A conservative love affair ends: Breitbart forced to get tough with Trump after campaign manager assaults female reporter

The Trump campaign is sticking by Corey Lewandowski and attempting to take Michelle Fields down, for a second time

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published March 10, 2016 10:58PM (EST)

Donald Trump is juggling two brewing controversies not directly involving him, but his campaign today. The campaign was forced to release a terse four word statement on the arrest of a North Carolina supporter caught assaulting a protestor at a Fayetteville rally last night: "We are not involved."

The Trump campaign's official response to allegations that a reporter from the right-wing website Breitbart News was forcibly prevented from doing her job by a top campaign official earlier this week took much longer to be released and contained a shocking shift in tone in its dealings with what is undoubtedly the most pro-Trump media outlet out there.

"The accusation, which has only been made in the media and never addressed directly with the campaign, is entirely false," Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks said in a statement Thursday, responding to Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields' accusation that she was shoved to the ground by Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski during Trump's election night victory speech in Florida on Tuesday. A Washington Post reporter originally identified Lewandowski as the man that who "grabbed [Field's] arm and yanked her out of the way" when she went to ask Trump a question.

"Fields stumbled. Finger-shaped bruises formed on her arm," Ben Terris recounted.

When the incident was first brought to Breitbart's attention late Tuesday evening, the outlet's longstanding ties to the Trump campaign were evidently still firmly intact, as evidenced by its weak-kneed response.

If that’s the case," Breitbart CEO Larry Solov conditioned in a statement, "Corey owes Michelle an immediate apology.”

While most Breitbart reporters, known of late for their overly effusive Trump coverage and dogged criticism of all other Republican candidates, mostly stayed mum on the situation, Breitbart was forced to suspend one reporter on Thursday after he appeared to cast doubt on Fields' account in a series of Tweets that have since been deleted.

After Terris' story was released Thursday and media outlets and conservative anti-Trump figures alike questioned Breitbart's tepid condemnation of Lewandowski's manhandling of one of its reporters, the website published Fields' lengthy account of events, issued a much firmer call for an apology from the Trump campaign, and suspended reporter Patrick Howley.

"Patrick Howley was speaking for himself and not for Breitbart News. Senior Management at Breitbart News believes his comments were inappropriate and has decided to suspended him indefinitely effective immediately. Breitbart continues to stand 100% with Michelle Fields and believes that Corey Lewandowski must accept responsibility for his actions and apologize," a Breitbart spokesperson said Thursday afternoon.

But the Trump campaign is doubling down, defending Lewandowski against Breitbart, denying the assault of Fields ever took place and suggesting that Fields made up the entire account to "become part of the news story." Here is more from campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks:

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.

This individual has never met Corey, nor had the only reporter that supposedly identified him. There are often large crowds aggressively seeking access to Mr. Trump and our staff would never do anything to harm another individual, while at the same time understanding that Mr. Trump and his personal space should never be invaded.

This person claims she does not want to be part of the news, and only report it, however if that was the case, any concerns, however unfounded they may be, should have been voiced directly first and not via twitter, especially since no other outlet or reporter witnessed or questioned anything that transpired that evening. We leave to others whether this 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.

For his part, after remaining silent for the better part of Wednesday, Lewandowski took to Twitter to cast doubt on Fields account without any actual rebuttal Thursday afternoon:

To which, Fields and her boyfriend, Daily Caller Senior Editor Jamie Weinstein, replied:

The conservative crack-up over the skirmish goes further than just Trump and Breitbart. Anti-Trump, right-wing conservatives were up in arms on Thursday, indignant that one of their own was treated with the same contempt usually reserved for a member of the much-maligned librul media:

Trump will undoubtedly be asked about the violence surrounding his campaign events at tonight's CNN debate (yes, there is another one) and he has suggested that he plans to get more "presidential" in coming days, but after suddenly ditching CPAC last week and a top campaign official assaulting a Breitbart reporter this week, it is clear that his painful break-up with the conservative movement has already begun.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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