NEW YORK—Escalating attacks on the press stemming from President Trump’s repeated denunciations of the media, marked by Montana G.O.P. candidate Greg Gianforte’s assault last night on reporter Ben Jacobs, forewarn of outright government censorship, PEN America said in a statement today.

During an interview at a rally for the candidate on the eve of the vote for Montana’s open seat in the House, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was “body-slammed” by Gianforte in an attack that sent the reporter to the hospital.  A Fox News television crew who witnessed the incident reported that Gianforte “punched” Jacobs while yelling “something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!'”

The attack followed a tough line of questioning on the Republican health care bill.

Gianforte’s spokesman issued a strikingly different version of the account, accusing Jacobs of causing the scuffle by grabbing the candidate’s wrist as he reached for the recording device. But an audio recording confirmed the account of the reporters in the room, including Gianforte’s demands after the attack to “get the hell out of here.”

“By committing a violent assault on a reporter and then issuing a self-serving account that eyewitnesses to the incident have conclusively rebutted, Greg Gianforte has disqualified himself from service in Congress,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America.  “His act of brute thuggery renders him unfit to serve as a representative.”

Gianforte’s is the latest in an escalating string of assaults on the press, seemingly emboldened by President Trump’s vocal disrespect for journalists. Late last week, a CQ Roll call reporter was also physically assaulted by security guards at the Federal Communications Commission.

“President Trump’s repeated denunciations of critical press coverage increasingly look to be emboldening physical attacks on the fourth estate,” said Nossel.  “That should frighten any American, especially as these attacks could bleed into outright government censorship.  All responsible officials should step forward to reject this corrosion of American values and to defend the essential role of the media in our democracy.”

In April, PEN America released Trump the Truth, a report and interactive timeline cataloguing the Trump Administration’s near daily attacks on the press in its first 100 days.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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