Trump and Breitbart Go to War: Claims, Denials, and Tweeted Bruises

Breitbart demanded an apology after a reporter claimed she was roughed up by Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. The campaign responded by smearing her reputation.

03.11.16 12:28 AM ET

If North Korea had declared war on The People’s Republic of China, it wouldn’t be any more surprising than the sudden eruption of hostilities between Breitbart News and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The public antagonism between the previously Trump-loving media outlet and the reality show billionaire’s campaign staff has been building steadily since late Tuesday, when Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski came up behind Breitbart political reporter Michelle Fields  as the candidate and his entourage were leaving their primary night victory party/press conference at the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla.

Fields was walking next to Trump amid a media scrum and asking a question when—by all accounts except Team Trump’s—Lewandowski grabbed her left forearm with enough force to leave bruises, and violently yanked her away from the Republican frontrunner.

It was the yank heard ‘round the world—or at least written about, tweeted and televised.

The incident was featured Thursday on ABC’s World News Tonight in a lead report on the ugly violence occurring at Trump rallies—not only protestors being hit in the face by the candidate’s supporters and with Trump's encouragement, but, less than two weeks ago, a Time magazine photographer being choked and thrown to the floor by a Secret Service agent.

“It’s been really hurtful, because obviously no one wants to be touched and violated like that,” Fields told ABC News.

“If you had a chance to talk to Donald Trump right now what would you say to him?” ABC’s Tom Llamas asked.

“I would just ask him to put himself in my shoes and imagine if I was his daughter,” the 28-year-old Fields replied.

Breitbart’s initially tepid official response to the incident in the wee hours of Wednesday morning—a vague statement couched in the conditional tense suggesting that Lewandowski should apologize “if that’s the case”—has become more robust as evidence mounted Thursday morning that Trump’s campaign manager was the perpetrator, especially in a detailed eye-witness account by Washington Post reporter Ben Terris.

Later Thursday, as Fields prepared to recount her physical-abuse-by-political operative to ABC News, the two sides exchanged fire in dueling press releases—with Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks denying overwhelming proof that the wiry, crew-cut Lewandowski had roughed up the female journalist.

Hicks claimed in a statement to ABC News: “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.”

Hicks further denied that Lewandowski had even met Terris, the eye-witness of his manhandling—an assertion contradicted by Terris’s statement to the Daily Beast Thursday that not only did they meet, but Lewandowski, who had initially agreed to a Washington Post interview, had greeted Terris with a handshake on Tuesday, saying, “Hi, Ben.”

Hicks went on: “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.”

Lewandowski himself tweeted that Fields is simply “an attention-seeker” who, in previous jobs, reportedly got into public scrapes with former congressman Allen West, who was accused of groping her when they were colleagues at Pajamas Media, and with New York cops who threw her to ground when she was covering the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.

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“We are disappointed in the campaign's response, in particular their effort to demean Michelle's previous reporting,” Breitbart CEO and President Larry Solov responded in a statement. “Michelle Fields is an intrepid reporter who has covered tough and dangerous stories. We stand behind her reporting, her techniques, and call again on Corey Lewandowski to apologize.” 

Fields, for her part, tweeted a photograph of her bruised arm, featuring dark blotches in the apparent shape of finger indentations, with the comment: “I guess these just magically appeared on me.”

Meanwhile, the conservative-leaning news and opinion site punished Breitbart reporter Patrick Howley for publicly questioning Fields’s account in a series of skeptical tweets that he deleted soon after posting. Howley received an immediate indefinite suspension for his off-message tweeting.

“I’ve been reporting for Breitbart at Trump rallies and no one ever grabbed my shoulder and everyone was very nice FWIW,” Howley tweeted in a slightly confused rendition of events; substitute “shoulder” for forearm. “I think the reporter whose shoulder allegedly got grabbed should release video of the incident.”

Actually, absent someone coming forward with cell phone video, the security camera feed from the golf club ball room could provide definitive proof of Lewandowski’s actions—though that hardly seems necessary at this point.

Late Thursday afternoon, Politico released a transcript from an audio recording of Fields and Terris as Lewandowski was apparently acting as a freelance security officer.

Politico’s transcription is enormously persuasive.

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.”

Terris: “What threat were you?”

Fields: “Nothing. I was asking about affirmative action.”

Terris: “And he probably knows you, right?”

Fields: “Yeah, I don’t understand. That looks horrible. You’re going after a Breitbart reporter, the people who are nicest to you?”

Terris: “I know, I’m going to put it in my story.”