Buried away in the excellent Missoulian editorial endorsing Kathleen Williams for the Congressional race was an interesting detail: Congressman Greg Gianforte is still, more than a year after his assault on Ben Jacobs, lying about what happened that night. From the Missoulian:
The Missoulian initially endorsed Gianforte for that race, with strong reservations, but was forced to take the unprecedented step of rescinding our endorsement immediately after Gianforte lost his temper and physically attacked a reporter, and then issued statements to police and through his staff that directly contradict his own official admission of guilt.
Asked about that discrepancy in a meeting with the Missoulian’s editorial board last week, Gianforte maintained that the police statement accurately reflects his “recollection of what occurred” and said he has taken full responsibility.
That’s simply unbelievable. The night of the unprovoked assault, Gianforte lied to the police about his attack on Jacobs, claiming that the reporter had grabbed him by the wrist before pulling Gianforte to the ground. Perhaps because of his political connections to the Gallatin County sheriff or just because of his wealth, Gianforte was not arrested that night and was able to leave the scene of the crime before his campaign issued a dishonest statement backing up Gianforte’s version of events.
It wasn’t until Fox News reporters who witnessed the attack came forward with statements and audio showing that “Jacobs [didn’t] show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte” and the election results were in that Gianforte half-heartedly and apparently disingenuously came forward with a weak apology for his actions.
Since then, Gianforte, despite pleading guilty and admitting his wrongdoing, has refused to take real responsibility for his actions. He’s never explained why he let his campaign staff issued a false statement about the attack, never answered for his own dishonesty to both law enforcement and Montana voters that night, and never given Ben Jacobs the interview he promised in court he would. Instead, he’s repeatedly claimed that he’s taken “responsibility” and even falsely claimed that Jacobs thinks the issue is resolved.
That dishonesty, though, is nothing compared to what Gianforte told the Missoulian’s editorial board. To maintain that his police statement is his “recollection” of the events that night is to admit that he lied in court about what happened, lied in his apology to Jacobs, and lied to the people of Montana about what he did that afternoon.
Memory is a tricky thing. Republicans, including Gianforte, spent serious time a few weeks ago savaging a sexual assault survivor who couldn’t remember all of the specific events of an attack that had occurred thirty years earlier, but Gianforte wants us to believe that he can’t accurately recall the moment a year and a half ago when be brought shame on the state of Montana and himself with a display of temper that showed he lacks the judgment to represent Montana.
In the era of Trump, the truth has almost lost its meaning among some voters who are willing to accept anything the politicians on their side tell them. As Michiko Kakutani writes in her excellent The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump, we must “examine how a disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language are diminishing the very value of truth, and what that means for America and the world.”
And there’s probably no better local example of the corrosion of our political discourse than Gianforte’s series of neverending lies about his assault.
Gianforte is a violent jerk. We all knew that the moment he endorsed violence against the press or the moment when that desire overpowered his reason and his ideas turned into vicious action. Now he’s compounding that original sin by a refusal to admit what he has already admitted under oath in court, that he, without provocation attacked someone for simply doing his job.
Maybe, as some commentators have opined, the assault actually made Gianforte more popular with a certain segment of voters, who hate the press enough to support violence against its reporters. If so, shouldn’t they at least care that Gianforte doesn’t have the moral fiber to tell the truth about what he did that afternoon?
Or do Republican voters, who came out in droves to vote for a President who mocked the disabled and war heroes before admitting to a series of sexual assaults, just not care? Will they vote for a Republican who not only ambushed a reporter in a cowardly assault but who now lacks the courage to admit what we already know?
November 6 will tell. I hope it tells us what I’d like to believe about Montanans, that ethics and human decency still matter more than the R after a politician’s name on a ballot.