Well, it has happened again. Another person who appears to be a sociopath caught in an act of hatred has been elevated to a position of power in our government. And this despite what we must call an alleged (though it was caught on tape and corroborated at the scene) attack against a reporter.
This election, much like Trump’s election, has brought to mind the role of the journalist. Why do we put ourselves in situations where we could be body slammed, or worse, by unhinged individuals hungry for power? The answer, as anyone familiar with Watergate can tell you, is to hold those people accountable.
Greg Gianforte, like Donald Trump, has shown that he is someone who must be watched closely. He has earned that extra scrutiny through his violent action against someone who dared to question him on his stance on policy issues.
But this also brings up another issue, that of journalistic bias. Is a journalist who spends extra time investigating someone like Gianforte biased against him?
Let’s look at an example closer to home. At the same time the Gianforte drama was unfolding, a New Hampshire journalist I know and respect named Melanie Plenda was also attacked for her reporting. She was called — by Breitbart, an alt-right lie factory — a leftist activist after she covered an event at which Trump mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway spoke.
Conway, trying to bail her boss out of mounting evidence of scandal, including potential collusion with the Russian government to sway the American election he won, told those present to ignore the reports of scandals, according to Plenda’s report.
The New Hampshire GOP did a poor job policing its closed door policy for the event, and appear to blame Plenda, who said she was invited in even after explaining she didn’t have a ticket. Plenda’s job, I should say, is to get information, not follow the rules of a group trying to hide it.
Plenda erred when estimating the crowd size, but I have to believe based on what I know from working alongside her that she accurately reported the rest of the event.
In order to discredit her, the GOP spokesman dug up a Facebook post following Trump’s election, and called her a leftwing activist and not a journalist.
The post, which Plenda unfortunately took down, reads as follows:
“Ok. No more crying from me. Now is the time for action. We need to remember this feeling, the pain in our hearts, the fire in our bellies, because we need it to fight. Not with guns and fists but with protests, with our thoughtful words and reasoned arguments, with fact checking and canvassing for midterm candidates and our votes for the same, for defending and supporting those targeted by our president elect. We need to support the ACLU, we need to run for office, we need to oppose legislation that seeks to hurt and further marginalize, we need to join advocacy groups, we need not be silent. There are a lot of us — roughly more than half the country to be exact— who said Trump’s vision of the future is not what we want our country to be. We are not powerless. We do not need to roll over or go back to sleep. We don’t need to be obstructionist just for the sake, but we do need to peacefully fight for what is right. In that way we will preserve our system of checks and balances and take the teeth out of whatever Trump has planned for the country. Alright. Off I go.”
— NHGOP (@NHGOP) May 23, 2017
Journalism is here is a protection against bad actors in our government — people like Gianforte, who tackled the journalist simply for asking a question, and people like Donald Trump, who has used hate speech and promises he has already broken many of to rile up voters, and who was caught on tape saying he had the right to grab women he didn’t know by the pussy.
Plenda’s words, maligned in a truly biased medium like Breitbart, are the words of a journalist, someone who values facts, someone who wants to hold her leaders accountable for the words they have said and prevent the bad deeds they may do.
The myth that journalists are biased because they go after those who have earned scrutiny is a fantasy. That is an integral part of a journalist’s job.
Contact Dave Eisenstadter at firstname.lastname@example.org.