When Greg Gianforte assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on the eve of his election to Congress, I thought the same thing as most Montanans: Hasn't the candidate—already subject to the indignity of being a multimillionaire and fielding questions about his opinions—suffered enough? Now Jacobs is cruelly attacking Gianforte again, announcing publicly that the congressman has refused to sit down for the interview he promised in his apology.
"In refusing to do the promised on-the-record interview with me," Jacobs writes, "Congressman Gianforte continues his pattern of avoiding responsibility for his actions and refusing to live up to the statements made in what I had thought was a sincere apology."
I guess that's what a bully does: He presses his advantage. Jacobs already used a question about health-care policy to force Gianforte to throw him to the ground and punch him. Even though that's how thousands of Montanans answer questions every day, the fake news media insisted Gianforte had committed "assault," which in this era of political correctness is apparently a "crime."
Hounded by reporters and wanted by police, Gianforte was forced into hiding. After releasing a statement claiming Jacobs had attacked him, Gianforte went completely silent, not appearing in public again until after his victory was confirmed the next day. Then he apologized.
That was the only point in this process where he made a mistake. Why apologize for something you clearly don't feel bad about?
As Montanans' representative in Congress, Gianforte should have the strength to insist he is right even when popular opinion, news coverage and the courts say he is wrong. Fortunately, he recovered that strength right about the time he was sworn in.
In the days after Jacobs metaphorically punched him in the face with policy questions, Gianforte seemed dazed. But he recovered from that figurative assault. After he pleaded guilty, his lawyers argued that he shouldn't have to submit to mug shots and fingerprinting, since he was never arrested. Astute readers will remember that he did the honorable thing and turned himself in just as soon as the results of the election were certified.
In August, Judge Rick West ruled that Gianforte had to have his mug shot taken—just like all the other victims of our warped society, which calls people who wantonly ask questions "reporters," but calls the hard-working entrepreneurs who punch those people "criminals."
Fortunately, there are some people in this madhouse we call a country who retain their sanity. Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert has said he won't release Gianforte's mug shot to the public until state Attorney General Tim Fox can tell him whether it is confidential criminal justice information. Montana courts have consistently ruled that mug shots are public, and Fox has consistently deferred to them. But as every step of this process has indicated, Gianforte is a special case.
That's why he shouldn't have to sit down with Jacobs just because he said he would. People say all sorts of things when they're framed for assaults that they turn out to have committed. But who suffers more: the man who gets thrown to the ground and punched in the face, or the man who punches that man in the face and gets elected to Congress?
After all Gianforte has been through—the question about what he plans to do in office, having his picture taken, almost having that picture released to the public but for the timely intercession of the Republican official whose job was to prosecute him—is it really fair to ask him to answer more questions? We should just let this thing blow over.
That's clearly what he wants. It's unfair to hold him to the terms of an apology that was obviously made in haste. We shouldn't make our congressman act like he's sorry just because he said he was.
When Gianforte apologized for assaulting Jacobs and said he wanted to take responsibility for what he had done, he clearly didn't mean it. If he did, we would have to believe he went to great effort and expense to avoid having his mug shot taken, then used his influence to keep that photo from becoming public, then reneged on his promise to sit down with Jacobs—all because he was genuinely sorry. That just doesn't make sense.
Call me a softie, but I think we should forgive Gianforte for speaking intemperately on the issue of whether he was sorry. Yes, he made a mistake, but haven't we all? Enough time has passed that we can forget the error in judgment that led Rep. Gianforte to apologize. Reporters may quibble over words, but the people of Montana are wise enough to know that it's what a man does that matters.
Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture and the value of apologies at combatblog.net.