Friday, May 26, 2017

And Another Reporter "Badgers" A Politician

I don’t know what will happen to assault charges against Greg Gianforte, who was elected to the U.S. House in a special vote Thursday despite body slamming reporter Ben Jacobs of “The Guardian” on Wednesday, but the case is yet another sign of the sorry state of democracy in America today.

We like to think we’re a free people in a free country. Sadly, today, we’re wrong.

Violent thugs are attacking journalists merely for being journalists. A conservative Republican in Montana body slams a reporter for asking about the impact of a Republican health care plan This week, I wrote my media column for The Corridor Business Journal on a related topic—taking my House Rep., Rod Blum, to task for walking out on a TV reporter, after claiming that the reporter was “just going to sit there and badger me.”

And the badger language came back in Montana. If a reporter asks a question, then they “badger,” and, apparently, it’s OK to physically attack badgers.

This is not a reporter. And reporters are not this.

This new violent ugliness is dangerous to democracy in its basic sense. It represents a particular and troubling attempt by the right wing of American politics to strong arm the news media.

Now, I don’t think all Republicans are ready to resort to the kind of thuggish behavior exhibited by Greg Gianforte. Frankly, even Greg Gianforte doesn’t want that behavior. While his campaign regrettably tried to attack the reporter’s version of the story, even though it had been supported by others who were there, Gianforte himself at least had the class to apologize directly to the reporter in his victory speech.

His victory speech—that’s right, in America today you can attack a journalists and win an election in Montana.

Watch the video of Gianforte’s apology. The scary part is that even as Gianforte apologizes, his supporters are riled up and seem ready for a rematch. There’s a real “go punch another reporter” spirit in the air.

The reporter, Ben Jacobs, doesn’t go along with those who blame President Trump for this climate—he notes in a video posted by the Guardian that he covered the Trump campaign for 18 months and was never threatened by the candidate. But Trump’s clear labeling of journalists as “enemies of the people” has real consequences that we are seeing unfold.

Now, if you’re on the right, you might note that conservatives haven’t always had it easy, either. University thugs have refused to allow conservative speakers on some campuses—mostly notable, Ann Coulter recently at UC Berkeley. And I would agree that what happened at UC Berkeley should not have happened. Ann Coulter is a pretty loathsome human being and has said some pretty near fascist things—but her voice should not be silenced.

There are some key differences between these cases, however. It’s one thing for a conservative pundit to be prevented from speaking by unruly college students or community activists. It’s quite another for a middle-aged adult who is just about to be elected to Congress to body slam a reporter.

I don’t like the threats that keep Coulter away from UC Berkley, and I do see them as part of the thread of cultural intolerance that bedevils both the political left and political right in this country.

Loud and clear: I want the freedom to say what I want to say. You should be able to, too, even if you’re in visceral and total disagreement with what I say. But we should agree together that we should both be free to disagree.

I say enough of the shoving and shouting. Let us each have our say.

But most of all, Mr. President and others on the right: No more rhetorical or physical threats of violence on reporters, please. That’s authoritarian thuggery. That’s getting to Brown Shirt levels of discourse.

If you run for public office—at any level—in this democracy, you should expect, and respond to, questions from all kinds of reporters. It’s a basic obligation you have to talk with people and with the media. Communicating without violence is the least we can expect from our public servants.

The First Amendment exists not to protect politicians from questions, it exists more to protect the questioners. The scary crowd at Greg Gianforte’s victory party is deeply anti-American.

Not a Republican flag. Nor a Democratic one. It's for us all, as is First Amendment freedoms.
Image I shot on my front porch. Someone flies a flag there.
The new slogan of “The Washington Post” is “democracy dies in darkness.” Sadly, in America today, it’s us, our people, who are throwing shade by threatening, and going beyond threats, to attack journalists.

Mr. Trump, it wasn’t a “great victory” in Montana. Not for democracy.

It feels more like the start of a whimpering end to the American democratic experiment.