The first question you have to wonder about concerning the assault and battery allegedly committed by Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte is: How could he possibly have put out a miserable, lying cover story when there were at least four witnesses in the room? The second question is: Do you regret early voting yet?
Here's the account from Greg Gianforte's press aide Shane Scanlon:
"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, pushing them both to the ground. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ."
Whoa. I guess the "liberal journalist" had it coming. Sure enough, there were several Republican provocateurs ready to justify an unprovoked physical attack on a journalist. I'll come to those, but first, consider that three Fox News journalists and a reporter for BuzzFeed were in the room and saw what happened. Fox's Alicia Acuna released a statement within hours describing things a bit differently. She and her crew were setting up for a taped interview. The Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs entered the room, put a microphone near Gianforte's face, and asked questions about the Congressional Budget Office report on the Republican health care plan. (Who knew that those were fighting words?) Acuna continued:
"Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon. 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. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left."
Jacobs' cellphone recorded all of it. Alexis Levinson of BuzzFeed was apparently in the room as well. She tweeted, "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." Greg Gianforte appears to be guilty not just of the attack but also of attempting to smear his victim. Note that he apologized to the people he had not wronged, but not to the one he had.
In the ordinary course of politics, some overheated or criminal supporter of this or that candidate will do something felonious or (more often) tasteless, and it falls to the candidate to condemn it and mouth platitudes about respect for civility, free speech and the rule of law. For the candidate himself to be the (alleged) criminal is a little out of the ordinary.
But the age of Donald Trump has corrupted a great many people and shattered norms. Those whose moral compass has long since been stashed in the bottom drawer defending the indefensible applauded Gianforte's thuggishness. The Media Research Center's Brent Bozell tweeted, "Jacobs is an obnoxious, dishonest, first class jerk. I'm not surprised he got smacked." (For the record, I've known Bozell for decades, and hope this was a momentary lapse of judgment. We've all experienced the itchy Twitter finger.)
Laura Ingraham chose to impugn Jacobs' manhood: "Politicians always need to keep their cool. But what would most Montana men do if 'body slammed' for no reason by another man?" She followed up with "Did anyone get his lunch money stolen today and then run to tell the recess monitor?"
Dinesh D'Souza struck the same tone, calling Jacobs a "crybaby," and also implying that the story was a "scam" perpetrated by Jacobs to swing the election to the Democrat.
None of this is a gray area. You either uphold certain basic standards of decency or you don't. Some who call themselves conservatives have shown that they are nothing of the kind. To be conservative is to be honorable. These are contemptible, partisan hacks. Let's close with another tweet from Ingraham, whose cynicism passeth all understanding: "Loyalty...courage...valor...honor...truth...at risk of becoming lost virtues in Washington, D.C."