“I never sought to be part of the story,” is how Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields begins her first-hand account of the incident that was destined to become a news story, thanks, in part, to the Trump campaign’s history of aggression toward reporters.
The incident in question happened Tuesday at a Donald Trump event in which, and we’ll use Politico‘s wording here, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski “forcibly grabbed” Fields, “moving her out of the way and nearly bringing her down to the ground.”
And here is how Fields herself described the incident:
I wasn’t called upon to ask a question during the televised press conference, but afterwards Trump wandered around, stopping at every reporter to take their questions. When he 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.
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.
The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove chronicled Breitbart’s own response to the incident and included a statement provided by CEO and president Larry Solov. “It’s obviously unacceptable that someone crossed a line and made physical contact with our reporter,” read the statement. “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.”
Grove’s take, aided by a number of largely anonymous sources he relied on for his reporting, was that it was a “mild rebuke in a vague statement perceived by some to be designed to protect the perpetrator.”
The reason for the anonymous sourcing? One of Grove’s sources asked to be anonymous “so as not to antagonize Trump operatives and hamper the reporting process.”
We read “hamper the reporting process” above as being denied access, but I guess now you never know when you “antagonize Trump operatives,” or are mistakenly perceived as someone who would. Here is how Grove’s sources describe Lewandowski’s response:
Lewandowski’s explanation to [Breitbart Washington political editor Matthew] Boyle, said these sources, was that he and Fields 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. Trump’s press secretary, Hope Hicks, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Nor did the usually responsive Boyle.
The implications of that are stunning, and seem to suggest that Lewandowski believes his actions would have been fine had he gotten the context right. But yes, let’s continue to play ball with a campaign outfit that seems to think only non-adversarial press deserve not to be manhandled.
There were journos from many media outlets, including one of Breitbart’s own, who did offer stronger criticism than Breitbart’s milquetoast statement.