they both fell over,” Christie reported. “Yes, he was angry bc of the aggression, but they both fell to the ground…no body slam.”
“you only heard a portion of the audio…he was being very aggressive and grabbed Greg’s wrist… they both fell,” Christie said. “That’s what happened, I was there. Ben grabbed Greg’s wrist and they both fell to the ground.”
Mainstream media outlets have been largely ignoring Christie’s eyewitness report in favor of the account of liberal Buzzfeed reporter Alexis Levinson whose view, characteristically, was a bit skewed:
This happened behind a half closed door, so I didn't see it all, but here's what it looked like from the outside –
— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) May 24, 2017
All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben's feet fly in the air as he hit the floor
— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) May 24, 2017
“Alexis Levinson is a liar for hire,” says Noel Fritsch, a political operative who encountered Levinson’s reporting in a Mississippi Senate race. “She ran absurd stories and straight up lied.”
Others who know Jacobs, and his reputation, are hesitant to believe anything he says.
GotNews editor Charles C. Johnson said that Jacobs “has a history of fabrication in his reporting. I trust Gianforte in this story.” Johnson added that people are asking him to set up a legal defense fund for Gianforte.
Jacobs forcefully pushed the March 2016 Michelle Fields hoax. Fields, a Breitbart reporter, spun a wild tale of being assaulted by Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, but her story did not hold up to scrutiny after video of the mundane incident was released. Fields, who resigned from Breitbart in disgrace, is now defending Jacobs on Twitter.
The mainstream media has rushed to Jacobs’ defense, pointing out his meek, non-aggressive nature and diminutive physical stature. Various male and female journalists have gone out of their way to label Jacobs essentially harmless, including one New York Times reporter who described what Jacobs looks like “soaking wet.”
Just FYI: Ben is not an aggressive guy. He is a superb and respectful journalist. https://t.co/wjGhrglJrt
— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) May 24, 2017
@Bencjacobs is a great reporter and he's about 100 pounds soaking wet.
Just for context when a candidate suggests Ben was "aggressive."
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) May 25, 2017
I've known @Bencjacobs for years. If he was physically menacing toward anyone, I'm an avocado.
— David Martosko (@dmartosko) May 25, 2017
But while journalists coalesce around the purported victim, many conservatives and Montanans are finding themselves amused, even inspired, by the candidate’s bodyslam. This incident could be just the boost Gianforte needed to galvanize his supporters and put himself over the top.
Stopped for gas & snacks en route to Bozeman and told a clerk about Gianforte allegations. Her response: "my kind of politician."
— Garrett Haake (@GarrettHaake) May 25, 2017
— The Red Elephants (@RealRedElephant) May 25, 2017
— Immigrants☆4☆Trump (@immigrant4trump) May 25, 2017