The sordid tale of misguided allegiances and bruised reporters
Reports that Donald Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, grabbed Breitbart Reporter and Fox News Contributor, Michelle Fields, and threw her
to towards the ground surfaced Tuesday evening.
Following eyewitness accounts, not to mention a bruised Fields, the overtly Trump friendly website refused to stick up for their reporter. Neither did they demand an apology from Lewandowski.
The following day, The Daily Beast pieces the story together in its entirety. I’ve only included excerpts, but I would suggest reading the piece in its entirety. It’s quite disturbing:
The reality television billionaire might also be laying the groundwork for a not-so-brave new world in which a campaign manager can assault a female journalist, while her news organization—in this case the famously Trump-friendly Breitbart News—responds with a mild rebuke in a vague statement perceived by some to be designed to protect the perpetrator.
This apparently describes, at least according to witnesses and other journalists interviewed by The Daily Beast, Breitbart’s handling of an incident Tuesday night involving Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and Breitbart political reporter Michelle Fields.
“It’s obviously unacceptable that someone crossed a line and made physical contact with our reporter,” said the Breitbart statement, issued under the name of Larry Solov, the outlet’s CEO and president. “What Michelle has told us directly is that someone ‘grabbed her arm’ and while she did not see who it was, Ben Terris of The Washington Post told her that it was Corey Lewandowski. If that’s the case, Corey owes Michelle an immediate apology.”
The statement was issued in the wee hours of Wednesday morning but remains Breitbart’s official comment on the matter, hours after sources said Lewandowski acknowledged to Breitbart’s Washington political editor, Matthew Boyle, that he did manhandle Fields.
Lewandowski’s explanation to Boyle, said these sources, was that he and Fields had never met before and that he didn’t recognize her as a Breitbart reporter, instead mistaking her for an adversarial member of the mainstream media. Trump’s press secretary, Hope Hicks, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Nor did the usually responsive Boyle.
The Breitbart statement struck sources within Breitbart and outside the company as strangely inadequate, given that it blames an unidentified “someone,” uses the conditional phrase “if that’s the case,” and leaves open the possibility that Lewandowski didn’t lay hands on Fields.
Fields—who sources say was instructed by Breitbart’s PR consultant, Kurt Bardella, not to speak to other journalists about the incident, though Bardella claims otherwise—declined to comment for this story. Thursday morning, however, Breitbart posted her brief account of the incident.
The Washington Post, whose reporter witness the entire event, published their own post. The details of the Washington Post accounting are congruent with those of The Daily Beast:
Now comes Tuesday’s run-in with Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, which might not have featured Trump as the main offender but was clearly a result of the culture he has created in his campaign. The details are a bit hazy, but Breitbart chief executive Larry Solov issued the following statement:
It’s obviously unacceptable that someone crossed a line and made physical contact with our reporter. What Michelle has told us directly is that someone “grabbed her arm” and while she did not see who it was, Ben Terris of The Washington Post told her that it was Corey Lewandowski. If that’s the case, Corey owes Michelle an immediate apology.
Terris confirmed that he saw Lewandowski grab Fields by the arm.
Tuesday’s encounter between Lewandowski and Fields was clearly less extreme, but the fact that a top Trump staffer would physically accost a journalist from Breitbart, of all places, highlights the extent of his campaign’s volatility. Breitbart has been a major cheerleader for the billionaire real estate mogul, a role The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi described well when he wrote about the popular conservative new site in January.
Long before rebellious Republicans and the rest of the news media took Trump’s candidacy seriously, Breitbart was championing Trump’s “anti-establishment” message, one that seems to square with Breitbart’s own ethos.
Trump has returned the favor, doling out so many “exclusives” to Breitbart’s relentless Washington political editor, Matthew Boyle, that some have wondered whether Trump and Breitbart are in business together. (They’re not, both sides say.) Nevertheless, Trump clearly holds a special place for Breitbart, which is named for its late founder, the activist and media entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart. When Boyle, 28, asked Trump about his rising poll numbers after a Republican debate last summer, Trump broke into a broad smile and high-fived the young journalist in front of startled onlookers in the post-debate spin room.
If Trump’s campaign can’t maintain an even temper around Breitbart, then it’s hard to imagine how he would keep a level head around anyone else as president.
Politico obtained and published a transcript of the event:
Din of people talking, clanking of glasses, snippets of conversation, reporters telling one another to ‘move up a little’, greeting each other, saying ‘good to see you’ saying ‘OK good quote then’, then clearly action picks up as cameras start clicking.
Fields: “Mr. Trump, you went after the late Scalia for affirmative action, do you — are you still against affirmative action?”
Voice (allegedly Corey Lewandowski): “Excuse me, thank you.”
A few moments later (noise of the room can be heard)…
Terris: “You OK?”
Fields: “Holy sh*t.”
Terris: “Yea he just threw you down.”
Fields: “I can’t believe he just did that that was so hard. Was that Corey?”
Terris: “Yeah, like, what threat were you?”
Fields: “That was insane. You should have felt how hard he grabbed me. That’s insane. I’ve never had anyone do that to me from a campaign.”
Terris: “Can I put that in my story?”
Fields: “Yeah, go for it — that was really awful. That’s so unprofessional.”
Terris: “He really just almost threw you down on the ground.”
Fields: “He literally went like this and was grabbing me down. I don’t even what to do [about] what he just did to me. Oh my God, that really spooked me that someone would do that.”
Terris: “What threat were you?”
Fields: “Nothing. I was asking about affirmative action.”
Terris: “And he probably knows you, right?”
Fields: “Yeah, I don’t understand. That looks horrible. You’re going after a Breitbart reporter, the people who are nicest to you?”
Terris: “I know, I’m going to put it in my story.”
Fields shared her side of the story today, which corroborates The Daily Beast’s report:
I wasn’t called upon to ask a question during the televised press conference, but afterwards Trump wandered around, stopping at every reporter to take their questions. When he approached me, I asked him about his view on an aspect of affirmative action.
Trump acknowledged the question, but before he could answer I was jolted backwards. Someone had grabbed me tightly by the arm and yanked me down. I almost fell to the ground, but was able to maintain my balance. Nonetheless, I was shaken.
The Washington Post’s Ben Terris immediately remarked that it was Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who aggressively tried to pull me to the ground. I quickly turned around and saw Lewandowski and Trump exiting the building together. No apology. No explanation for why he did this.
Even if Trump was done taking questions, Lewandowski would be out of line. Campaign managers aren’t supposed to try to forcefully throw reporters to the ground, no matter the circumstance. But what made this especially jarring is that there was no hint Trump was done taking questions. No one was pushing him to get away. He seemed to have been happily answering queries from my fellow reporters just a moment before.
Many people have been asking me on Twitter and in emails what exactly happened Tuesday night. I hope this article answers those questions and I can get back to reporting the news, not being a part of it.
There remain a few bright spots at Breitbart like Brandon Darby, managing editor of the Breitbart Texas vertical:
If the report is accurate (I haven’t discussed with Michelle), then he most definitely should get fired. No excuses. https://t.co/PJvcBh9y1d
— Brandon Darby (@brandondarby) March 10, 2016
Patrick Howley, a reporter for Breitbart, openly questioned Fields’ in tweets that were later deleted:
Howley was then suspended and according to a statement from Breitbart news, the outlet now believes Lewandowski ought to apologize for his actions.
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) March 10, 2016
Lewandowski finally crept out of the shadows to cite… Charles Johnson:
Despite Fields’ own accounting, Trump’s campaign is denying everything:
NEW: Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks responds to allegations campaign manager assaulted Breitbart reporter: pic.twitter.com/LHRMKXzy3K
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 10, 2016
Contrast Breitbart’s handling of the Trump Aide/Michelle Fields alleged assault, with the outlet’s coverage of a conservative activist who goaded union members into a violent altercation:
Also relevant? Trump’s promises to enact strict, UK-like libel laws for press he deems hostile should he be elected President.
[Featured image from Red Alert Politics]
Follow Kemberlee on Twitter @kemberleekaye