On Tuesday night, Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski grabbed a female Breitbart reporter so hard he left bruises on her arm. But Breitbart’s official response suggests a media outlet more concerned with protecting its relationship with Trump than with protecting its own reporter.
The incident occurred late Tuesday after Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, who was walking next to Trump as he exited a press conference, pointed a tape recorder in his direction and asked about his opinion on affirmative action. That’s when Lewandowski, by most witness accounts, grabbed Field’s arm so roughly he almost threw her to the ground “like a ragdoll.”
Fields, who was left bruised by the encounter, wasn’t sure who grabbed her and initially thought it might have been a Secret Service agent. By all accounts, Washington Post reporter Ben Terris almost immediately informed her her assailant was Lewandowski—and that’s where things get interesting.
First, Fields called her boyfriend, Daily Caller reporter Jamie Weinstein, who tweeted about the incident, calling Trump and his employees “thugs.” This was the account Politico cited in its initial coverage of the incident.
But in a statement issued late Tuesday night, Breitbart News CEO and president Larry Solov seemed reluctant to take the word of Fields and other witnesses, instead framing the incident as something that maybe happened, but maybe didn’t:
“It’s obviously unacceptable that someone crossed a line and make 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,” the statement read.
The paper’s decision to name Terris as its source also had immediate consequences: Terris was scheduled to meet with Lendowski that same day for a Style section piece where he reportedly planned to ask about the attack. Hours after the Breitbart post went up, that meeting was unceremoniously canceled due to a “scheduling conflict.”
According to The Daily Beast, Solov’s passive, doubtful statement was penned by Breitbart PR consultant Kurt Bardella, who reportedly privately instructed Fields to “get your boyfriend under control,” calling the “thugs” tweet “juvenile” and “immature.”He also reportedly instructed her not to speak publicly about the incident, which she did not do, until a report on the incident was published under her name on Breitbart.com this morning. She writes:
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.
According to the Daily Beast, “As of this writing, Fields had yet to hear any supportive words—or anything, for that matter—from Breitbart executive chairman Stephen K. Bannon or editor in chief Alex Marlow.”
One potential explanation for Breitbart’s underwhelming response to a physical attack on one of its reporters? Concerns about the outlet’s relationship with the Trump campaign.
Case-in-point: Bardella explains the Breitbart official statement declined to directly name Lewandowski as Fields’ assailant—despite the mountain of evidence—because he was “awaiting a statement from the Trump campaign.”