On Tuesday night, Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski forcibly yanked Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields nearly to the ground after she asked the candidate a question, according to witnesses.
Ben Terris, the Washington Post reporter who identified Corey Lewandowski as the one who assaulted Fields, published an eyewitness account.
I watched as a man with short-cropped hair and a suit grabbed her arm and yanked her out of the way. He was Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s 41-year-old campaign manager.
Fields stumbled. Finger-shaped bruises formed on her arm.
“I’m just a little spooked,” she said, a tear streaming down her face. “No one has grabbed me like that before.”
The Trump campaign issued a statement denying that the incident occurred — and tacitly blaming Fields for invading Trump’s “personal space.” This contradicts earlier statements from inside the Trump campaign.
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
The statement from the Trump campaign also implies that Fields has a history of “exaggerating” and thus isn’t to be believed about the assault. Lewandowski since tweeted a link to a 2011 article in which Fields say she was attacked at an Occupy protest, accusing her of “attention seeking.”
Daily Caller reporter assaulted by NYPD during ‘Occupy’ protests — professional reporting or attention seeking? https://t.co/FqOQQMvNcy
— Corey Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) March 10, 2016
Fields tweeted a picture of her bruises.
— Michelle Fields (@MichelleFields) March 10, 2016
Breitbart, a notoriously pro-Trump outlet, offered only weak condemnation of the incident — if it can be called condemnation at all. In response to the manhandling of their reporter, Breitbart News CEO and president Larry Solov issued this 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.”
According to reporting by the Daily Beast, Fields was yanked towards the ground “like a ragdoll.” That night, her boyfriend Daily Caller Senior Editor Jamie Weinstein tweeted that Lewandowski tried to pull her “to the ground.”
Trump always surrounds himself w thugs. Tonight thug Corey Lewandowski tried to pull my gf @MichelleFields to ground when she asked tough q
— Jamie Weinstein (@Jamie_Weinstein) March 9, 2016
Fields, a female reporter, was violently pulled around by a major politician’s campaign manager. Yet her own outlet’s official statement significantly tones down the incident, saying that her arm was “grabbed” by “someone” — someone whom a different outlet identified as Corey Lewandowski. It’s a claim Breitbart does not even appear to wholly confirm in this statement, given the use of “if that’s the case.” In every way they can, Breitbart distances themselves from directly criticizing the Trump campaign — who are now accusing Breitbart’s reporter of lying.
After a wave of critical headlines on the incident, Michelle Fields herself responded to the story on Breitbart, again saying that Washington Post reporter Ben Terris was the one who identified her assaulter as Lewandowski.
When [Trump] 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.
Shortly after Fields finally made her public response, one of her colleagues, Breitbart reporter Patrick Howley, took to Twitter to publicly doubt her story. In a series of now-deleted tweets, he calls the report of Ben Terris a “claim” and says “the reporter whose shoulder allegedly got grabbed should release a video of the incident.” According to Howley’s tweets, everyone has always been very nice to him at Trump rallies. Howley has since been suspended indefinitely by Breitbart.
Trump events are notoriously dangerous places for those who challenge the presidential candidate.
Recently, a photographer for TIME was put in a chokehold and thrown to the ground at a Donald Trump rally after stepping outside the press corral. Trump supporters kicked, punched, and choked Black Lives Matter activist Mercutio Southall at a rally in November — after which Donald Trump said that maybe his supporters did the right thing. These types of violent outbreaks at Trump events have become common; today, video emerged of a black man getting punched in the face by a supporter and then wrestled to the ground by the police at a Trump rally. The man who attacked him was allowed to stay.
Breitbart, however, has been one of Trump’s staunchest defenders. Lewandowski’s excuse hours after the incident to Mathew Boyle, Breitbart’s Washington political editor, was that he and Fields — who normally covers GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz — “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,” according to the Daily Beast.
Breitbart’s weak response to the assault of their own reporter has incensed figures in the media — including Breitbart Editor-At-Large, Ben Shapiro.
It's approaching noon Eastern. Anybody not calling for Lewandowski's firing over his battery on @MichelleFields…your agenda is obvious.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) March 10, 2016
While other digital outlets have been covering the incident since news broke on Wednesday morning, Breitbart remained largely mum. The site instead has published slew of pro-Trump coverage, including a piece in which a former Trump butler characterizes the candidate as “an entirely nice guy” and one in which a senior policy adviser calls Trump’s campaign “joyful.”
Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has again tweeted that Fields is an "attention seeker," along with a link from Charles Johnson's site. Charles Johnson is a best known as the political troll who was banned from Twitter after asking for help to "take out" civil rights activist DeRay McKesson. Johnson has a documented history of making false, incendiary, and misogynistic statements. From Politico:
"He wrongly accused two New York Times reporters of revealing the address of the police officer in the Ferguson shooting. He wrongly accused another Times reporter of posing for Playgirl. He wrongly claimed that Sen. Cory Booker did not live in Newark when he served as that city’s mayor. On one occasion, he was temporarily suspended from Twitter after posting photos of someone he claimed had been exposed to Ebola. His most high-profile moment came when he rightly cast doubt on the Rolling Stone article about the University of Virginia rape accusations. Then he threatened to expose the student who made the accusations, attacked her on social media and published a photo of a woman he thought was her -- but wasn't. Johnson has also suggested that President Obama is gay."
Lewandowski's tweet, however, suggests that Johnson's word is more trustworthy than Fields'. In the linked-to piece itself, Fields "repeatedly and emphatically refused to comment on the record," to Johnson.