Friday, June 9, 2017

Grounding Greg Gianforte

Grounding Greg Gianforte
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
June 9, 2017

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution grants people freedom of the press. However, body slamming a reporter is in no way an acceptable rewrite of the definition of a free press.

Yet, on Wednesday, May 24, that is precisely what Greg Gianforte, then Republican candidate for the At-Large seat in Congress from Montana, did to Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, knocking him to the ground. The full-on assault occurred in Gianforte’s Bozeman campaign headquarters one day prior to the special election being held to fill the seat vacated by Ryan Zinke upon his Cabinet appointment to become Secretary of the Interior.

The following day, on Thursday, May 25, Gianforte emerged victorious, yet not necessarily unscathed, in winning the special election with 50 percent of the vote, defeating Democrat Rob Quist, who garnered 44 percent of the vote, and Libertarian Mark Wicks with six percent. For his actions, Gianforte is charged with misdemeanor assault.

Gianforte has admitted his guilt via three apologies to Jacobs, who not only accepted, but indicated he has no plans to sue the Representative-elect. Gianforte plans to plead guilty when appearing in a Bozeman court on Monday, June 12. Jacobs has certainly taken the high road; he should have sued Gianforte.

Prior to the assault, Jacobs had been questioning Gianforte about the GOP healthcare plan. Perhaps in lieu of a true plan to repeal and replace Obamacare a physical assault would draw attention away from the GOP’s shortsightedness on this all-important issue. The Republican Party, after all, had seven years to cobble together a brilliant plan to replace the deleterious and destructive Obamacare.

In the weeks following the assault Gianforte has issued several apologies, one in part saying, "My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful. 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. …I made a mistake and humbly ask for your forgiveness," wrote Gianforte.

In addition to his apologies, Gianforte pledged $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization that promotes freedom of the press.

Despite his many mea culpas and monetary contribution Gianforte should be denied his seat in the House of Representatives on the grounds of moral turpitude. Not only is there precedence to not seat a member-elect of Congress or eject a sitting member, such actions are supported by the Constitution.

Article I Section 5 of the United States Constitution states: "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.”

In spite of the Constitution, Gianforte has the Supreme Court case Powell v. McCormack (1969) on his side. The crux of that case determined neither house of Congress has the "power to exclude a member-elect who meets the Constitution's membership requirements," of age and residency. Thus remains the expulsion option which the House should exercise.

In the state of Montana, misdemeanor assault convictions carry a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $500 fine. Clearly a $500 fine is meaningless considering the $50,000 Gianforte is contributing to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Seating Gianforte based upon Powell, and then expelling him would have a greater impact, not just on Gianforte, but hopefully the body politic as a whole, that actions have repercussions and severe ones at that.

Members of the press, regardless of in how low esteem they are held by the public, especially politicians, should never be put in an intimidating position where they are unable to properly perform their jobs.

From personal experience as a member of the Fourth Estate, not everybody reports biased or fake news. Those who do should be admonished or dismissed from their positions. The American people, hell, all people deserve to know the truth. Make no mistake, the people do not have the right to know everything – state secrets potentially putting national security at risk should neither be leaked nor revealed. I’m an American first and a reporter/commentator second. Information on deep background or expressed off the record should stay there. I’ve managed to eke out a living keeping my word. We need an honest press, but we also need a press free to do its job without the threat of physical violence or intimidation.

Thomas Jefferson said it best: "The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure." (Sadly, the purity of those waters has long passed us by.)

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.


  1. I don't know that I'd deny him the seat on the grounds of moral turpitude. A lot of people have done a lot worse, without remorse. Ted Kennedy actually caused someone to die without calling for help. Gianforte should have to do some community service or a weekend in jail, and make some other public showing of support for the press.

    A chastened Republican in the Congress may be a good advocate for respecting the role of the press, even when vehemently disagreeing or denouncing a particular member of it.

    1. Mitch, of course you cited the best example in Chappaquiddick Ted, but with the climate these days, I want an example made of Gianforte, even if he is a Republican. As for the community service - 40 hours is his sentence along with 20 hours of anger management.