Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs responded Friday to President Trump’s praising Rep. Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican who assaulted the journalist last year, calling Trump a liar and a coward.
Jacobs, who covered Trump for 18 months on the 2016 presidential campaign trail, said that he knew there was a possibility the president would mock a crime victim. Still, after Trump called Gianforte “a tremendous person and a tough cookie” at a rally Thursday in Missoula, Mont., Jacobs felt “shock and dismay.” He wished that the president had surprised him, he said.
“A tough cookie does not attack someone out of nowhere without provocation, for asking questions about health-care policy,” Jacobs said in an interview with CNN. “That’s not the action of a tough cookie. That’s the action of a coward."
CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who interviewed Jacobs on Friday evening, commented, “Clearly, the president’s love of ‘tough cookies’ — as he calls them — is matched only by his antipathy for the press.”
In May 2017, Gianforte body-slammed Jacobs, breaking his glasses. The assault, which was captured in an audio recording, came after Jacobs asked a question about health care.
Trump openly praised Gianforte at Thursday’s rally for attacking Jacobs in his bid for Congress last year. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of — he’s my guy,” the president said. The verbal takedown drew cheers from the crowd.
The president has been criticized for statements that many interpret as an open endorsement of violence directed at journalists, even by members of Congress. His comments Thursday also came as the slaying of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul continued to brew as an international crisis.
Gianforte, who won the special election, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in June 2017. He faced a sentence of a 180-day deferred jail term, dozens of hours of community service and anger-management classes, and several court-related fees.
The Guardian released a statement calling for the president to apologize and denouncing his comments as “an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it,” according to The Post.
Neither the White House nor Jacobs could be reached for comment.
Jacobs seemed more concerned with the signal Trump was sending to the world concerning how the United States views journalist.
“There are people reporting across the world who are in fear for their lives, and what this does is a blank check for governments who want to crack down on a free press in places that don’t have a First Amendment,” Jacobs said.
Cooper’s CNN colleague, anchor Chris Cuomo, also seized the opportunity to condemn the president for his praise of bullying.
“Time and again, he celebrates punks who go after the little guy,” Cuomo said.
For now, the president has not apologized. Instead, he defended celebrating a man convicted of assault and continued to decry the left as an “angry mob” bent on destruction.
At least in the short term, Jacobs said Friday, “this is the new normal.”