Steve Bannon, who as executive chairman of Breitbart News refused to fully back one of his reporters when she was allegedly assaulted by Donald Trump’s then-campaign manager, has now been hired by the Republican presidential nominee as his campaign chief executive officer.
Bannon is taking a leave of absence from Breitbart to work on Trump’s campaign. Under Bannon, Breitbart News shilled for Trump and was reportedly paid by the candidate to publish “fawning headlines” about his campaign. In June, reports surfaced that a major investor in the outlet was bankrolling a pro-Trump super PAC.
Bannon also sided with Trump in March when Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields alleged that Trump’s then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, forcibly grabbed her and pulled her towards the ground. Fields subsequently filed charges against Lewandowski, but despite Fields sharing pictures of her bruises as evidence, Trump and Lewandowski denied the incident occurred and claimed it was “made up.”
Rather than defend its reporter, Breitbart and its leadership immediately moved to downplay the assault and discredit Fields. Bannon, according to Politico, “made several disparaging remarks about [Fields] in conference calls with company leadership.” Breitbart’s president, Larry Solov, released a statement casting doubt on Fields’ account of the incident, saying “if” Lewandowski was the person that grabbed Fields then “Corey owes Michelle an immediate apology.” And reporter Matthew Boyle, in a text to Lewandowski immediately after the incident, wrote that it “sounds to me like it was a misunderstanding.” According to BuzzFeed, Breitbart senior editor Joel Pollak ordered staff not to publicly defend Fields, telling them in chats, “You may wish to defend your colleague, and that is commendable — but keep in mind that when you do so, you are also putting other colleagues under direct public pressure, so you are actually hurting some to help another.”
Breitbart then published a story on March 11 that claimed, “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." That same day, Fields filed charges against Lewandowski.
Several Breitbart employees resigned in protest of Bannon and Breitbart’s hedging, charging the outlet with prizing its relationship with Trump over its own employee. Former Breitbart spokesman Kurt Badella told CNN that “there seemed to be resistance from Breitbart in supporting Michelle” because “there is a desire to want to believe the Trump campaign, and believe the statement that Corey and Donald Trump have come out [with].” Reporter Ben Shapiro in his resignation statement wrote that Bannon was “a bully, and has sold out [Andrew Breitbart’s] mission in order to back another bully, Donald Trump.” Shapiro later told Fox News that Breitbart had “unfortunately become a Trump Pravda site” where “loyalty to a political campaign trump[ed] [its] loyalty to [its] own reporters.” Breitbart responded to Shapiro’s criticism by publishing an article mocking him written under a pseudonym of Shapiro’s father, which Pollak later claimed was “written in jest.”
Fields also resigned from Breitbart, saying, “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.” She also told Fox she believed Breitbart believed her alleged assault “was a good thing because we would get more access to Donald Trump.”
Lewandowski was eventually charged by Florida police for assault, although the charges were later dropped. Police also released video showing the incident did indeed occur.