The only thing that changed on Thursday night was that Greg Gianforte went from candidate to congressman-elect.
Not like that's a small feat, especially given the events of this past week, which included the newly minted congressman being cited for assault.
The title notwithstanding, nothing has changed in our view.
By that we mean: The seven-point margin of victory doesn't erase the Bozeman Republican's actions. The apology doesn't square the deal.
Forgiven? Maybe — that's not for us to decide.
Forgotten? It cannot be.
This incident will continue to follow Gianforte as he makes an appearance in court in Bozeman. It will be replayed again and again as he arrives in Washington, D.C., and faces a scrum of eager reporters who will see if what they saw Wednesday was the "real" Gianforte.
Nothing changes for us because the issue is one of trust, as we said Wednesday when the editorial boards of the Missoulian, the Billings Gazette and the Helena Independent Record pulled back their endorsements.
We cannot trust that a man who had such little control over his emotions at a critical point in his public life will have the level-headed, thoughtful response at other critical points when the stakes are even higher. We simply haven't seen anything that would lead us to change our view.
In fact, since the "body slamming," we would note several other disconcerting incidents that make us question whether Wednesday's events were anything more than a high-profile nuisance to Gianforte.
After the incident, Gianforte's campaign issued a statement, which was completely discounted and discredited by both eyewitnesses and the audio of the assault (keep in mind it's been classified that way by the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office).
Here's what his campaign said:
"Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian's Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ."
Since issuing that statement, Gianforte has done nothing to change his characterization, instead standing by his "alternative facts.''
Gianforte has remained mum on what he meant by issuing a statement that would seem to condone attacking physically a journalist because of perceived political beliefs. Letting such a statement linger is unconscionable as he prepares to take the oath of office, which will include a promise to defend the U.S. Constitution, which has as its crown jewels the freedom of the press, association and speech.
We can only continue to assume he meant what his campaign said, and without denouncing such untruths and dangerous anti-freedom language, his words going forward can only have a limited value to us.
Ironically, what Gianforte didn't say for more than 24 hours is just as important as what was said in the flawed news release.
After the incident, after the audio, after the eyewitness accounts, after the citation, leaders on a state and federal level called on Gianforte to apologize. For nearly 12 hours — an eternity in the non-stop news cycle — Gianforte remained silent.
Even U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and longtime friend U.S. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana called for an apology.
They were met with silence.
Finally, after victory had been declared, after several self-congratulatory remarks had been made, Gianforte apologized. The apology was sandwiched in an otherwise predictable speech in which term-limits, congressional pay and "draining the swamp" were mentioned.
It must have been easy to apologize when victory was certain.
But his silence cannot be overlooked. Not only did it seem too little, too late, it again undercut his trustworthiness going forward.
Here's what we mean: We need our elected officials to become more talkative, more communicative, more thoughtful when it counts the most. In this case, Gianforte said nothing when everything — his very election — was on the line.
What can we expect when our health care, our immigration, our guns, our taxes or our children's education is on the line?
We would point out that many people seemed to cheer Gianforte for striking back against the press with all its attendant charges of being fake, liberal or failing.
But we are certain that had this just been a citizen without a press pass, the reaction by the public would have been different. If Gianforte would have knocked a woman down, it would have likely been perceived very differently.
And yet, it wouldn't have been different. That point cannot be made strongly enough.
This wasn't shocking or newsworthy because a candidate roughed up a reporter. It was appalling because a congressional hopeful apparently pummeled another human. That human just happened to be a reporter.
Going forward, we are professionally obligated and take seriously our role in covering soon-to-be Rep. Gianforte. That's going to mean plenty of dialogue, plenty of interviews and assuredly pointed questions.
But there will be an increased level of scrutiny when he responds because he — by his actions which have no analog — has undermined the trust and credibility.