Civility prevailed at the June 12 sentencing hearing for Greg Gianforte. Just weeks earlier, Gianforte, heading toward a successful bid for Montana’s sole congressional seat, body-slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs instead of answering a question regarding health care. His campaign then issued a false statement laying blame for the incident on Jacobs, who, as an audiotape made clear, had done nothing to provoke the politician.
After a media firestorm, Gianforte wrote a letter of apology to Jacobs and pledged $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, as part of a settlement in which Jacobs agreed not to sue him.
“I accepted his apology and I fully expect his thoughtful words to be followed by concrete actions once he has taken his seat in Congress,” said Jacobs in remarks during Gianforte’s sentencing. “I’m confident that he will be a strong advocate for a free press and the First Amendment.” And Jacobs even referenced his desire to complete the work he’d begun: “I actually even hope to finally interview him once he’s arrived on Capitol Hill.”
In the proceeding before Justice of the Peace Rick West, Gianforte directly addressed Jacobs. “I just wanted to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ If and when you’re ready, I look forward to sitting down with you.” West ordered Gianforte to perform 40 hours of community service and to attend 20 hours of anger-management training, along with a six-month deferred sentence and $385 in court fees and fines.
On June 21, Gianforte was sworn in. On June 22, Jacobs requested what he thought he’d negotiated in the court hearing. Two months later, the Guardian is reporting little progress. “Ben Jacobs first reached out to Congressman Gianforte for an on-the-record interview on June 22 and has been in ongoing communication with his office since then,” writes a Guardian spokesman in an email. “So far, the Congressman has yet to commit to this interview. However, in light of his promise to sit down for an interview with Ben in the courtroom before being sentenced on June 12, we fully expect the Congressman to be a man of his word.”
Travis Hall, communications director for Gianforte, tells the Erik Wemple Blog, “We’ve been in discussions for several weeks with Ben to make this meeting happen with Greg. We’ve offered times to Ben to sit down with Greg when the House reconvenes after the district work period.”
The key to understanding this impasse lies in wording. Jacobs expressed an interest in an interview; Gianforte expressed an interest in “sitting down” for a “meeting” — something that you can do without agreeing to an interview. A body slam, a false statement, not to mention the failed Republican attempt to repeal-and-replace Obamacare: These are all issues that Gianforte would presumably prefer to address off the record or not at all. In a June interview with the Associated Press, Gianforte “repeated nine times … that he had taken responsibility and wanted to move on. ‘I have addressed the issue,’ Gianforte told the wire service. ‘I think I’ve been very clear, I’ve taken full responsibility. I’m not proud of what happened that evening, but I have accepted full responsibility and both Ben and I, and I think the people of Montana, want us to move on.’”
Marty Lambert, the Gallatin County attorney, told the Erik Wemple Blog of the Jacobs-Gianforte talks: “That’s just a back and forth between two private citizens as far as the court is concerned and as far as my office is concerned.”