Ben Jacobs and the Rest of Us: Violence Against Jounalists in the United States
An incident involving Ben Jacobs, a well respected reporter for the Guardian Newspaper, was by all accounts, including witnesses from FOX News with an astonishing first-hand account of what took place- an assault. It immediately turned the collective gaze of people across the world, to an otherwise (given the never-ending turmoil surrounding the President) out-of-sight, out-of-mind Montana State of Representatives election between candidates Greg Gianforte, Republican, and Democrat Rob Quist.
As an independent journalist in the United States working in media, journalism, social commentary and radio for a combined 16 years, in print, pixel, broadcast radio, and most recent, podcast. I appreciate the written word, well researched and plotted information that is accurate and balanced. But my heart belongs to sound; radio and podcast. The ability to capture the moment something happens, to breathe, listen, close my eyes, and take in what pictures the sounds are painting.
As it happens, much of my work has centered on violence, and its aftermath. Speaking with, listening to, and capturing not just the words, but the essence of the truth of the experiences of those impacted by it, whether in the moment, in the aftermath, the survivors, the dead, and those left behind to grapple, in the worst cases, when someone is taken from them, whether random, targeted, planned, or spontaneous. In both journalism and my previous work in criminal justice reform through youth, gun, and gang violence prevention and other human services work, I have also been targeted for violence, for stating an opinion, breaking news, breathing life into stories some want buried; in essence, doing the sometimes dangerous work of journalism.
But without it, where would we be? Think of the most iconic images of history, and where we might be today without them. Wars. Genocide. The treatment of American Soldiers by the country it gave their lives, limbs, and sanity for generations to come. Kent State, and students shot dead. Witnesses pointing in the distance, seconds after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Dropping bombs on Japan. Famine, war, and genocide in countries within Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. The collapse of the Twin Towers.
Think of the most iconic sounds of history. Astronauts from the moon. The reporting of the assassination of John F. Kennedy from radio, tv, and newspapers across the world. Americans on an airplane, hijacked by terrorists, and the last calls, last voicemails, before they charged the cockpit and sacrificed themselves to prevent whatever devastation awaited the planned destination.
Every image of the Tomb of the Unknown. The first time we saw, and for many truly faced, planes full of caskets draped in the flag of our country, holding our dead soldiers; sons, fathers, mothers, sisters, daughters.
Journalism, at it’s highest integrity, has exposed truths and forced us to face, or at least consciously ignore atrocities, crimes, and most important news and information critical to the direction of the country as often determined by the people. Whether liberal or conservative, we all have the obligation to use our platforms to seek out the truth, and inform the public.
Unfortunately violence against journalists and reporters is not new. It is estimated by UNESCO that nearly 100 people were killed in 2016, most, in order to prevent the publication of whatever the journalist was working on at the time.
While the issue is very real, and journalists from all backgrounds often risk their lives to expose truths, in America it is an issue often ignored. In fact, it is downright mocked.
Europe doesn’t have the luxury of such callousness, because violence against journalists has been extreme and left lasting scars. Charlie Hebdo in 2015, where twelve were brutally murdered in what can more than fairly be described as a targeted siege against journalists, is just one example.
Whether the individual or the publication, authors, publishers, journalists, reporters, editors, and columnists across the globe have been under assault for decades. But it has been within as many years that journalism has been there along the way, and with the explosion of social media, even where free press is banned and punishable by death, the people take to any platform they can to report the truth; Egypt, the Philippines, Syria, Ukraine, Russia, North Korea, South Africa, Mexico, and the United States, with the spotlight on poverty, health disparities, and police brutality.. The list is endless, and expanding.
Particularly in America, at the present, freedom of the press is under attack from those whose duty it is to unhold it, the government, charged with protecting the rights of the press as outlined in every record and law from the Constitution to the Supreme Court.
Instead, from the top down- that being the White House and the President, the media is under assault; both metaphorically and physically. We find ourselves with a Commander in Chief who has on more than one occasion floated the idea of jailing the press for publishing negative reports about him or his administration. He has characterized accurate, integral, well sourced reporting of every kind as “fake news.”
Indeed, both home and abroad, the Trump Administration has barred US reporters from attending events and meetings they have historically had access to, while allowing access to foreign, state media. He suggest moving the White House press pool out of the White House. He threatened to end press briefings altogether.
At least one former member of his campaign assaulted a member of the press on the campaign trail. President Trump and his base have taken not just to social media, but more threatening and intimidating measures to impede or prevent journalists from doing their job.
And therein lies the rub. Because just like elected officials, journalists are supposed to be working in the best interest of the public. Which is why journalism is essential to the current upheaval of the American government. If not for journalism, we would have no concept of the dire and potential catastrophic condition of seemingly anything and everyone who touches the White House. In the eyes of millions of America, our government- the Oval Office itself, has been compromised in the most severe way imaginable; by an enemy of the state. Russia.
Aside from any alleged scandal, collusion or corruption, the one hundred and eighty degree turn the Trump administration has take from his predecessor is breathtaking, and at times arguably reckless, ill-planned and potentially disastrous.
Healthcare is certainly no exception and shouldn’t be downplayed at this juncture. Republicans have taken a by-any-means-necessary approach to repealing the Affordable Care Act, passed under the Obama Administration. They have been promising to do so for years, and finally took a first substantial step down that path, culminating in a beer party outside the White House for all to see.
What could also be seen, however, leading to the vote, is what happened when those same leaders, on recess, out of Washington and back in their home districts, experienced from their very constituency; townhalls filled with outrage and protest over the promise to repeal Affordable Care. It was something Republicans failed to see coming, and rather than listen to their respective voters, they stopped meeting with the people whose interests they were voted into office to protect.
Which brings us back to the alleged assault of Ben Jacobs by Greg Gianforte in Montana.
Within the last few days the Trump Administration released their budget proposal for 2018. As has become common with the Administration the budget was prepared and published without being vetted by all of the relevant departments and agencies within the government to assure the budget was accurate, and just as important, to translate the impact of line item dollars to the lives of those living in America, both immediate and over the long term. Again, as is often the case, those departments and agencies are left to play catch up; research, fact check, and publish information about the budget, including the impacts of cuts to the Affordable Care Act.
It is a disservice to those in America to cheapen healthcare to nothing more than a political debate in Washington. This is a real issue impacting people and their loved ones from coast-to-coast, north and south, Bible belt to the Rust belt. And it is important the elected officials and those running for office are aware and accountable to those they represent on this issue.
As subsequent reports emerged from other agencies within the American government, it became frighteningly clear; no matter age or geographic location, access to healthcare under the proposed Trump plan will be more expensive, harder to access, or inaccessible altogether.
And as the nation speculates the existence of any tapes the President secretly made with other US officials, we find ourselves with an audio tape of another kind.
By the end of the day, Wednesday May 25th, Republican Greg Gianforte had been taken into custody, cited for assault and released, for his attack on reporter Ben Jacobs who was questioning Gianforte on his position of the latest news outlining the impact of the proposed cuts the President’s Administration has proposed in next year’s budget.
Jacobs’ first hand account is stunning. The eyewitness account published by the FOX News team who witnessed it it utterly damning. The audio; the sound of violence is nothing short of terrifying; choked, body slammed to the ground, and punched repeatedly, for asking questions on behalf of the people, about an issue that directly determines who has access to quality, affordable, life-saving medical care, and who dies not.
Montana newspapers issued swift retractions of previous endorsements. Election day is today, the day after the incident between Jacobs and Gianforte took place.
Should Gianforte lose to his opponent, journalists, pundits, and indeed the American people and the world will look to those who cast their ballots for the person they believed to be most qualified. Many will ask what role, if any, the assault has on the outcome. And it is unavoidable, a loss for Greg Gianforte, will be seen as a de facto vote for the protection and freedom of the press and its role in our communities.
What will it mean then, if he wins?
Sakara Remmu is the Founder of Black Owned Media Broadcasting Company (BOMBCo).
Sakara Remmu is the Host and Executive Producer of Under the Redline, a miniseries podcast exploring experiences, stories, opinions, and issues historically and actively misrepresented or ignored by local and national mainstream media, and which impact the lives of those in marginalized communities in and around Seattle.