As part of his settlement with a reporter he was convicted of assaulting earlier this year, Montana's lone congressman Greg Gianforte donated $50,000 to the Committee To Protect Journalists.
It’s a well-respected, non-partisan group that advocates for the rights and lives of reporters across the globe.
But now that group is saying they are disappointed with the congressman after a brief meeting.
CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch wanted to speak with Gianforte about reshaping his legacy.
“From being known as the congressman who got elected the day after body-slamming a reporter to maybe becoming a press freedom defender in congress,” she says.
So last week she and her colleagues met with the congressman. It was a months-in-the-making meeting, But after seven minutes Gianforte was pulled away for a vote and never returned.
“So all we really got to cover in that seven minutes was a very little bit about CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists and what we do, and then also just very briefly laying out for him some ideas about how he might protect press freedom during his tenure in congress,” she says.
Those ideas included Gianforte joining a bipartisan congressional caucus advocating for press freedom.
“I was a bit disappointed when one of the first things his chief-of-staff said is that the congressman didn’t go to congress to join clubs,” she says.
In an emailed response, Gianforte’s spokesperson, Travis Hall, says the congressman typically only meets with Montanans and joins caucuses that address issues important to the state, like the Western and the Sportsmen’s caucuses.
But Radsch says freedom of the press is an important issue for Montanans.
“Montanans also enjoy the first amendment," she says. "They also rely on journalists and on the news media for their information and to help hold elected representatives responsible. So supporting press freedom and the safety of journalists is in every voter’s interest.”
She says she really wanted to engage with Gianforte himself, not just his staff.
“And honestly I don’t think that’s too much to ask," she says. "We just met with the president of Mexico about the murder of journalists in Mexico. We just met with the president of the Ukraine. So I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a congressman who made a big mistake, which he seems to acknowledge in his apology letter, and said that he hoped some good will come of that. And we wanted to take him on his word.”
Hall says Gianforte will consider the CPJ’s recommendations but adds that “CPJ’s Washington lobbyists understand that meetings can be disrupted by votes, and for Dr. Radsch to manufacture outrage and misrepresent the meeting in a blog post is disingenuous.”
Radsch says the Committee to Protect Journalists regularly meets with senators and congressman during non-voting hours, and is frustrated that Gianforte’s team scheduled the meeting during voting hours.