Newly elected Rep. Greg Gianforte has agreed to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists as and issued a formal apology as part of a civil settlement with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.
Last month, Gianforte was charged for assault by police in Montana after he allegedly ‘body slammed’ Jacobs, who was attempting to ask Gianforte questions about the health care bill at a campaign event the day before the election.
“I write to express my sincere apology for my conduct on the evening of May 24. My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful,” Gianforte (R-Mont.) wrote in a letter. “As both a candidate for office and a public official, I should be held to a high standard in my interactions with the press and the public. My treatment of you did not meet that standard.”
Initially, Gianforte’s spokesperson blamed Jacobs for the incident, calling him a "liberal journalist" who "aggressively shoved a recorder" in Gianforte’s face and asking badgering questions.
"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," the spokesperson said at the time.
But soon Gianforte was charged with assault, won his election and publicly apologized. His letter on Wednesday makes clear that it was he, not Jacobs, who initiated the physical altercation.
"Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you," Gianforte wrote. "I am sorry for what I did and the unwanted notoriety this has created for you. I take full responsibility."
The altercation was one of a string of physical incidents recently between reporters and politicians or government officials, leading some to wonder whether statements from politicians (such as President Donald Trump) about the media had led to an acceptance of violence against journalists.
Gianforte said he understands "the critical role that journalists and the media play in our society" and that Jacobs’ questions about healthcare policy were legitimate.
"You were doing your job," Gianforte wrote.
In a statement, Jacobs said he has accepted Gianforte’s apology "and his willingness to take responsibility for his actions and statements."
"I hope the constructive resolution of this incident reinforces for all the importance of respecting the freedom of the press and the First Amendment and encourages more civil and thoughtful discourse in our country," he wrote.
Gianforte still faces criminal charges and is expected to appear in court later this month. If found guilty, he could be fined up to $500 or face a jail sentence of up to six months.