Journalists and press freedom advocates react to alleged assault on reporter

Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte was charged in the incident.

— -- Journalists and politicians are speaking out about the treatment of the press following the alleged assault of a political reporter at the hands of the Republican candidate in Montana's congressional special election -- though not all are in agreement and some appeared split along partisan lines.

Greg Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault Wednesday after Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs said the GOP candidate body slammed him to the ground. Jacobs said he was attempting to ask the congressional candidate a question about his response to the Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the American Health Care Act.

The Radio Television Digital News Association released a statement condemning the incident on Thursday morning.

"If the criminal charges are proven true, this would be an outrageous escalation of the recent trend toward elected officials and those seeking elected office obstructing and even, now, assaulting reporters who are merely trying to do their jobs,” said Dan Shelley, the incoming executive director of the RTDNA in the statement.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization that advocates for press freedom around the world, said that the incident "sends an unacceptable signal that physical assault is an appropriate response to unwanted questioning by a journalist," in a release.

The sentiment was echoed by the Freedom of the Press Foundation which said, in part, "The First Amendment is supposed to guarantee the right for journalists to report information without fear of retaliation by government official, so it’s very disturbing that a potential member of Congress believes that the appropriate response to critical coverage is physical assault."

The U.S. editor of Jacob's employer, The Guardian, put out a statement Wednesday evening expressing support Jacobs.

"The Guardian is deeply appalled by how our reporter, Ben Jacobs, was treated in the course of doing his job as a journalist while reporting on the Montana special election," said the editor, Lee Glendinning. "We are committed to holding power to account and we stand by Ben Jacobs and our team of reporters for the questions they ask and the reporting that is produced."

Vice News, which works with The Guardian on segments for its television program, "Vice News Tonight," also released a statement.

"Vice News joins our partners at The Guardian in condemning the attack on journalist Ben Jacobs. It’s controversial, we know, to oppose violence against a person asking a question of a candidate for public office, but apparently that’s where we are. For any public official who wishes to live in a scrutiny free society we have one word of advice: move."

Conservative media personalities and some Republican politicians downplayed the incident.

Laura Ingraham, a conservative commentator and the editor-in-chief of the website LifeZette, wrote on Twitter, "Did anyone get his lunch money stolen today and then run to tell the recess monitor?"

Derek Hunter, a radio host in Baltimore and contributing editor to the Daily Caller downplayed the incident at first before later tweeting that "it sounds bad" after reading the accounts of witnesses.

"What kind of a wuss files charges over broken glasses? Someone who wants to influence an outcome, that's who," tweeted Hunter in the aftermath

On Capitol Hill, a number of representatives condemned Gianforte's behavior while still backing the candidate.

"I believe that we should all treat the press with respect and I try to lead by example," said Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J. "I, of course, hope the Republican is successful today because I think his views are the views of the people of Montana."

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. offered a mixed response on the incident to an Associated Press reporter.

"It’s not appropriate behavior," said Hunter. "Unless the reporter deserved it."