Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs delivered a fervent defense of the free press on Monday during the sentencing of Greg Gianforte, the Republican congressman-elect from Montana who assaulted him last month.
Jacobs delivered a statement to the court in which he recounted the violent encounter with Gianforte: After the reporter asked the politician about the cost of the Republican health care plan, Gianforte slammed Jacobs to the floor and punched him, injuring his elbow and breaking his glasses.
Jacobs said he’s afraid that such careless violence is a reflection of our current political climate.
“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,” he said in court. “In recent years, our discourse has grown increasingly rancorous and increasingly vile. This needs to stop.”
In recent years, our discourse has grown increasingly rancorous and increasingly vile. This needs to stop. Ben Jacobs
Gianforte, who now fills Montana’s sole House of Representatives seat, on Monday pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, fined $385 and required to complete 20 hours of sessions for anger management.
Last week, Gianforte reached a settlement with Jacobs, apologized to him and agreed to pay $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit that defends the rights of journalists and promotes press freedom.
“He has acknowledged the importance of the free press and made a thoughtful contribution to protect journalists around the world. ... I am confident that he will be a strong advocate for a free press and for the First Amendment,” Jacobs noted.
He said he hopes Gianforte’s sentencing highlights the importance of those principles.
“There will always be fundamental political disagreements in our society,” he read in court. “However, these need not become personal and certainly should never become violent. I just hope this court’s decision can send a strong message about the necessity of civil discourse in our country, the important role of the free press and the need to help heal our political system.”