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Media Organizations: Attack on Reporter in MT Part of Bigger Issue

House candidate Greg Gianforte, who won Thursday's special election, was charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly throwing a Guardian reporter to the ground. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
House candidate Greg Gianforte, who won Thursday's special election, was charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly throwing a Guardian reporter to the ground. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
May 26, 2017

This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. MDT Friday.

BOZEMAN, Mont. – Media organizations are condemning Wednesday's attack on a Guardian reporter by GOP House candidate Greg Gianforte in Bozeman, and also are calling on political leaders to tone down the rhetoric against journalists.

In his victory speech Thursday night, the newly elected congressman apologized for his behavior on Wednesday. However, the Radio Television Digital News Directors Association, National Press Club and others say a disturbing pattern has emerged in the current political climate of increased hostility toward journalists.

"We're hearing from our members in the U.S. about a steadily increasing number of very disturbing assaults and attacks, both verbal and physical, against reporters who are merely trying to do their Constitutionally guaranteed duty to gather facts and present them to the public," said Dan Shelley, incoming director of the RTDNA, which represents journalists around the world.

Reporter Ben Jacobs has said he was thrown to the ground by Gianforte after trying to ask him about the Congressional Budget Office's report on the GOP's health-care act.

Gianforte's campaign said Jacobs was aggressively shoving his phone into the candidate's face, but journalists from Fox News who witnessed the altercation corroborated Jacobs' story. Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault.

There have been a number of attacks on journalists recently. At a Federal Communications Commission meeting, security guards pinned a journalist against the wall so he couldn't ask the commissioners a question. And a Public News Service reporter in West Virginia was arrested after trying to ask Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price a question about the Republican health-care bill.

However, Shelley said his organization has seen hostility toward the press brew for awhile.

"This is not a partisan, political issue," he said. "There's been a longstanding, simmering undercurrent of anti-media feeling in the country. RTDNA, as a matter of fact, had severe issues with the Obama administration, which tried and, at least on one occasion, threw a reporter in jail."

Shelley said journalists shouldn't be discouraged by the current mood of the country and should continue to do their job.

"When a reporter is interfered with in a responsible attempt to gather facts and present them to the public, it's not the reporter who's the victim," Shelley said. "It's the public."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT