WASHINGTON - A reporter being slammed into the ground by a Republican politician, prompting criminal charges on the eve of his first congressional election, is putting a new spotlight on mounting hostility between the media and America's governing party.
Reporters described it Thursday at polling stations in Montana's U.S. congressional vote.
"You're lucky someone doesn't pop one of you," a CNN journalist, Kyung Lah, tweeted after speaking with one Republican voter. She said another cheered at news of a journalist getting roughed up.
"I think reporters have it coming," another voter told Garrett Haake of MSNBC, according to his Twitter feed. And a Republican-leaning New Yorker chatting with The Canadian Press fumed at recent New York Times coverage; said he'd be glad to see its headquarters burn to the ground.
A reporter for the Guardian newspaper felt that frustration first-hand.
Ben Jacobs was allegedly assaulted by rookie politician Greg Gianforte, a California-born software entrepreneur running for a vacant congressional seat in Montana. Audio of the incident shows Jacobs asking Gianforte about a health bill that congressional analysts warned would deny health coverage to some 23 million people.
A colleague in the room described what happened next.
"Gianforte... grabbed him, from the upper part of the body, and slammed him to the ground," Fox News' Alicia Acuna reported on-air. "(He) kind of jumped on top of him, started punching him, saying, 'I'm sick and tired of this.'"
She said the reporter scrambled away, his glasses broken, before contacting police. That led to the candidate being charged with misdemeanour assault just hours before he was expected to win election to Congress.
There is also ample statistical evidence of anger with the media — especially among Republicans.
It's been buttressed by piles of new data this month alone.
A Harvard University survey of 2,006 voters found that 80 per cent of Republican respondents said the media produces fake news, with smaller majorities of Democrats and Independents feeling the same.
That same poll found 72 per cent of GOP respondents believe there is a conspiracy between the media and Obama administration officials to impeach President Donald Trump.
Another study for the Harvard Kennedy School found that Trump has received the worst press coverage of any recent president in his first 100 days. Media reports about Trump were 80 per cent negative, compared to 41 per cent for Barack Obama, 57 per cent for George W. Bush, and 60 per cent for Bill Clinton at the same stage in their presidencies, it concluded.
A Quinnipiac poll this month painted a more nuanced portrait. While respondents disapproved of the way the media cover Trump by a margin of 57 to 39 per cent, they also disapproved of the way Trump talks about the media (62-35). Also, they said they trusted the media more than Trump — 53 per cent to 34 per cent.
Some people blame Trump for the state of affairs, calling him incompetent or ill-suited to the presidency; accusing him of ignoring conflict-of-interest rules or obstructing justice; or saying he fosters hatred against checks on his power.
"There is total weirdness out there," South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford was quoted telling a Washington Post reporter.
"He's unearthed some demons, and people can feel like, 'If the president of the United States can say anything to anybody at any time, than I guess I can too,' and that is a very, very dangerous phenomenon."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, hostility between presidents and the fourth estate actually goes way back.
A book on the recent history of media in U.S. politics traces an arc going back more than a half-century.
"Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics" cites a variety of reasons for conservative disillusionment with the mainstream media, including the expanded social-safety net of the 1930s or the internationalists who pushed the U.S. into the Second World War.
Some members of the Republican party are demanding a course correction.
A longtime conservative strategist expressed disbelief that people were cheering on Gianforte's actions: "If this is where you are, you're not a party; you're a mob. If this is where you are, you're not a conservative; you're trash," Rick Wilson tweeted.
"Are you so past the rule of law, and lack so much confidence in your ideas that this is where you take political satisfaction?... The problem with political violence is twofold; first, it accelerates. (second), the set of acceptable targets widens."