ENTERPRISE EDITORIAL: Run Gianforte’s mug shot, but a word to his opponents

It finally happened — Greg Gianforte got his mug shot taken.

There’s probably not a single Montanan who doesn’t know why. The story is by now familiar to everyone:

On the literal eve of the May 25 special federal election to fill Ryan Zinke’s U.S. House seat, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, 56, vying for the seat with political newcomer Rob Quist, assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.

Jacobs was trying to ask Gianforte a question about the Republican’s health care bill when Gianforte snapped and “body slammed” him. An audio recording of the incident captured Gianforte yelling, “Get the hell out of here!”

Gianforte was subsequently charged and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. For some time now, his lawyers have been trying to get him out of being booked, fingerprinted and photographed, but it didn’t work.

Following a judge’s order, on Friday he submitted to the process in the Gallatin County Detention Center. 

However, Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert has not yet released the mug shot, saying he needs a judge’s order to do so.

That’s an odd thing, considering that Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, while not directly ruling mug shots should be made public, essentially said they should be. In 2015, Park County Attorney Bruce Becker filed a request with Park County District Court for the release of a mug shot of Jovanne “Geo” Ashley, a registered violent offender who had been accused, and later found not guilty of, attempted deliberate homicide and aggravated assault. The District Court ruled the mugshot should be made public. When the recalcitrant Lambert asked Tim Fox for a ruling on the release of Gianforte’s mug shot, Fox referred to Park County District Court ruling, basically saying he didn’t need to issue a new ruling. 

That makes it pretty clear Gianforte’s mug shot should be released, and there is every expectation it will be.

And it should be. Gianforte should have no more protection from the consequences of reckless actions than every other Montanan has. He committed a wrong and should face the consequences. And indeed, he’s had to. The Associated Press reports he has paid a $385 fine, done community service, donated $50,000 to an organization that protects journalists and paid $4,600 for Jacob’s medical bills and costs associated with going to an earlier Gianforte hearing. 

Gianforte has also publicly apologized to Jacobs. 

And next up should be the mugshot, especially since he’s a public figure. News organizations should feel free to run it. If you’re going to run for office and body slam a reporter, don’t expect sympathy on having your mug shot show up everywhere.

You know what will happen now. As soon as the mug shot is released and extending into 2018, when Gianforte runs for re-election — he has already filed — his political enemies will go crazy with what will no doubt be a dimly lit and grim-looking photograph and run it ceaselessly in political attack ads. It will be everywhere. Fair enough. 

But a word of caution: They might want to hold off on their glee. Americans tend to be a forgiving people when someone admits to a wrong and pays the price for it. It might look a little unbecoming of Democrats claiming to take the high road who instead go the schadenfreude route of taking pleasure in the troubles of others. 

Because while today it’s Gianforte paying the price for his reckless behavior, tomorrow it might be one of them.

— Dwight Harriman
Enterprise News Editor

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