A popular right-wing news site has been rocked by three high-profile resignations over claims a senior aide of the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump assaulted a reporter. Breitbart's Michelle Fields quit on Monday (14 March) after her senior editors questioned whether she had been pulled to the ground by Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski at a press conference in Florida.
The scandal has erupted in the US as a series of presidential primary wins for Trump have been accompanied by violence at the divisive billionaire's campaign rallies. Fields, 28, claimed last week that she had been assaulted by Lewandowski as she tried to ask him a question. She later wrote about the alleged attack and posted pictures of bruises on her arm to social media.
Her account of events was defended by other reporters at the Trump rally, and videos of the melee have since appeared on social media. Fields has made a formal complaint to police about the incident.
But when Trump's campaign and Lewandowski denied that the assault had taken place, Breitbart appeared to close ranks behind the Republican presidential candidate, with senior editors instructing staffers not to retweet or speculate on the alleged attack, BuzzFeed reported. Joel Pollak, a senior editor-at-large for the news site then penned a lengthy article arguing that the altercation could not have happened as Fields had claimed.
Fields subsequently quit her job at the site. She has been followed by editor-at-large Ben Shapiro, who argued that Breitbart had played down the incident because it was concerned about losing access to Trump.
"I don't think they took my side. They were protecting Trump more than me," Fields told the Washington Post. A Washington Post report, who claims to have witness the alleged attack, first reported that it was Lewandowski that grabbed Fields.
"Breitbart has unfortunately become Trump's Pravda," Shapiro said (Pravda was the mouthpiece of the USSR's ruling Communist party). "No media outlet worth its salt would throw over their own reporter and badmouth her on their front page in order to protect the candidate."
Breitbart has rounded on Shapiro and Buzzfeed, the site that broke the story of the resignations, which it claims was "out to destroy" them. In a satirical article published Monday, the company refers to Shapiro as "an ambitiously conservative gadfly, who is known to live on the edge, courting and then leaving a series of companies over the past several years".
It brands BuzzFeed "left-wing" and ridicules it for running the article alongside a picture of a baby snake emerging from its shell. The Breibart article appeared to have been deleted later on Monday.
Meanwhile, Lewandowski, who is alleged to have assaulted Fields at a rally, has criticised her on Twitter.
Trump's campaign said in a statement: "The accusation, which has only been made in the media and never addressed directly with the campaign, is entirely false. As one of the 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."
BuzzFeed, which has led coverage of the scandal, reported on Friday that Breitbart spokesman Kurt Bardella had quit the company over the treatment of Fields.
The scandal is not the first time that a journalist has claimed they were assaulted at a Trump event. Last month Time photographer Chris Morris was thrown to the ground in a chokehold by a secret service agent after he stepped out of a press enclosure to photograph a Black Lives Matter protester.
Breitbart was founded in 2007 by right-wing pundit and writer Andrew Breitbart, who died in 2012 of a sudden heart attack.