Gianforte, who has tried to align himself with Trump, said the reporter was being aggressive and grabbed him by the wrist. Jacobs said he never touched Gianforte. And a Fox News reporter who witnessed the incident said Jacobs was not physically aggressive.
"The attack in Montana is only the crudest and most visible expression of the rising hostility toward the media," Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University, wrote in an email. "The chilling fact is that half of the people seeing the Guardian reporter being beaten may actually — if privately — relish the image."
Among other recent incidents, all of them reported in May:
— The editor of Alaska's largest newspaper said a state senator slapped one of his reporters when the reporter sought the lawmaker's opinion on a recently published article.
— A Washington-based reporter from CQ Roll Call said he was pinned against the wall by security guards and forced to leave the Federal Communications Commission headquarters after he tried to question an FCC commissioner after a news conference.
— A West Virginia journalist was arrested after yelling questions about the opioid epidemic at U.S. Health Secretary Tom Price.
McBride said that while the hostility toward the media really began decades ago with talk radio and the rise of Fox News, Trump has stoked it.
"Reporters are subject to abuse all the time. Most of it's verbal, but it's not hard to imagine some of that verbal abuse transitioning to physical abuse, especially when you have the president calling journalists scum, bad people, evil people and 'enemies of the people,'" McBride said.
Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the conservative watchdog Media Research Center, said that while he is not condoning an attack on a reporter, it's "goofball analysis" to lay blame for the Montana episode at Trump's feet.
"If Ann Coulter gets hit by a pie, I'm blaming everyone who has ever criticized her," he said sarcastically.
Carlos Lauria of the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists wouldn't draw parallels between the U.S. political climate and what happened in Montana. But he said, "I think this incident sends an unacceptable signal that physical assault is an appropriate response by an unwanted question by a journalist."
"Everybody needs to take a step back and realize the press has a role to play. We have a right to do our jobs," said Bernie Lunzer, a former journalist and the president of the NewsGuild, a union representing some 25,000 journalists in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. "You don't have to like it and you don't have to talk to us. ... If you want to attack journalists for doing their job, then there's something very wrong."
Turley said something more chilling than the recent clashes between politicians and reporters might be underway.
"The White House has admitted that it is actively studying new avenues to increase the liability of journalists. President Trump reportedly pressed former FBI Director Comey to arrest reporters using leaked information," he said. "I don't think the U.S. media has ever faced this type of concentrated threat that runs the gamut from physical to legal actions."
He added: "I've tended not to be alarmist, but I think there's a real danger here."