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Breitbart suspends reporter who expressed skepticism about colleague’s assault

Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, center, looks on as Donald Trump speaks at a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015, in Dubuque, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Breitbart News has suspended a reporter who used his Twitter account to throw cold water on the account of a colleague who claimed that Corey Lewandowski, campaign manager for Donald Trump, had assaulted her at Tuesday night’s press conference in Jupiter, Fla. In a first-person piece, Breitbart’s Michelle Fields said that just after she asked Trump a question about affirmative action that night, “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.”

Post reporter Ben Terris has confirmed that he saw Lewandowski grab Fields.

Such on-the-record sources, however, weren’t good enough for Patrick Howley of Breitbart. He issued and then deleted these tweets (captured by Ace of Spades HQ’s Jeff B and available at Mediaite):

Breitbart’s leaders weren’t having any of that attitude: “Patrick Howley was speaking for himself and not for Breitbart News,” reads a statement released by the news site. “Senior Management at Breitbart News believes his comments were inappropriate and has decided to suspended him indefinitely effective immediately. Breitbart continues to stand 100% with Michelle Fields and believes that Corey Lewandowski must accept responsibility for his actions and apologize.” Breitbart also pressed Lewandowski for an apology: “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,” reads the statement from Breitbart News chief executive and President Larry Solov.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks has issued a statement in which the campaign denies the allegation:

The accusation, which has only been made in the media and never addressed directly with the campaign, is entirely false. As one of dozens of individuals present as Mr. Trump exited the press conference I did not witness any encounter. In addition to our staff, which had no knowledge of said situation, not a single camera or reporter of more than 100 in attendance captured the alleged incident. This individual has never met Corey, nor had the only reporter that supposedly identified him.
There are often large crowds aggressively seeking access to Mr. Trump and our staff would never do anything to harm another individual, while at the same time understanding that Mr. Trump and his personal space should never be invaded.
This person claims she does not want to be part of the news, and only report it, however if that was the case, any concerns, however unfounded they may be, should have been voiced directly first and not via Twitter, especially since no other outlet or reporter witnessed or questioned anything that transpired that evening. We leave to others whether this is part of a larger pattern of exaggerating incidents, but on multiple occasions she has become part of the news story as opposed to reporting it. Recall she also claimed to have been beaten by a New York City Police officer with a baton.

Extensive annotation is required here:

  • The statement covers turf well-trodden by the Trump campaign. For nine months or so, the Trump campaign has been bullying the media, trashing the media and threatening to make it easier to sue the media. So it’s hardly surprising that the campaign would insist upon its own version of events over the on-the-record testimony of two members of the media. The statement indicates that the reporter who identified Lewandowski had never met him; that’s a reference to Terris, who says he met Lewandowski just seconds after the disputed event.
  • “[N]ot a single camera or reporter of more than 100 in attendance captured the alleged incident.” This must be the Internet era, in which something scandalous didn’t happen unless it’s captured on videotape.
  • That the Trump campaign would attempt to discredit Fields by criticizing the means by which the incident first came out is 100 percent consistent with everything we know about the Trump campaign. As to the Trump campaign’s attempt to discredit Fields, there’s a more detailed account that just hit the Post website under Terris’s byline. “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,” writes Terris. “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.” So if the Trump campaign wants to kill this story, it’ll now have to sully Terris’s own credibility as well as Fields’s. Happy hunting.

Fields has tweeted this:

And Ben Shapiro, editor at large for Breitbart, has tweeted his disgust over the incident:

Surely this incident will continue spiraling as the Republican candidates prepare for a CNN debate Thursday evening. Yet one dynamic bears noting here. Breitbart’s “senior management” condemns as “inappropriate” Howley’s comments about Fields. That’s a fair characterization. The Breitbartians, however, simply cannot characterize them as “inappropriate and shocking,” on account of the history: Howley is the former Daily Caller reporter who distinguished himself with some choice misogynistic commentary. Much of it isn’t even repeatable on the website of a family newspaper without editing, but: He once asked on Twitter, “Not to make an obvious point, but who the Hell would want to [expletive] [female reporter]?” He once lamented that “Pretty soon, looking at a woman’s chest will legally be a ‘hate’ crime instead of a love crime.” Is it any wonder that he played down a female colleague’s report that she’d been assaulted?