Only Real Congressmen Assault Reporters

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
— Mark Twain, circa 1890

Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this f**king balcony.
— Congressman Michael Grimm, R-NY, January 28, 2014

Let’s grant that Mark Twain was using hyperbole while committing a verbal insult against a widely despised class of American citizens. But that’s not a crime.  At least not yet.

Republican Grimm, by contrast, was using hyperbole (presumably) while committing a verbal assault against a lone, non-threatening American citizen. That is a crime. It’s a threat of harm that constitutes simple assault, usually a misdemeanor.  Grimm was not arrested, of course, for his illegal, thuggish behavior. As a Congressman, he may even be immune from accountability for such criminal assault as long as he commits it in Congress.

To be more than fair to Rep. Grimm, 44, he made his threat in circumstances when he himself felt threatened by a question from the younger, smaller man he threatened. As a former Marine and a former FBI agent, he also managed to personify the negative Hollywood stereotype of both.

This was immediately after the State of the Union on January 28. Rep. Grimm had come up to the visitors gallery above the House floor to make a quick reaction comment to the President’s speech to Capitol Hill reporter Michael Scotto, of NY1, a Warner cable news channel.  The reaction comment over, reporter Scotto tried to get more, saying, “And just finally before we let you go, because we have you here, we haven’t had a chance to kind of talk about some of the…”

Rep. Grimm interrupted: “I’m not speaking to you off-topic, this is only about the president.” Then he turned and walked away, out of the picture, as the reporter asked, “But what about the –?”

So the reporter had to close out the segment

With Rep. Grimm gone, Scotto stepped into the empty frame and said: “All right. So Congressman Michael Grimm does not want to talk about some of the allegations concerning his campaign finances, we wanted to get him on camera on that, but he, as you saw, he refused to talk about that. Back to you.”

Then, with the intensity of the shark from Jaws, Rep. Grimm sailed back into view, confronting the startled Scotto and backing the reporter across the screen and out of sight as the camera rolled. Scotto had explained to the Congressman that the spot would be shot in one take, to “air it as live.”

Ignoring the live camera, which showed only his back, Rep. Grimm ripped into Scotto with quiet intensity, first threatening to throw him off the balcony to the House floor. The exchange was brief, less than a minute and only partly comprehensible. It ended with something inaudible from Scotto that elicited  another threat by the Congressman: “No, no, you’re not man enough, you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.”

With that, Rep. Grimm left for good. Later that night he issued a self-exculpatory statement:

I was extremely annoyed because I was doing NY1 a favor by rushing to do their interview first in lieu of several other requests. The reporter knew that I was in a hurry and was only there to comment on the State of the Union, but insisted on taking a disrespectful and cheap shot at the end of the interview, because I did not have time to speak off-topic. I verbally took the reporter to task and told him off, because I expect a certain level of professionalism and respect, especially when I go out of my way to do that reporter a favor. I doubt that I am the first member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am sure I won’t be the last.

Not surprisingly, since this was an assault on a reporter, just about everyone in the media had something to say about it, online and in print.

When the media pile on for one of their own, they pile on hard

And a lot of what they said gave a lot more coverage to various allegations against Grimm than they ever would have gotten if he’d just given a typical non-answer answer to Michael Scotto’s pro forma question, instead of losing it.

“This month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Diana K. Durand, a fund-raiser for Mr. Grimm, on charges that she illegally funneled more than $10,000 into his campaign. Mr. Grimm has also faced an ongoing federal investigation into accusations that he or his campaign illegally solicited money from foreign donors,” reported The New York Times.

“In a separate matter, the FBI is also probing whether Ofer Biton, an associate of a charismatic Orthodox rabbi, collected questionable money for Grimm’s campaign from the rabbi’s congregation. Many of the rabbi’s followers are Israeli citizens. Foreign donations are barred from US campaigns,” added the Christian Science Monitor.

“Rep. Michael Grimm’s bizarre and scary rant against our Michael Scotto last night is not an isolated incident; it’s part of a pattern in which the congressman has tried to avoid questions from NY1 about an ongoing probe into his campaign finances – and then become enraged when we’ve dared to ask him about a legitimate story,” NY1 Political director Bob Hardt wrote and demanded an apology.

“I also asked Grimm about a 1999 night-club incident in which Grimm, who was an agent at the time, was accused by an off-duty N.Y.P.D. officer of threatening a fellow-patron (“I’ll f**kin’ make him disappear where nobody will find him,” Grimm is alleged to have said), waving a gun at the officer (“I’m gonna f**kin’ kill him”), and using racially charged language in the fracas’s aftermath (“All the white people get out of here”),” recalled The New Yorker, in a piece titled “Is Michael Grimm Man Enough to Serve?”

“His resume sounded to good to be true. Grimm is a U.S. Marine who served in the first Gulf War, turned FBI agent (colleagues nicknamed him “Mikey Suits” for his sharp outfits) who went undercover to bring down a Mafia ring, turned small businessman. He is Catholic, but raised a boatload of money from people associated with a mystical rabbi who advised LeBron James and spent most of his time in Israel,” chimed in the Daily Beast, while noting that Grimm has denied all wrongdoing.

And so it went all day for Rep. Grimm, who plans to seek his third term in Congress this year. Reportedly, Democrats believe his is most likely one of the Republican House seats they can win.

Less than 24 hours after his on-camera shark attack, Rep. Grimm started paddling in the other direction.  He called Michael Scotto to apologize (Scotto accepted the apology) and he told other reporters that he hadn’t been drinking (actually he said, “That’s silly.”).

The organization CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has listed Rep. Grimm among its 2013 of thirteen Most Corrupt members of Congress.  Rep. Grimm made the bi-partisan list last year, too, and in 2011, his first year in Congress.

Before the apology, fellow Republican, Rep. Peter King of New York (who is not on the 2013 Most Corrupt list), tried to minimize the incident, telling reporters: “I’ve fought with reporters myself; it’s a contact sport. If you can’t take it, get out…. It’s different in New York… I think it’s [sic] hurt him if he backs down.”

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. A collection of his essays, EXCEPTIONAL: American Exceptionalism Takes Its Toll (2019) is available from Yorkland Publishing of Toronto or Amazon. This article was first published in Reader Supported News. Read other articles by William.