New Congressman Apologizes for Assault

Greg Gianforte won a special election yesterday for Congressman from Montana. His acceptance speech last night included an apology for assaulting a reporter the day before.

“When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it. That’s the Montana way. Last night, I made a mistake and I took an action that I can’t take back, and I’m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did, and for that I am sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I am sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs. That’s not the person I am, and that’s not the way I’ll lead this state. Rest assured, our work is just beginning, but it does begin with me taking responsibility for my own actions.”

Jacobs allegedly questioned Gianforte Wednesday about his position on health care, and Gianforte responded angrily; the two got into a scuffle, during which Jacobs’ glasses were broken. The Gallatin County sheriff issued a warrant to Gianforte on a charge of misdemeanor assault, for which he’ll answer next week. Gianforte’s campaign office originally blamed Jacobs for the incident, but last night, Gianforte took responsibility. Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Reporter Ben Jacobs had said publicly that an apology would be appropriate.

The apology itself is not bad. He calls it a “mistake” and says he’s “not proud” of it. He says he’s sorry, and names the reporter he harmed. He sounds contrite. He doesn’t specify exactly what his mistake was but, with criminal charges pending, perhaps he was advised by counsel not to admit guilt. A good apology offers plans for avoiding similar offenses in the future, and this one has none of that. (His “rest assured” offers no assurance for rest.)

What undermines this apology is the timing. He waited until after he’d won the election. Would he have apologized had he lost? We would have admired him more had he apologized immediately, willing to accept the consequence of losing the election. But it takes courage to apologize publicly, perhaps even moreso in the midst of an otherwise happy event. He will not regret it.

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