When a joke is not a joke

When a joke is not a joke

By Ellen Ratner   
Rep.-elect Greg Gianforte won a special election in Montana the day after assaulting reporter Ben Jacobs of the Guardian. (GregForMontana.com)

NEW MEXICO — There are very few things that shock me in and around Washington. However, President Trump managed to do so – and get my attention.

On Thursday night in Missoula, Montana at a campaign-style rally event, President Trump basically wowed the crowd with a remark that approved of the way Rep. Gregory Gianforte went after a reporter.

Gianforte pleaded guilty and was charged on a “misdemeanor assault stemming from his May 24 attack Ben Jacobs” (who was the political reporter for the Guardian and who was attempting to ask a question about the Republican Health Care plan). “

He was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management, a 180-day deferred sentence, and a $300 fine along with an $85 court fee. As part of his settlement with Jacobs, Gianforte donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which said it would use the funds to support the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.”

In his rally in Montana on Thursday night, Trump said: “Any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my guy.”

I was on the radio with some conservative hosts, and they said Trump’s remarks were a joke. Majority Whip Rep Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) also felt it was said in jest. He tweeted: “President Trump was clearly ribbing Congressman Gianforte for last year’s incident, which he apologized for last year. It’s obvious he was not encouraging his supporters to engage in attacks, and not one person harassed the numerous media reporters who were present.”

Most of us have soft spot for Rep. Scalise, as he was nearly killed by a gunman when he was practicing for the congressional baseball game last year. However, that does not allow him to make comments about President Trump remarks on “body slamming” the reporter.

Scalise went on to tweet, “It’s irresponsible for the mainstream media to create a false equivalence between this and Democrat leaders in Washington regularly using threatening rhetoric to call on their supporters to harass Trump officials, supporters, and Republican members and candidates. … I find it disingenuous when some in the media refuse to report or call out actual violence by leftist protestors, yet they’ll whip into a hysterical frenzy over what clearly was a joke at a rally. This is about which party has the best ideas, not which party has the most bullies.”

Rep. Scalise also wrote an op-ed that stated: “Only when someone is losing the debate does he or she resort to violence, and there is no place in American discourse for harassment or intimidation. It is not who we are as Americans.”

He also went after the Democrats in the op-ed, stating: “Their supporters respond to their leadership. But instead of using this authority to strengthen our democracy, their calls for bullying and harassment have undermined it and have incited violence.”

As I have written before, I am on the American board of “Reporters without Borders” and we have shown in the last year how many journalists have been killed or imprisoned. The count is horrific: 57 journalists have been killed, as well as 10 citizen journalists. One hundred sixty-seven journalists have been imprisoned, along with 149 citizen journalists. These numbers are too high and shows that people in power would rather kill and imprison that have the truth in the news. Afghanistan leads the way, but the United States and Mexico are also killers of journalists, as we cannot forget the killings in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis.

There are things that you don’t joke about, and the “body slamming” remark of President Trump that many Republicans dismissed as humor is not something to joke about. We don’t joke about the #MeToo movement and the assault on women, and we certainly have stopped joking about ethnic minorities; so why do we think it is OK to joke about “body slamming” a reporter?

It is time to let reporters do their jobs and to respect them for going to work every day. Trump should have left well enough alone and not even made a joke about body slamming.

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