The timing of an apology can tell you a ton ― especially about a person’s character, or lack thereof. This principle just played out publicly over a span of 48 hours in Montana. GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte offered the country a lesson in how not to handle a situation where you know you’ve done something wrong.
The story of the original transgression is fairly straightforward and shocking. If you’ve been watching the news, you’ve heard the recording released by The Guardian’s reporter, Ben Jacobs. After pressing Gianforte with a follow-up question about how the American Health Care Act will affect Americans, a physical struggle takes place. Then, in a shaken voice, we hear Jacobs say: “You just body slammed me and broke my glasses.” Gianforte responds: “Get the hell out of here.” Twice.
Not long after this event, Gianforte’s spokesman, Shane Scanlon, issued the following statement:
“Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. 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.”
This statement was a long lie lined with multiple contortions. There were witnesses in the room who, through their statements, verified the falsity of Scanlon’s description. One of them, Alicia Acuna, is a friend of mine who has been a Fox News correspondent for 20 years. Acuna filed a story that night, wherein she stated:
“Gianforte 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. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’”
Gianforte’s body slam of Jacobs happened late in the afternoon on Wednesday, the eve of the special election. Scanlon’s fairy tale statement was released not long afterwards. For the rest of the night and all day on Thursday, until Gianforte was declared the winner of the race, not a single word of remorse emanated from the candidate or the campaign.
Finally, when Gianforte bounded on stage Thursday night to deliver his victory speech, he made a grand gesture of apology for his commission of violence:
“Last night I made a mistake, and 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’m sorry.”
The tardiness of this apology was an insult not only to Ben Jacobs, but to Montana. Plus, it was stupid. Greg Gianforte had more than 24 hours to apologize for his insane attack on Jacobs, but chose to wait until after all the votes were counted before he stood up and feigned being a responsible adult. One might ask how I can judge whether Gianforte’s apology was sincere enough to consider “adult” behavior. The answer is that I don’t know whether his words were sincere or not. He might actually be sorry. But it’s the timing that matters. By waiting a full day and until all the ballots were cast, even as his party’s leader in the House did the bare minimum by recommending he apologize, the candidate played it safe. He tried to run out the clock. The irony is that plenty of Montanans voted for Gianforte anyway, even knowing what he did to Jacobs. Voters can rationalize just about anything; we’ve learned that lesson ad nauseam. But if Gianforte had apologized before voting began, he might have actually gained a measure of respect ― even from the voters who were horrified by his assault on Jacobs.
Just before he delivered his belated apology, Gianforte had the nerve to preview it by proclaiming the moral of the story - as he saw it. In a tone designed to convey magnanimity, he announced: “Sometimes hard work is borne out of hard lessons.” Tick tock, Greg. Too late. You missed the boat. You missed the lesson. Next time, find the courage to take action when it matters ― not after securing the gains you’ve sought for yourself.