Breitbart and the Trump campaign are locked in a war of words after Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, reportedly attacked Breitbart’s Michelle Fields Tuesday night rather than let her ask Trump a question regarding affirmative action. Breitbart is calling for an apology, but the Trump campaign has not only flatly denied Fields’s allegations, it has counterattacked Fields personally, spewing forth a series of rather obvious lies and distortions.
First, the background: Tuesday night — shortly after Trump’s triumphant press conference following his primary victories in Michigan and Mississippi — Fields claimed Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski reportedly grabbed her and yanked her away from the candidate to prevent her from asking a question. Here’s Fields:
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.
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.
Writing in the Washington Post, Terris corroborated Fields’s account:
As security parted the masses to give him passage out of the chandelier-lit ballroom, Michelle Fields, a young reporter for Trump-friendly Breitbart News, pressed forward to ask the GOP front-runner a question. 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.”
Fields has since tweeted pictures of the bruises:
— Michelle Fields (@MichelleFields) March 10, 2016
Moreover, shortly after the incident, the Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove reported that Lewandowski “acknowledged” the incident to Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle, saying that he didn’t recognize Fields and instead thought she was an “adversarial member of the mainstream media.” (A bizarre defense – attacking a member of the mainstream media would be equally unacceptable).
But then the Trump campaign struck back, issuing this statement:
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, however, not only features at least one clear falsehood, it also contains a rather malicious personal attack against Fields.
The falsehood is clear. The statement says that “no other outlet or reporter witnessed or questioned anything that transpired that evening.” Yet Terris not only witnessed the attack, he wrote about it and talked about it with other journalists. In fact, it is so incandescently obvious that at least one other reporter says that he saw the incident, that it seems far more likely that the Trump campaign is flat-out lying, rather than merely mistaken.
Not content with mere deception, the Trump campaign attacked Fields’s previous reporting, including her claim that she’d been roughed up by the NYPD at an Occupy rally. Lewandowski doubled down in a tweet of his own, implying that Fields was a fabulist:
Daily Caller reporter assaulted by NYPD during ‘Occupy’ protests — professional reporting or attention seeking? https://t.co/FqOQQMvNcy
— Corey R. Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) March 10, 2016
In reality, however, Fields’s account was backed up by both photographic and video evidence. Here tweeted out by her boyfriend, the Daily Caller’s Jamie Weinstein:
Michelle getting pushed down by police during the Occupy Wall Street protests. Trump campaign serial liars pic.twitter.com/oNptBzNkC9
— Jamie Weinstein (@Jamie_Weinstein) March 10, 2016
But then Lewandowski really got vile, tweeting this from his official campaign account:
Michelle Fields is an attention seeker who once claimed Allen West groped her but later went silent. https://t.co/J86Ej42eYx
— Corey R. Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) March 10, 2016
But if you follow the link, it’s to a gotnews.com story by Charles C. Johnson that contains this statement:
Fields declined to be interviewed on record but three different sources at PJ Media confirmed this story. (Update: Fields repeatedly and emphatically refused comment on the record and asked that I change her earlier confirmation which I have now done.)
For those keeping score, the Trump campaign has responded to a credible, corroborated story that its campaign manager attacked a female reporter by (a) lying, (b) implying she made up a story that is supported by photographic and video evidence, and (c) accusing her of attention-seeking when she emphatically refused on the record comment about an alleged lurid and disturbing incident of sexual harassment.
Oh, and of course, no story about a Trump scandal would be complete without Ann Coulter beclowning herself. Here’s Coulter falsely claiming that Fields herself denies the incident:
Apparently, the woman herself denies it. (Because it didn't happen.) https://t.co/E4mYElbF90
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) March 10, 2016
And what of Breitbart? It’s standing behind Fields’s reporting:
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) March 10, 2016
Breitbart also indefinitely suspended one of its reporters, Patrick Howley, after he put out a series of tweets publicly doubting Fields, and Breitbart editor-at-large Ben Shapiro is standing firmly behind Fields:
.@MichelleFields is a terrific and intrepid reporter. Trump should fire Lewandowski immediately. No excuses.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) March 10, 2016
The Trump campaign’s response has been beyond shameful. When faced with a corroborated, credible report of violence, its response should be to launch an immediate internal investigation and treat the alleged victim with respect. Instead, it responded with falsehoods and character assassination. But from the Trump organization would we expect anything less?
UPDATE: Politico now has an audiotape of the alleged incident, and they’ve released a transcript. The transcript corroborates Fields’s account:
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.”