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4 Complex Headlines That Explain the Breitbart Mess

A-maze-ing.

Last Tuesday Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump‘s campaign manager, grabbed the arm of Michelle Fields, a reporter from Breitbart News, as she tried to ask a question after an event in Florida. Ben Terris, a reporter for the Washington Post, witnessed the incident. Lewandowski and Trump denied anything had happened, but video shows him, in fact, grabbing Fields’s arm. Fields resigned from Breitbart News Sunday following a period of intramural turmoil at the conservative publication.

And that turmoil is what’s kind of complicated to explain. Though headline writers have really tried!

• “Breitbart Suspends Reporter Who Implied Co-Worker Lied About Being Attacked By Trump Staffer” — Mediaite, March 10.

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This headline reflects two discrete stories: 1) One of Fields’s now-former coworkers, Patrick Howley, cast doubt on her statements; 2) Howley got suspended. (Howley’s Twitter antics caused him trouble at another recent job as well.)

• “Washington Post reporter rebuts Breitbart story about possible mistaken identity in Michelle Fields incident“–The Washington Post, March 11.

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This headline tries to get its arms around a weird turn of events: Breitbart published a story by senior editor at large Joel B. Pollak on March 11 that said “the Washington Post’s account of an altercation involving Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields could not possibly have happened as Ben Terris reported.” The article was updated many times throughout the day, eventually landing on the headline “Video Shows Lewandowski Reaching in Michelle Fields’s Direction.” Media reporter Erik Wemple‘s story about the article in the Washington Post quotes Terris taking a shot at explaining what the heck was going on: “This is Breitbart.”

• “Breitbart News Spokesperson Kurt Bardella Quits, Michelle Fields Files Police Report against Trump Campaign Manager” –iMediaEthics, March 12

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Two events on Friday collided in a Saturday-morning catchup post on iMediaEthics. First, Breitbart News spokesperson Kurt Bardella quit representing the publication, saying “It would be fair” for BuzzFeed reporter Rosie Gray to say he was leaving because of how Breitbart was handling the Fields situation.  Separately on Friday, Fields filed a report about the incident to police in Jupiter, Florida.

• “Breitbart piece mocking editor who resigned was written under father’s pseudonym” –Politico, March 14

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A lot to unpack here. Fields and editor-at-large Ben Shapiro resigned from Breitbart on Sunday. Breitbart then for some reason published a piece ripping both of its former colleagues; it called Shapiro an “ambitious conservative gadfly, who is known to live on the edge, courting and then leaving a series of companies over the past several years” and ended with the sentence “Alleged Fox News contributor Michelle Fields also resigned.” Breitbart deleted the post (archived here), which Pollak told Politico’s Hadas Gold he wrote as “part of an effort to make light of a significant company event.” As part of the fun, Pollak (who warned staffers to “STOP tweeting about the story” over the weekend) used the byline “William Bigelow” on the piece–a pseudonym used by Shapiro’s father, David Shapiro, when he wrote for the site. I have no idea to what that name refers, but it does echo the Carousel character Billy Bigelow, a carnival barker who returns to Earth after his death to reconnect with his child.

• This piece will surely be updated after some brave headline writer tries to encompass Monday’s developments: More staff resignations and Patrick Howley apparently being un-suspended.

 

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.