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14 Mar, 2016 18:59

Resignations rock Breitbart over allegations Trump manager assaulted reporter

Resignations rock Breitbart over allegations Trump manager assaulted reporter

Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields and Editor-at-Large Ben Shapiro have both resigned from the conservative website amid allegations that Fields was manhandled by Donald Trump’s campaign manager.

Additionally, national security correspondent Jordan Schachtel and editor Jarrett Stepman resigned on Monday, according to Politico reporter Hadas Gold.

Both Fields and Shapiro told Buzzfeed that they submitted their resignations on Sunday. Since Fields accused Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski of grabbing her arm so hard that it bruised, Breitbart has gone back and forth between backing the reporter’s account of the alleged incident and seemingly backing the Trump campaign’s denial.

“Today I informed the management at Breitbart News of my immediate resignation,” Fields said in a statement sent to BuzzFeed News on Sunday. “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.”

Shapiro, meanwhile, claimed the website had “put a stake through the heart” of the legacy of its founder, Andrew Breitbart. He argued that company chairman Steve Bannon had turned the site into “Trump’s personal Pravda” and “abandoned and undercut his own reporter.”

“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,” Shapiro wrote in his resignation statement.

Following these resignations, the website briefly published a story saying Shapiro “announced Sunday evening via left-wing Buzzfeed that he is abandoning Andrew Breitbart’s lifelong best friend, widow, hand-picked management team and friends in pursuit of an elusive contributorship at the Fox News Channel.”

“Friends of Hamas could not be found for comment,” it added. The article was quickly removed from the website, with Breitbart’s counsel Joel Pollack saying it was published “as a result of a misunderstanding.”

The controversy began at a Trump campaign event on March 8, during which Fields attempted to ask the GOP frontrunner a question after a press conference. Fields claimed that someone grabbed her arm tightly and pulled her away from Trump. The Washington Post’s Ben Terris identified the perpetrator as “Corey,” indicating Lewandowski.

Soon afterwards, Politico published an audio recording and transcript of Fields and Terris describing what happened during the incident. The recording allegedly includes Lewandowski’s voice. Fields also posted a photo on Twitter showing her bruised arm. 

However, Trump’s campaign has adamantly denied the allegations. "This was, in my opinion, made up," Trump said to CNN. "Everybody said nothing happened. Perhaps she made the story up. I think that's what happened."

Initially, Breitbart sided with Fields, saying that if Lewandowski did grab her then he owes the reporter an immediate apology.

Later in the week, the website published another account disputing Fields’ and Terris’ story. The article claimed that Terris mistakenly identified a security guard as Lewandowski. Another story from Breitbart included alleged text messages from the Trump campaign manager “proving” he didn’t acknowledge the assault. A Daily Beast report previously claimed he admitted to the accusation.

Afterwards, the Beast published another story featuring video that it says “definitively” shows Lewandowski grabbing Fields.

The controversy had already led to the resignation of Breitbart spokesman Kurt Bardella, who argued the site was biased in favor of Trump.

"My own personal observation is that there is a cycle of behavior that is escalating and it's happening exclusively at Donald Trump events,” Bardella said in a statement. “It is wrong, disgusting and indicative of an ugliness that is contaminating the public and political discourse in our country."

This isn’t the first time the Trump campaign’s run-in with the media has garnered headlines. In late February, a Time Magazine photographer was tackled by the US Secret Service. The incident occurred as Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted a Trump rally. When the photojournalist tried to snap photos outside a media holding area, he was slammed to the ground by Secret Service.

Physical confrontations at Trump events have increasingly sparked concern in the US. Critics of the frontrunner argue that Trump is inciting violence with his heated rhetoric, while his supporters say protesters are looking to disrupt freedom of speech.