The exact nature of the confrontation is in dispute. Gianforte's staff claim Jacobs forced his way into an office while the Guardian's man says he was knocked to the ground after asking a question. The incident was witnessed by a team from Fox News, who lean towards Jacobs' version of events.
Now I've met Gianforte. I interviewed him over dinner and got a good feel for a highly thoughtful guy who didn't go into politics on a whim. He's a passionate believer in education and educational standards. He took his family on an extensive tour of Europe to give his kids a proper perspective on this continent's history and culture. In other words, he's not straight out of the box of technology-obsessed and dollar-fixated CEOs who can talk of nothing except their business strategy. And he is polite.
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So what went wrong? Gianforte was coming to the end of a gruelling political campaign and a journalist turned up at his office and seized on an opportunity to conduct an impromptu interview. All politicians like to restrict media contact to scheduled appointments. These allow them to get a good steer on what will be under discussion. But journalists are trained to make the most of any chance to interview significant players. The terrier instinct to chase down a story is what makes a news reporter, any news reporter.
The Guardian's man may well have been downright annoying, as Gianforte's camp claims, but he was doing what the media does best. He was trying to get behind the official script and catch a glimpse of the candidate's real opinions. That, in case Gianforte's media advisors have forgotten, is what journalists do.
How should Gianforte have responded? Well, getting physical has generated headlines that do not bode well for his political ambitions. The incident has raised a storm right when Montanans are heading to the polls. And a serious politician can expect to have to answer questions out of the blue. No matter how irritating the sight and sound of a journalist materialising in front of his desk may have been, Gianforte had better options.
He could have pointed out that he was immersed in campaign work and referred Jacobs to his team to schedule an interview after the Fox people had been seen. Better still, he might have complemented Jacobs on his initiative in sneaking past the gatekeepers. A bit of humour always goes down well with journalists and is a diplomatic way of sidestepping a tough question that pops up at the worst possible moment. And of course, he could always have answered the question.
Everyone loses their cool from time to time. And this includes members of the press. I've witnessed some spectacular eruptions of journalistic ire. But if you're in the media spotlight you have to be consistent. That means granting time to titles you may not like. Every interview is an opportunity to win a critic over. There is nothing to be gained from flying off the handle except negative coverage and a vortex of social media reaction that obscures your chosen messages.
This story has legs. At the latest count Gianforte has crossed the finish line in Montana with over 50% of votes cast. But the congressman elect is facing a misdemeanor assault charge. So an altercation in Montana will attract a global media audience as it goes to court. That's the other problem with a flash of temper. It can trigger a cascade of media interest that just won't go away.