On Tuesday night, after Donald Trump’s press conference–cum-infomercial at his Jupiter, Florida, golf club, a Breitbart reporter named Michelle Fields approached him with a question about affirmative action. “Trump acknowledged the question, but before he could answer I was jolted backwards,” she wrote on Thursday. “Someone had grabbed me tightly by the arm and yanked me down. I almost fell to the ground, but was able to maintain my balance. Nonetheless, I was shaken.”
The person who grabbed her appears to have been Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager. There were witnesses. “I watched as a man with short-cropped hair and a suit grabbed her arm and yanked her out of the way,” Ben Terris wrote in the Washington Post. “He was Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s 41-year-old campaign manager. Fields stumbled. Finger-shaped bruises formed on her arm.” You can see those bruises for yourself; Fields tweeted a picture of them. Politico obtained an audio recording of the incident; it supports Fields’ version of events.
Fields certainly had no reason to lie; Breitbart is so Trump-friendly its staffers reportedly believe that Trump has paid off their bosses. (Today, Breitbart ran a piece suggesting that Lewandowski was a victim of mistaken identity and that Fields was grabbed by another security official. Fields, meanwhile, has reportedly filed a police complaint against Lewandowski.)
Nevertheless, Trump’s camp not only denies that any incident occurred—it has tried to destroy Fields’ reputation, painting her as an attention-seeking drama queen. First, campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks issued a statement insisting that nothing happened, adding, “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.” Hicks mentioned that Fields reported being beaten by police while covering Occupy Wall Street in 2011. It is well-documented that many reporters covering Occupy Wall Street were roughed up by the NYPD. There is photographic evidence that Fields was one of them; Thursday night, her boyfriend, Daily Caller editor Jamie Weinstein, tweeted a photograph of her being pushed down by police at the protest.
Thursday afternoon, Lewandowski tweeted, “Michelle Fields is an attention seeker who once claimed Allen West groped her but later went silent.” He included a link to an article by the right-wing writer Charles Johnson about two women who’ve accused West of sexual harassment; it makes it clear that Fields, who “repeatedly and emphatically refused comment on the record,” tried to stay out of the story. The sum total of the case against Fields, then, is that in several years of journalism, she has allegedly encountered both one lecherous man in power and one instance of police behaving badly. I know of no female journalist who covers breaking news for whom the same could not be said.
Thursday night, Trump himself said Fields probably “made the story up.” That, in turn, created headlines that might leave the casual reader with the impression that Fields’ credibility is in question. Johnson, perhaps angry at Fields’ refusal to cooperate with him on his Allen West story, published an innuendo-filled attack on her suggesting, in starkly sexist terms, that she is lazy and untrustworthy. I’m not going to link to it, but it includes this line: “She wears high heels when she goes out reporting. And has fallen down before when she was covering Occupy Wall Street. Maybe she falls down a lot? Don’t know. Maybe she does it to get attention.” Lewandowksi returned to Twitter to call Fields “totally delusional.”
What’s happening to Fields is part of a pattern. Conservative women step out of line, and the Trump organization mobilizes to try and destroy them, painting them as irrational, slutty, and hysterical. Consider what happened after Trump’s contretemps with Megyn Kelly last summer.* Furious that she’d asked him about his frequently misogynist language during a Fox News debate, he suggested that she must have been menstruating. Online, his fans went ballistic; Kelly recently said she still can’t go on Twitter. In January, after Trump refused to participate in a Fox News debate that Kelly was co-moderating, he and his supporters launched what the Washington Post described as “a campaign to demean, diminish and critique Kelly.” At one point, Trump retweeted someone who wrote, beneath a sexy photograph of Kelly from a GQ photoshoot, “And this is the bimbo that’s asking presidential questions?”
Kelly had the stature and resources to defend herself and has emerged with her career and reputation intact. The same can’t be said for Cheri Jacobus, a Republican strategist who criticized Trump’s debating skills on CNN in January. As the New York Times reported, Trump attacked her on Twitter, and Lewandowski described her as a disappointed job-seeker on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. (In fact, the Trump campaign had made overtures to Jacobus, not vice versa.) “Mr. Trump’s Twitter followers, who number about six million, piled on,” the Times said. “For days, they replied to his posts with demeaning, often sexually charged insults aimed at Ms. Jacobus, including several with altered, vulgar photographs of her face.” One Trumpian meme depicts her as the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction.
There is no precedent in modern politics for such sexist bullying and coordinated personal destruction of journalists and commentators. Taken together, they send a message to women that taking on Trump is both personally and professionally dangerous. Indeed, one of the chilling things about what is happening to Fields is that she should be, if anything, less vulnerable to this sort of smear job than most other reporters, both because of her ties to Breitbart and because of the clear evidence behind her allegations. If Fields is not safe, no woman is.
If that’s not scary enough, imagine what a President Trump could do with access to National Security Agency spying. Trump has magnanimously said that, should he win the White House, he will not have journalists murdered, even though they are “lying disgusting people.” He’s more than happy, however, to try to destroy them in other ways. If they’re women, he’ll do his best to sexually humiliate them. He seems to enjoy it.
Correction, March 11, 2016: This post originally misspelled Megyn Kelly's first name.