'Trump should apologise for praising congressman who body-slammed reporter'

Donald Trump has been urged to apologise for praising a Republican congressman who body-slammed a journalist, with critics claiming it risks encouraging further media attacks.

The US president called Greg Gianforte a "tough cookie" and said he thinks the incident helped the party win election in Montana.

Greg Gianforte with Donald Trump Jr

The newspaper's US editor and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have called for the president to apologise and retract his remarks, with the former calling it "an attack on the First Amendment".

The Guardian's US editor, John Mulholland, said in a statement: "The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian.

"To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it.

"In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologise for them."

And the Guardian's editor Kath Viner tweeted: "This is shocking and chilling, especially in light of the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi."

Courtney Radsch, advocacy director for the CPJ, said Mr Trump should apologise for "all his comments denigrating and vilifying journalists".

She said: "We are disturbed once again to see President Trump standing up for those who would attack the press and contributing to an environment in which journalists are feeling less safe and in which attacks against journalists appear to have become acceptable.

"It's also disappointing to see President Trump highlighting an attack on a journalist as somehow something to be commended."

Trump praises congressman for body-slamming reporter

Earlier: A Republican congressman has been praised by Donald Trump for body-slamming a Guardian reporter last year.

The US president called Greg Gianforte a “tough cookie” and said he thinks the attack on Ben Jacobs might have helped the Republican win election in Montana.

At a campaign rally in Missoula on Thursday, Mr Trump lauded the congressman who pleaded guilty to misdemeanour assault.

The attack came a day before Mr Gianforte won a 2017 special election to serve the remaining 18 months in the House term vacated by now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“Any guy that can do a body slam — he’s my kind of guy,” Mr Trump said to cheers and laughter from the Montana crowd. “He’s a great guy, tough cookie.”

President Donald Trump calls out as he leaves a campaign rally at Minuteman Aviation Hangar in Missoula (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Witnesses including members of a Fox News crew said Mr Gianforte became enraged over what he perceived as biased coverage before body-slamming Mr Jacobs, throwing him to the ground and punching him.

Mr Gianforte initially misled investigators about what had happened, falsely claiming that Mr Jacobs had grabbed him by the wrist and pulled both of them to the floor, according to documents released under a court order following requests from news agencies.

The president said he was in Rome with other world leaders when he heard about what had happened.

“And I said, oh, this is terrible. He’s going to lose the election,” Mr Trump recalled. “And then I said, well, wait a minute. I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him. And it did.”

Mr Gianforte pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour assault charge in June 2017 and said in an apology letter that he alone was responsible for the attack.

He paid a $385 fine and completed 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management counselling. He also donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Mr Trump referenced Mr Gianforte again later in the rally when discussing former vice president Joe Biden, who once said he would “beat the hell out of” Mr Trump if they were in high school.

On Mr Biden challenging him to a fight, Mr Trump said: “He’d be down, faster than Greg would take him down.”

Mr Gianforte, who attended the rally with the president, is up for re-election in November and faces former state legislator Kathleen Williams. The president’s next stop on his three-day trip out West is Arizona.

- Press Association

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