A Philosopher's Blog

Punching Reporters

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized by Michael LaBossiere on May 29, 2017

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While American conservatives have long put forth the talking point that the media suffers from a crippling liberal bias, the rise of Trump saw a notable change in the approach of Republicans to reporters. Most recently, Republican Greg Gianforte attacked a journalist by grabbing him by the neck and throwing him to the floor. Somewhat ironically, the attack on the liberal media was witnessed by a Fox News team. Gianforte has been charged with a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of a $500 fine or six months in jail. It is unlikely that Gianforte, who was just elected to the House of Representatives, will serve any time.

After the attack, Gianforte’s campaign (apparently following the path of lies paved by President Trump) released a statement containing untrue claims (or, more accurately, lies): “After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.” As the Fox News team noted, Jacobs did none of these things and was simply attacked by Gianforte after trying to ask him questions. Gianforte later issued an apology for his actions which seems to have rescinded the original set of untrue claims about the incident. While attacking a reporter and lying seem to be obviously wrong, this incident is certainly morally interesting.

As should be expected, some people approved of Gianforte’s response, seeing it as a manly blow against the effeminate liberal media. While it is tempting to dismiss the endorsement of violence out of hand, a case can be made in favor of physically attacking the press. The gist of the argument is as follows.

If the press is liberally biased and engages in unwarranted attacks against conservatives, then the conservatives have the right of self-defense against these unwarranted attacks. Since the liberal media controls the media, the conservatives have no viable means of self-defense via the media. However, this does not entail that they thus lose the right to self-defense. They still have the option of resorting to a physical defense by grabbing and punching members of the liberal media when they attack.

It could be countered that Jacobs was merely questioning Gianforte about his position on the Republican health care proposal and not engaged in an attack at all. However, it could be claimed that aggressively asking such questions constitutes an attack that warrants a physical response. But, being asked questions does not put a person in danger that warrants the use of physical force—a person can merely decline to answer the questions.

It is certainly worth pointing out that the notion that the media is liberal is countered by the existence of Fox News and other conservative media outlets. Because of this, conservatives do have a non-violent option of self-defense: they can turn to Fox News and others.

Even if conservatives lacked the venues of Fox News and similar media outlets, it would still be difficult to justify the use of physical violence as a defense against the liberal media. After all, the moral notion of self-defense includes a proportionality factor. If, for example, someone throws a water balloon at me and threatens me with another drenching, I have no moral right to use lethal force to stop them. After all, the danger they present does not warrant a lethal response. Likewise, even if the liberal media is cruelly attacking conservatives, this does not warrant a physical response. Verbal attacks warrant verbal defenses, not punches. As such, this sort of attack should be condemned.

While most people do not approve of this sort of violence, the Republican leadership has offered but a half-hearted and tepid condemnation of the attack, as exemplified by Paul Ryan’s response. Given the importance of the freedom of the press in particular and the importance of avoiding senseless violence in a civilized society, this lukewarm response is certainly problematic. However, it is indicative of how some conservatives now regard core American values. That is, they do not value them.

While the physical violence was the most worrisome, there is also the use of lies to try to spin the incident. The physical attack on the reporter thus serves as a blunt metaphor for the systematic attack on the truth that has become a standard practice in politics. This is especially hypocritical when it comes from people who profess to hold to traditional values and religious ideals.

It could be said that this concern is an overreaction, that is it merely a member of Congress punching a reporter. However, this incident has broader implications about how we, as a people, look at the press, truth and violence. As it stands, lies and violence have been rewarded with high office. Presumably this is the lesson that we wish to teach our children so that they might live down to our lack of principles and ideals.

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  1. TJB said, on May 29, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Agree this was a man bites dog story. We are so used to violence coming from the left, it is surprising when it comes from the right. For example, Hillary hired thugs to get violent at Trump rallies. Media yawned.

  2. Anonymous said, on May 30, 2017 at 1:04 am

    Mike, I think you are a part of the problem, not the solution. I’ve said before that I am very dismayed at the lack of critical thinking in this country, especially at places of higher learning.

    Years ago a white person could be labeled “N-lover” for acting in any way towards an African American that did not conform to the conventional racist hatred borne by “the mob”.

    More recently, the opposite has been true – any disagreement with the previous administration for any reason at all risked the label of “racist”.

    And now that hatred is back – this time the label is “Trump Supporter”.

    Politicians and the press have been at each others throats for generations. Let’s not forget Bob Etheridge (D-N.C) who physically attacked a student reporter who asked him if he supported Obamacare. There’s video of that encounter too. Of course, that was officially dismissed as a “Republican Party Tracking Operation”, or “Right out of the Jason Mattera School of Inflammatory Interview Techniques”.

    The violence at Trump events comes from both sides. The hatred is palpable – and if people like you don’t do your jobs, what you have been taught to do – i.e., THINK, it will only get worse.

    It is embarrassing for me, as an academic, to hear my so-called colleagues falling into lock-step with the ignorance that drives this country.

    Do not mistake this for a Pro-Trump answer, it is not. It’s frustrating, though, to read posts like yours that would like us all to believe that this country was all peace and flowers until Trump came along, that politicians and the media strolled hand-in-hand down the Petaled Path of Truth and Honesty – and those who would prefer that we, like you, cast aside any desire to analyze a situation for what it is in favor of heaping on yet another “Blame Trump And The Republicans” bit of hatred.

    While I am not a supporter of Trump, neither am I “anti-Trump”. He has done some things that I agree with and some things that I do not – same as Obama, and Bush, and all the others before them. Yet the mood in this country is not much different than in third-world nations. With family, with friends, with colleagues and students alike, my voice is suppressed. I am reluctant to voice my opinion on any issue, lest I let it slip that I might think Trump has a point, or that perhaps he is pursuing a good policy badly – and thus invite the spew of anger, hatred, mistrust, and confusion on the part of those around me.

    So, like my Jewish ancestors in Russia during the Pogroms, I keep my mouth shut, lest I anger the wrong person. I choose carefully with whom I speak. The only thing that runs more deeply than the passion is the ignorance, in my opinion.

    We are living in a heavily repressed time. While it is true that our speech is protected by the government and the Constitution, it is not protected against mob rule and censure, which has run rampant during this century.

    I think this is very, very close to being a complete non-issue. I am certain that it happens all the time – sometimes the reporters are at fault – acting too aggressively, not standing down when they are asked, pushing and trying to incite the violence for its value as a story. Sometimes the politicians are at fault – overreacting to a reporter and misinterpreting a difficult question as an attack. But to elevate a single incident to the status of Trump or Conservative Policy is worse – because it incites the passion of the country, foments the hatred and fuels the fire.

    Ryan’s “tepid response” was entirely correct – he said that Gianforte should apologize, but the real voice belongs to the people of Montana. He did not blame the Democrat Machine, as DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse did in his statement involving Etheridge.

    I believe that we are headed the way of Venezuela, but it is not Trump leading us there. We do not need to be led – we are finding our own way with no trouble at all.

    • Anonymous said, on May 30, 2017 at 1:06 am

      I did not intend for the above response to be labeled “Anonymous”, I just neglected to log in. It has a nice irony to it, though. I think I’ll leave it.

    • WTP said, on May 30, 2017 at 6:22 am

      So, like my Jewish ancestors in Russia during the Pogroms, I keep my mouth shut
      And that strategy played out well, did it? I understand what you’re saying. Last night I google searched this site and the name Etheridge did not appear. Kinda funny, huh? Are you following the goings on at Evergreen State? Academia, as I have been saying for years here, has become a disgrace and it didn’t happen overnight. It happened because good professors and such failed to speak up. Failed to stick their necks out. Academics ride on the honor of supposedly being great thinkers. Free thinkers. Philosophers. Yet they are nothing of the sort. They are cowards hiding behind the one-sided sophistry of leftist victimization while ignoring leftist violence. Who do you suppose will be the first real victims of these Mao-lings at places like Everygreen and Middlebury and Berkeley? Show cowardace and fear in front of an increasingly violent lynch mob, not the Trump supporters as Mike’s sophistry would have you believe, but the left of BLM, SJW, and especially the Mao-lings, and you may truly find yourself at the end of a rope. The true threats are coming from the left and academia, not that the word has meaning anymore, just geography.

      • DH said, on May 30, 2017 at 7:24 pm

        “And that strategy played out well, did it?”

        I guess in a long term, “God Works In Mysterious Ways” sort of sense, yes, I think it did. My ancestors ended up fleeing Russia for the slums of Boston, applied for citizenship and received it – had to renounce their allegiance to Czar Nicholas II and start a new life of hard labor but freedom and assimilation here. Thousands, maybe even millions, did the same – and look where we all are today.

        Your comments did give me pause, however. I think that on a day-to-day basis it’s true, I do keep my mouth shut which may not be the best thing to do – but because I am involved in (and teach) technology and art, it is a means to an end. I am vocal on sites like these, where I can perhaps maintain a small modicum of anonymity which allows me to be heard and keeps the peace as well.

        I would also stress that while much of academia leans left without critical thought, not all of it does. I am a tenured professor myself; you have suffered through enough of my pedantic rants to know that I have little tolerance for the sort of thing that has spawned this thread.

        Who knows? Perhaps there’s a rope in my future after all.

        …oops – looks like my cover is blown …

        • TJB said, on May 31, 2017 at 8:19 am

          I think large parts of academia are doing fine. Engineering, hard sciences, probably even classics. It is the social sciences and maybe even English departments that are in need of serious housecleaning.

          • WTP said, on May 31, 2017 at 9:13 am

            Engineering and hard science disciplines probably need the university system less than the lib arts and such. Information is freely available. Credentials, where needed, are mostly acquired through trade organizations. Many people do well, many inventors of the past and present did well, without a formal university degree. Medical schools are becoming medical schools with minimal crossover at the biological sciences level. The academics have defecated in their own wells. They will be the first to swing. Sciences and engineering could easily split off but there could be collateral damage before hand. Supposedly, the Evergreen State issue started when a Biology prof refused to leave campus for no-white-people day. Perfect incentive for him and similar to take their talents to medically focused colleges. The lib arts and poli-sci and philosophy will suffer even more when such a split becomes more permanent.

            A side note to DH, don’t take my comments too harshly. I find it hard to fault a given individual for not speaking up given the specific circumstances and each person’s individual personality. But some one, some where in academia has got to start stepping outside their comfort zone and push back on this idiocy. It’s not like Mike or similar is going to do so.

            • WTP said, on May 31, 2017 at 9:17 am

              Meant to add.. when I spoke of academics being first to swing from ropes at the hands of the Mao-lings, I think it will be more likely those who try to accommodate these little tyrants than those who push back or are silent. The latter two will mostly know when to bail before it gets too far out of control. But as I said, there may be collateral damage.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 2, 2017 at 5:42 pm

            I’ve spoken with various colleagues at “non-elite” schools; they note that the sorts of things that get the attention of the media generally do not occur at the non-elite schools. For example, I don’t do trigger warnings for my classes and have never had an issue.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 2, 2017 at 5:44 pm

      How so? I teach critical thinking as a class, cover basic logic in every other class and have written three books on fallacies.

      • DH said, on June 4, 2017 at 2:00 pm

        Just because you teach critical thinking does not mean that you necessarily engage in it – and in this essay I would make the case that you do not. Same for logic and fallacies.

        Critical thinking is “objective analysis” – but you apparently formed your judgement beforehand and are conceiving and presenting your analysis after the fact to support your belief. This is not critical thinking. You have presented your arguments in a partisan, “Right=Wrong, Left=Right” way, which is a foregone conclusion in so many of your pieces. Your very first statement is about conservative perception of liberal media, and the body of the piece focuses on the conservative justification of violence, as though it does not exist anywhere else.

        The simplest analysis, which does happen on both sides of the political spectrum and at all levels, is put forth by “Coffee Time” –

        “A candidate on the eve of his first election, presumably tired and tense, is engaged in a scheduled interview. A man enters, does not identify himself or his organisation, but thrusts a recorder at the candidate’s face and asks a question that he already knows the candidate has refused to answer at this time. The candidate tells him that he will deal with that later, but the reporter asks again. The candidate asks him to speak with his press spokesman, and finally bodyslams him, breaking his glasses.’

        This is not considered in your article. Nor do you give examples (as others have done) of Democrats attacking reporters. You present this as a right-wing phenomenon, presumably emboldened by the attitudes and total dishonesty of the Trump administration.

        I wonder what approach you might take if you were using the Gianforte situation in your critical thinking class. Would you give “As” to the students who quickly pointed out that Gianforte is a Republican and this is just another example of Conservatism in America? Would you mark down those answers that might explore the fact that this is the way human beings react in a stressful situation, and it is yet another example of the animosity between the media and politicians?

        The disappointment I continue to have about the lack of critical thinking in this country is based on the fact that I listen to NPR and read the Wall Street Journal. The news on NPR might as well begin with, “And here, in tonight’s news, we bring you further examples of how bad Donald Trump is”. I don’t listen to Fox, but I do listen to conservative talk radio – and it’s really no different there, save for a few adjectives. Both criticize the other side heavily, highlight stories that underscore their editorial position and downplay or do not air those that do not. The lack of critical thinking is when consumers of mass media listen only to those stations that support their point of view, echo the editorial positions, and, because of their own bias, claim that their stations and their media outlets are the ones that are “fair and balanced”, trademarks notwithstanding.

        Some of your posts, Michael, are very interesting and challenging debates – but others, like this one, are not. You can do better.

        • DH said, on June 4, 2017 at 2:04 pm

          Above – when I referenced “…another example of the animosity between the media and politicians …” the statement should have read:

          ..another example of the (adjective omitted) media and (adjective omitted) politicians”. I used punctuation marks that were misinterpreted as HTML tags, and the parenthetical adjectives were, er, omitted.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 6, 2017 at 2:32 pm

          I do have my failings; but I do endeavor to always advance arguments and consider opposing viewpoints. So, I am more of the solution than the problem. In this regard. In some areas, I am more of a problem.

  3. nailheadtom said, on May 30, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    There isn’t enough violence. It’s use is restricted to the agents of the state. Throw a water balloon on a cop and see what happens. Unfortunately, the disreputable know that their misbehavior won’t be met with the infliction of pain, the one thing that seems to get people’s attention. America has had, and continues to have, a long love affair with violence. The feminization of society has frustrated some while giving license to others. It’s taking awhile for people to adapt.

  4. TJB said, on May 31, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    Any comment, Mike?

    • TJB said, on May 31, 2017 at 8:24 pm

      I’m going way on a limb and guessing that these are not STEM students 🙂

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 2, 2017 at 5:38 pm

      At least they are active rather than apathetic. 🙂

      • WTP said, on June 3, 2017 at 12:29 pm

        Do you suppose this is clown-nose on or clown-nose off, TJ? The stupid is so thick in here I can’t really tell anymore.

        • TJB said, on June 3, 2017 at 4:49 pm

          On, I think. But hard to tell for sure.

    • DH said, on June 1, 2017 at 9:03 am

      I think the answer here is that we all have urges that we regret, we all get angry, we all get caught up in the heat of the moment. It does not mean that it represents left- or right-wing philosophy, it doesn’t mean that it is a matter of policy, it doesn’t mean that there is some implicit directive from the top. It means we are human.

      Jacobs got exactly what he was after in the interview – as CoffeeTime said so well below – he did not identify himself, he asked a question he knew the candidate has refused to answer, he pressed the issue, and hoped for exactly what happened.

      If you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Jacobs is the one with the violence problem, not Gianforte.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 2, 2017 at 5:47 pm

        Perhaps Jacobs was trying to provoke Gianforte, but a basic skill for being an adult is not responding violently when one is confronting a merely frustrating situation.

        • Anonymous said, on June 4, 2017 at 3:36 pm

          Yes, I agree with you. What I disagree with is the association you seem to be making between “Adult” and “Left Wing”, or “Violence” and “Conservative”.

          There is no excuse for the way Gianforte acted, but he did in fact, act in a “childish” manner, not a “conservative” one.

          Put another way, I think that Jacobs acted in a way that was very consistent with the press, but Gianforte’s response was a human, not partisan one. You, and members of the media, continue to misrepresent his response as being somehow representative of Conservative ideology and acceptable behavior.

          Lest we think this is something new and attributable to the Trump way of thinking, I’d remind us all of the caning of Senator Charles Sumner in 1856. Sumner was an anti-slavery Republican who, after an impassioned (and provocative) speech before the Senate, was beaten mercilessly with a cane at the hands of South Carolina Democrat Preston Brooks. Brooks continued the beating well after his cane broke into pieces; Sumner was bloodied and required stitches and a long recovery. He was unable to serve in the Senate for three years.

          Brooks resigned, but was immediately reelected. He received praise from newspapers and his constituents; pieces of his cane were made into rings that southern lawmakers wore around their necks in solidarity.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 6, 2017 at 2:30 pm

            I agree; I don’t consider the left to be anymore or less adult than the right. If some lefty had swatted a righty reporter, I’d also condemn that as immature and wrong. Also, the lefties who shout down righties they don’t like are acting immature and wrong.

            • DH said, on June 6, 2017 at 3:50 pm

              That’s good to hear, but you rarely do that. There are a lot of ways of looking at the adversarial relationship between politics and the press; there are many, many historical examples of violence emanating from both sides.

              But your argument went immediately to the presumed conservative underpinnings of the action, as though they have become the new “norm”. You did not make the case that Gianforte was immature, or that he was wrong, or consider that he might be a failed human or even an otherwise righteous man who had a moment of weakness. You went immediately to the “He did this because this is how the right-wing acts, and their representatives and pundits scramble to defend the actions.”

              You described him as “Republican Gianforte”, and said, “the rise of Trump saw a notable change in the approach of Republicans to reporters.”

              That is why I say you are part of the problem. You are taking a heavily biased, partisan opinion piece, putting your credentials on it and calling it “critical”, and people believe you. And the anger increases, and the ability to think critically and weigh factual data instead of impassioned fallacies decreases, and we all end up hating each other.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 9, 2017 at 6:43 pm

              The rise of Trump, as a matter of empirical fact, did see a notable change.

              If a liberal had punched a conservative reporter after a liberal presidential candidate did what Trump did, then I’d write “Democrat Smith” and “the rise of Liberal X saw a notable change in the approach of Democrats to reporters.”

              You can help me here-document such attacks on the conservative media by Democrats and liberals.

            • WTP said, on June 9, 2017 at 9:32 pm

              You can help me here-document such attacks on the conservative media by Democrats and liberals.

              FFFS. It’s in the up thread comment to which you are replying. With video showing exactly what transpired. But of course, that’s different. Because …picky picky picky difference. Not a conservative media, just one Democrat, not and “and liberals”, not… i dunno, some silly clown-nose BS.

              The only question here, after nearly a decade of reading your rants is, are you obtuse or knowingly disingenuous?

            • WTP said, on June 9, 2017 at 9:45 pm

              OK, misremember the specifics. Not this comment thread specifically but in a comment on this post. Just search for Etheridge on this page. Both Anonymous and I referenced it. But as I suppose we gotta put the damn spoon right in your mouth…


            • WTP said, on June 16, 2017 at 2:08 pm

              document such attacks on the conservative media by Democrats and liberals.

              Mike asks for help. Help provided. A week later, nuttin. But it’s not like you really needed the help in the first place. Just google it. It’s all right out there. Intellectual cowardice.

            • WTP said, on June 17, 2017 at 8:46 am

              In a similar way, media calling for the execution of the president based on imaginary bs.


              Does anyone doubt that were the shoe on the other foot, Mike would have several posts regarding the violent rhetoric from the media and academia contributing to the assassination attempt on GOP leadership that just occurred? Crickets.

    • TJB said, on June 1, 2017 at 10:22 am

      Violence emanating from the left is dog bites man.

  5. CoffeeTime said, on June 1, 2017 at 2:52 am

    From outside the US, I am not sensitised to the hatred and contempt shown in incidents like the Evergreen College example cited by other posters here, but even allowing for that, surely not every action can be ascribed to left-right conflict?

    You assume this incident is “attack on the liberal media”. While Caligula, if he were alive today, might wish that the liberal media had but one neck, so that he could grab them by it and bodyslam them, I find no evidence that this was the motivation.

    A candidate on the eve of his first election, presumably tired and tense, is engaged in a scheduled interview. A man enters, does not identify himself or his organisation, but thrusts a recorder at the candidate’s face and asks a question that he already knows the candidate has refused to answer at this time. The candidate tells him that he will deal with that later, but the reporter asks again. The candidate asks him to speak with his press spokesman, and finally bodyslams him, breaking his glasses.

    Many reporters behave badly, especially when competing with other reporters, as part of their standard approach. Even when they know they will not get a substantive answer, they intrude, disrupt, and hope to annoy the subject into a reaction they can pass as newsworthy. They do this regardless of political affiliation, purely as a professional tactic.

    In this case, we know that the candidate did not recognise the reporter, so the cause was not personal, and seems unlikely to be motivated by any animus towards some nebulous idea of “liberal media”. He guessed at The Guardian as his paper, but the accent might as well have come from The Sun or The Times.

    Lacking any better information, I must conclude that in this case, a tense rookie candidate, unfamiliar with press dealings and tired of being badgered, snapped, and answered an annoyance with a physical response. We should congratulate the reporter, I suppose, for succeeding in his goal of provoking some publishable material.

    If there is any evidence that an aspiring conservative politician believed it good to assault a reporter, as “an attack on the liberal media”, I have missed it.

    • DH said, on June 1, 2017 at 8:55 am

      Be careful – you may be labeled as a “Trump Supporter” somehow. (Not really sure how – but maybe in the same way that the so-called “willingness” to engage in bad behavior has been blamed on this administration).

      You are expressing the exact kind of “critical thinking” that I think is so sorely lacking in this country. Not that people are incapable of it, but rather, unwilling to engage.

      Forget reason. Forget “Occam’s Razor”. The Gianforte issue was most likely exactly as you described – tired, stressed out people responding poorly to a no-win situation in the heat of the moment.

      But that doesn’t sell papers, it doesn’t incite passion, it doesn’t stoke the fires of political animosity.

      People hate the opposition because their friends do, because they read it on their Facebook feeds, because there is pressure to do so at work, at home, and at school, and it’s easier (and more fun) to go along than it is to actually read and think. (Remember dodge ball?) So Americans begin with this hatred and seek justification for it, rather than reading and understanding facts and concluding with it, if that’s where the facts lead (or not, in the same vein).

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