As the international community grapples with how to respond to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump praised a Republican congressman for physically assaulting an American journalist last year, saying, “that’s my guy,” during a campaign rally.
> Trump described in glowing terms the physical assault that occurred on 24 May 2017 when Ben Jacobs, the Guardian’s political correspondent, asked Gianforte a question about healthcare policy in the course of a special congressional election in Montana. The US president incited cheers and chants from a crowd of about 8,000 supporters on Thursday night when he said: “Greg is smart. And by the way, never wrestle him. You understand. Never.”
> “We endorsed Greg very early. But I heard that he body-slammed a reporter. This was the day of the election or just before, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is terrible! He’s going to lose the election.’”
> Trump continued: “And then I said, ‘Wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him.’ And it did.”
This last line inspired cheers from the Montana crowd, as Trump finished up with, “He’s a great guy. Tough cookie.”
The assault landed Jacobs in the hospital with an elbow injury, according to The Guardian.
> A crew of Fox News reporters witnessed the attack on the Guardian’s correspondent in Bozeman. According to their firsthand account, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands as the reporter was posing questions to him.
> The crew wrote: “He then slammed [Jacobs] into the ground behind him. [We] watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter.”
Gianforte pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge and spent four days in jail, but his sentence later was changed to include 40 hours of community service, a fine and a court-ordered anger-management course.
> In a statement, the Guardian US editor, John Mulholland, said: “The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian. To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the first amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it.
Though Trump has made criticism of the press a staple of his campaign rallies and presidency in general, this marks the first time he has publicly applauded violence against a journalist.
And the timing of his comments was particularly concerning, as the world is in the midst of fleshing out the details of what happened to Khashoggi — a situation to which Trump has responded with relative indifference.
The Saudi journalist and dissident, who was also a U.S. resident and writer for The Washington Post, is believed to have been killed by Saudi agents — several of whom have close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — on October 2.