Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields and editor-at-large Ben Shapiro have resigned from the conservative site over its handling of an alleged assault on Fields by Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
“I don’t think they took my side,” Fields told The Washington Post early Monday. “They were protecting Trump more than me.”
Last week, Fields recounted in a post for Breitbart how Lewandowski allegedly grabbed her by the arm and yanked her away as she attempted to ask Trump a question after a news conference in Florida. The encounter left finger-shaped bruises on the 28-year-old reporter’s arm.
The Post’s Ben Terris, who witnessed the incident, has reported that Lewandowski was the one who grabbed Fields.
Trump and Lewandowski vehemently denied the accusation, and on Friday Breitbart — which has been sympathetic to Trump throughout the campaign — published a long post by senior editor at large Joel Pollak that painstakingly pieced together the event in question before concluding that the altercation couldn’t have happened the way Fields described it. Ultimately, Pollak suggested that perhaps Terris mistook Lewandowski for a security official or that her injuries were an accident incurred in the press scrum.
That same day, though, the site put out a brief statement saying that it stood behind Fields, but it did not demand an apology from the Trump campaign or assert that Fields was correct in identifying Lewandowski.
Pollak also reportedly instructed Breitbart staffers not to publicly defend their colleague. In internal messages originally obtained by BuzzFeed, a staffer, Brandon Darby, wrote that Lewandowski’s behavior was “a declaration of war” and that “silence is abandoning our team member.” Pollak responded, “In war, we wait for orders that are based on a careful plan. So wait.” (Speaking to The Post, Shapiro confirmed that the chat’s transcripts were accurate.)
“Breitbart has unfortunately become Trump’s Pravda,” Shapiro said, explaining his own resignation and referring to the Soviet Communist Party publication. “No media outlet worth its salt would throw over their own reporter and bad-mouth her on their front page in order to protect the candidate.”
Fields has stood by her account of the incident, as has Terris, even after Pollak published his piece challenging them both.
“I would have liked for them to believe me, believe the eyewitness,” Fields said of Breitbart. “I think they were more concerned about preserving their access to Trump than they were about finding out the truth.”
In an email to Politico, Breitbart editor in chief Alex Marlow denied Fields’s claim that the company didn’t plan to defend Fields or demand an apology.
“By 2:10am Wednesday, we had released a statement calling any physical contact ‘unacceptable’ and demanding an apology,” he wrote. “We have clearly expressed that the Trump campaign’s claims against the Breitbart News reporter contradict the evidence and that we stand with Michelle.”
Fields filed a report with the Jupiter, Fla., police department Friday, according to the Associated Press. That same day, she did an interview with Fox News’s Megyn Kelly explaining her decision. She said that she’d contacted her editor, Matthew Boyle, and told him what happened and said that Boyle contacted Lewandowski, who allegedly admitted to grabbing Fields.
“He did not deny it,” Fields said. “He said that he didn’t realize that I was a Breitbart reporter.”
Fields said she was told she would receive an apology, but one never came. Instead, on Thursday the campaign released a statement denying her allegations.
“They have basically done a character assassination on me,” she told Kelly.
In denying Fields’s allegations, Trump and Lewandowski have suggested that Fields was lying about the assault.
“Perhaps she made the story up; I think that’s what happened,” Trump told reporters at the CNN debate Thursday.
Lewandowski was less diplomatic.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said: “The accusation, which has only been made in the media and never addressed directly with the campaign, is entirely false. As one of the 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.”
Shapiro said that Breitbart is no longer the website he signed on to work for right after founder Andrew Breitbart’s death in 2012.
“The central mission was fighting bullies,” he said. But current Chairman Stephen Bannon “has perverted the mission into one of personal ego-driven politics.”
The exits of Shapiro and Fields follow that of Breitbart spokesman Kurt Bardella, who said Friday he would no longer work for the company because of its treatment of Fields.
“When you get to a point where you can’t 100 percent support the person you’re representing, the right thing to do is to step aside,” he told CNN.
“They’ve been looking for a reason to disprove something when all the evidence from a Washington Post reporter’s firsthand account, to the bruises on Michelle’s arm, to all the photos and video clips that we’ve seen strongly suggest that Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, was the one who did this. And there’s no reason to never support your own reporter.”
“Are you saying they’re lying?” anchor Don Lemon interjected.
“Yes, I am,” Bardella responded.
Shapiro and Fields handed in their resignations late Sunday night. Shapiro said that he doesn’t expect theirs to be the last.
But more than anything else, she told The Post, Fields is worried by the Trump campaign’s continued denials of her account.
“What hurts me the most is the lying and smearing that the Trump campaign is doing,” she said. “… If they can do it to me, if they can lie about a conservative reporter, who knows what they’ll be able to do when they have power of the executive branch?”
Here’s the full text of Shapiro’s and Fields’s resignation statements.
As a close personal friend and mentee of Andrew Breitbart’s, it saddens me tremendously to announce that as of 9:00 p.m. Pacific Time, I have resigned from Breitbart News as editor-at-large. I met Andrew Breitbart when I was seventeen years old and remained his friend until his tragic death; I signed on with Breitbart News two weeks before Andrew’s death because I believed in his mission.
I am proud of what we accomplished in the years following his death, fighting back against the leftist media and debunking the left’s key narratives. I have many good friends at Breitbart News, including editor-in-chief Alex Marlow and editor-at-large John Nolte, and I admire CEO Larry Solov for his dedication to ensuring a financial future for Andrew’s widow, Susie, and his four children.
Andrew built his life and his career on one mission: fight the bullies. But Andrew’s life mission has been betrayed. Indeed, Breitbart News, under the chairmanship of Steve Bannon, has put a stake through the heart of Andrew’s legacy. In my opinion, Steve Bannon is a bully, and has sold out Andrew’s mission in order to back another bully, Donald Trump; he has shaped the company into Trump’s personal Pravda, to the extent that he abandoned and undercut his own reporter, Breitbart News’ Michelle Fields, in order to protect Trump’s bully campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who allegedly assaulted Michelle. I spoke with Michelle the night after the incident. She told me her story. That story was backed by audiotape, eyewitness testimony from The Washington Post’s Ben Terris, physical bruises, and video tape.
Both Lewandowski and Trump maligned Michelle in the most repulsive fashion. Meanwhile, Breitbart News not only stood by and did nothing outside of tepidly asking for an apology, they then attempted to abandon Michelle by silencing staff from tweeting or talking about the issue. Finally, in the ultimate indignity, they undermined Michelle completely by running a poorly-evidenced conspiracy theory as their lead story in which Michelle and Terris had somehow misidentified Lewandowski.
This is disgusting. Andrew never would have stood for it. No news outlet would stand for it.
This truly breaks my heart. But, as I am fond of saying, facts don’t care about your feelings, and the facts are undeniable: Breitbart News has become precisely the reverse of what Andrew would have wanted. Steve Bannon and those who follow his lead should be ashamed of themselves.
Today I informed the management at Breitbart News of my immediate resignation. I do not believe Breitbart News has adequately stood by me during the events of the past week and because of that I believe it is now best for us to part ways.