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What should Americans make of the latest political sideshow?

That would, of course, be the election-eve assault of a news reporter by the man who will represent Montana in the U.S. Congress.

Montana is so thinly populated it only gets one representative in the U.S. House.

The one they're getting goes in with a reputation to live down.

Republican Greg Gianforte won a special election to fill the seat on Thursday, the day after he was charged with misdemeanor assault of a reporter for the The Guardian newspaper.

The candidate, mind you, is no ordinary thug. He is a millionaire entrepreneur who had the strong backing of President Trump and other Republicans, despite the fact that Gianforte lost a bid last year for the Montana governor's office,

He was the chosen replacement for Ryan Zinke, a Republican named by Trump as Interior secretary.

The reporter, Ben Jacobs, apparently interrupted Gianforte's preparation for an interview with a Fox News crew to ask a perfectly legitimate question. The way he did it was rude, but the question was legitimate. Reporters are like other people. Some of them can be rude on occasion. Jacobs sought Gianforte's reaction to the release of the Congressional Budget Office's forecast on the House Republicans' replacement for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Gianforte had previously put off health care questions until the report.

When Jacobs asked about it, Gianforte flew off the handle and, according to the Fox News crew that witnessed it all, grabbed Jacobs by the throat with both hands, threw him to the floor and punched him.

An audio recording of the incident reflects crashing sounds and the reporter saying Gianforte "body slammed" him and broke his glasses. The congressman-to-be yelled for the reporter to "get the hell out of here."

The local Republican sheriff's office sorted it all out, sent the reporter to the hospital to be checked out and ultimately decided to make the misdemeanor charge against Gianforte. Circumstances didn't meet Montana's legal definition of felony assault, which would have required involvement of a weapon or more serious physical injury.

Gianforte later issued what sounded like an apology to the reporter and to his supporters, owning up to his misconduct. A statement from his campaign shortly after the incident, however, said it was "unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene."

The statement came off as pure bluster in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Even with the apology, the incident has nevertheless created a burden for Gianforte -- and the state he will represent in Congress. He'll be seen a little differently, a bit more warily, than if he had been able to hold his composure.

Gianforte had the edge for election long before the incident occurred. In fact, something like 70 percent of the vote was mailed in early.

His Democratic opponent, Rob Quist, a poet and musician, pulled a surprisingly strong vote, better than 43 percent, in red-state Montana, but this was always Gianforte's race to lose.

The contest originally got national attention for the same reasons other special congressional elections do. Observers are looking for trends to predict what might come in the 2018 mid-term elections, for what impact the Trump presidency is having on national politics.

Gianforte's attack on that reporter changed the story line.

Instead, we got a lot of talk about the coarsening of American politics, including more than a few suggestions that President Trump is responsible for creating the environment that led to a physical attack on a reporter.

Trump does have his personal war with the nation's news media and he is guilty of building mistrust in what he calls "fake news," no matter how legitimate the source. If the news doesn't serve his purposes, it is fake to him.

That isn't right, but can you draw a straight line between Trump's attitude and belligerence toward the news media and an out-of-control Gianforte?

Not necessarily. This incident was all on the big Montanan.

Commentary on 05/28/2017

Print Headline: Big Sky controversy

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