On the same day Breitbart News published a story casting doubt on its own reporter's account of being manhandled by Donald Trump's campaign manager, the Breitbart journalist in question reportedly filed charges against the Trump staffer.
Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields alleged in a March 10 Breitbart.com piece that she was “grabbed” and “yanked” down while attempting to ask a question of Trump after his March 8 press conference. Washington Post reporter Ben Terris identified the alleged assailant as “Corey Lewandowski, Trump's 41-year-old campaign manager.” Politico published audio of the incident, in which Terris identified Lewandowski as the assailant.
The Daily Beast reported that “sources said Lewandowski acknowledged to Breitbart's Washington political editor, Matthew Boyle, that he did manhandle Fields.” The Daily Beast also reported that its sources say Lewandowski explained his actions by indicating 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.” (The Trump campaign later sent The Washington Post an email exchange between Boyle and Lewandowski, in which Lewandowski denies talking to Boyle about the incident and Boyle responds that he had “nothing to do with” the Daily Beast article.)
The Trump campaign said the accusation was “entirely false,” and in a series of tweets Lewandowski also denied his involvement in the incident. Breitbart President and CEO Larry Solov released a statement saying they were “disappointed” in the response from the Trump campaign. Trump himself told reporters that “perhaps she made the story up.”
On her Twitter account, Fields posted a picture of her arm showing bruises from the incident, writing, “I guess these just magically appeared on me.” She tagged both Lewandowski and Trump in her message. Fields also gave an interview to ABC News and said “it's been really hurtful, because obviously no one wants to be touched and violated like that.” Breitbart editor-at-large Ben Shapiro called for Trump to fire Lewandowski “immediately.”
But on March 11, Breitbart published a story casting doubt on Fields' and Terris' accounts of the incident. Joel B. Pollak wrote in his story that “New video of Donald Trump's press conference Tuesday evening shows that the Washington Post's account of an altercation involving Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields could not possibly have happened as Ben Terris reported.” Pollak cited Lewandowski's “adamant denials” as evidence that “mistaken identity cannot be ruled out” and “is the likeliest explanation” for what happened.
Terris rejected the premise of Pollak's story, telling the Washington Post's Erik Wemple, “I saw what I saw.” He explained that his eyes were “trained on” Lewandowski during the entire incident because he was at the event to profile the Trump campaign team, focusing on Lewandowski. Terris also noted to Wemple that “this is Breitbart,” calling into question the outlet's apparent decision to accept mistaken identity as an explanation for the incident simply based on the claims of Trump's campaign manager.
In Wemple's story, Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, said, “As we said from the beginning, Corey Lewandowski was not involved.” Wemple noted that her “statement appears to represent an admission from the campaign that the assault did indeed occur, contrary to Trump's statements from last night.” The Trump campaign issued a follow-up press release again calling Fields' claim “entirely false” and linked to Pollak's story. Lewandowski also tweeted a link to the Pollak post.
On the same day Pollak published his Breitbart.com story casting doubt on Fields' account, the conservative Independent Journal reported that Fields had “filed a report with the police department in Jupiter, Florida, which is the jurisdiction where the alleged incident occurred.”
According to CNN, Fields confirmed that “she filed charges against Corey Lewandowski Friday with the police department in Jupiter, Florida. Police in Jupiter said they were looking into misdemeanor battery allegations. The police report, obtained by CNNMoney, identifies the complainant as Fields, but does not name a suspect.”
Breitbart has consistently promoted Trump during the presidential campaign. A report from BuzzFeed said that “editors and writers at the outlet have privately complained since at least last year that the company's top management was allowing Trump to turn Breitbart into his own fan website,” and that one editor said “he was told by an executive last year that the company had a financial arrangement with Trump.”