Fox News ignores eyewitness account from its own reporter, buries GOP candidate’s assault charge

“Gianforte’s campaign says the men both fell…”

CREDIT: Fox News screengrab
CREDIT: Fox News screengrab

Fox News journalists were key witnesses to the violent incident that occurred on Wednesday in Montana involving Greg Gianforte, Republican House candidate in Thursday’s special election, and Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. But you wouldn’t know it from watching Fox and Friends.

Jacobs accused Gianforte of assaulting him after the reporter asked him for the candidate’s reaction to the Congressional Budget Office’s score for the American Health Care Act. Audio of the incident supports Jacobs’ account, but Gianforte’s campaign released a statement telling a very different story — one that actually painted Jacobs as the aggressor.

According to Gianforte’s campaign, Jacobs “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions” and later “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,” the campaign statement concludes.

Gianforte’s story was demolished by eyewitness accounts from Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, field producer Faith Mangan, and photographer Keith Railey. They actually make the incident sound even more violent than what Jacobs initially described. Acuna authored a story on Fox News’ website that details how Gianforte, without any physical provocation, “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.”

“Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter,” wrote Acuna. “As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’”

Hours after Fox News’ story went live, Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault. He’s due in court next month.

On Thursday morning, Gianforte’s assault of a reporter — coming as it does amid President Trump’s ongoing war on the press, which he’s described as “the enemy of the American people” — was a big talker on the morning cable shows. But not on Trump’s favorite, Fox and Friends.

Fox and Friends only informed its roughly 1.5 million viewers about the story during news summaries. While Gianforte’s assault charge was mentioned in passing, Jacobs’ version of events never was. The eyewitness account provided by Fox News journalists also went unmentioned; there was no indication the eyewitnesses were even asked to join the show. But the since-debunked statement from Gianforte’s campaign was featured prominently.

“Greg Gianforte defending himself after he’s accused of body-slamming a Guardian reporter,” Fox News’ Jillian Mele said on the air. “The candidate says that reporter tried to push a phone in his face… Gianforte’s campaign says the men both fell.”

Fox & Friends’ coverage (or lack thereof) of Gianforte’s attack on a reporter mirrors how the show handles Trump by constantly downplaying his scandals. For example, the morning after then-FBI Director James Comey publicly announced the Trump’s campaign was under FBI investigation during a congressional hearing, the show told viewers who missed the hearing that they “didn’t miss much.”

During his first interview as president, Trump explained the importance of Fox News to his agenda, saying that evidence and facts don’t matter as long as Fox News hosts and the network’s “very smart” viewers agree with him.

UPDATE (5/25, 11 a.m.): Hours after Fox & Friends ended, Fox News finally brought Alicia Acuna — one of the Fox News journalists who witnessed the attack — on air for an interview.

Acuna said she “was about two to three feet away from the two men when this happened.”

Gianforte “grabbed him by the upper part of the body and slammed him to the ground — kinda jumped on top of him — started punching him,” she said.

But Acuna also highlighted the Gianforte’s campaign since-debunked statement.

“The Gianforte campaign is saying that Ben Jacobs was much more aggressive than what I just described, and what Mr. Jacobs is describing as well,” Acuna said, going on to note that the three largest newspapers in the state have rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte because of the attack.

Acuna said that Gianforte declined a Fox News request for further comment on Thursday morning.