Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) refuses to be interviewed by Ben Jacobs, the Guardian reporter he assaulted in May when Jacobs asked him a question at campaign headquarters on the eve of a special election victory.
The truly remarkable thing about this standoff is that Gianforte seems to think he has a choice. He really doesn't.
Sure, he can skip the sit-down that Jacobs wants — and says that Gianforte promised — if he chooses. At some point, however, Jacobs and his replacement glasses (Gianforte broke the originals) are going to approach the congressman on Capitol Hill to ask a question. It's inevitable. That's what journalists do. That's how this whole bizarre episode started in the first place.
Jacobs even raised the prospect of such an encounter in a letter to Gianforte's spokesman, which the reporter made public on Twitter.
“Should we meet in the halls of the Capitol,” he wrote, “I hope I can approach him without fear of physical assault.”
Basically, Gianforte has to decide which of two uncomfortable options will be less painful: a scheduled interview for which he can plan and set a conciliatory tone or an impromptu interview in which his attempts at avoidance will create a confrontational, even more awkward dynamic.
He could run away whenever he sees Jacobs coming, I suppose, but fleeing the press is never a good look.
Jacobs's claim that Gianforte promised an interview is based on an apology the congressman offered in court on June 12, the day he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and anger management classes.
“I'm sorry,” Gianforte said to Jacobs that day, “and if and when you're ready, I look forward to sitting down with you in D.C.”
Conversations with reporters are presumed to be on the record unless both parties agree otherwise. Gianforte's office now says that the congressman will speak with Jacobs only if the conversation is off the record.
“As he has since June, Congressman Gianforte has offered to sit down with Mr. Jacobs,” a spokesman told CNN on Tuesday. “For anyone to suggest otherwise is false. We have been honest brokers in our efforts to arrange for Mr. Jacobs to sit down with the congressman, including providing Mr. Jacobs with possible dates and times for a meeting and asking what Montana beers the congressman could bring for Mr. Jacobs when they meet. Mr. Jacobs has yet to either accept or decline our offer. Congressman Gianforte's offer to Mr. Jacobs remains on the table.”
Gianforte assaulted Jacobs after a May 24 campaign event when the reporter asked the congressman to comment on the Congressional Budget Office's newly released score of a Republican health-care bill. Jacobs tweeted that Gianforte had “body slammed” him.
Gianforte's campaign initially accused Jacobs of being the aggressor, but a Fox News TV crew that witnessed the altercation disputed that version of events.
“To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte,” Alicia Acuna wrote on FoxNews.com.
Gianforte won his election, anyway, and soon traded defiance for contrition.
On the matter of an interview, however, he remains defiant, even though it is unrealistic to think that he will never see Jacobs again. He might as well get the interview out of the way.