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What Happens When Journalism Gets Physical


We have one more take on this story, in part because Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs' complaint of a physical assault by an official was not the first or the only one like this in recent months. Earlier this month, a news reporter in Alaska filed a police report against a state senator who he says slapped him across the face during an interview. A reporter for Roll Call says he was pinned against the wall by security guards at the FCC when he tried to ask officials a question. Now, those are just two.

And if you haven't heard those stories, you might remember the story of Michelle Fields. She was working for the conservative online publication Breitbart News during the campaign last year when she was grabbed by Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and which left bruises. She wrote about it this week in The New York Times in a piece titled, "Journalism In The Age Of The Body Slam." And she's with us now in our studios in Washington, D.C. Michelle Fields, thanks so much for joining us.

MICHELLE FIELDS: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Can you just describe what it's like in the first kind of minutes or hours after something like this? Like, what goes through your mind?

FIELDS: Well, immediately I was shocked. But I think what was more shocking was the aftermath. And I think more hurtful was the lying about it, the smearing. And that's sort of what Ben Jacobs went through. When it first happened to him the man said no, that didn't happen. I didn't touch him. And so that's sort of the - I think the most surprising part of it. And then the reaction from online, which is basically either they say it didn't happen or they say we deserved it.

MARTIN: You know, you said in your piece for The Times that politics has become entirely situational. And you said that Republicans have put party over civility. You said that had Hillary Clinton's campaign manager grabbed your arm instead of Corey Lewandowski you would not have been abandoned by your friends and mentors at Fox or your employer, by which you meant - what?

FIELDS: Yeah, I do agree and - with what I said, which is that it's situational for Ben Jacobs as well. I think if he had been assaulted by a Democrat that would have been a completely different situation. I think he would be sort of a hero in the right-wing world. And if it was - in my case, it was a liberal - let's say if it was Hillary Clinton's campaign manager - I think I would certainly still have my show cashing in on Fox News. I think I'd be going on every single day. I think the fact that it was a Republican changes the whole thing. And I think that's really sad. As conservatives, this doesn't feel like we have principles anymore. Everything's situational.

MARTIN: We did find some examples of Democratic politicians being aggressive toward journalists. I do wonder why you think the circumstances are as you see them now. Is it you think that people on the conservative side are feeling that they are under attack and therefore anything that detracts from their message is to be ignored or dismissed or what - and I'm just wondering if you just have a theory of the case, like, why you think things are as they are.

FIELDS: I think there was a lot of polarization under President Obama. And conservatives were very unhappy with the press then. You know, they feel as though the press leans to the left. And I think to some extent that is true. There are a lot of reporters that are left-leaning. And so they feel like they didn't hold President Obama accountable. So there's this anger. And I think President Trump, during the campaign, he really capitalized on that sentiment. And I think now conservatives no longer just distrust the media. I think they despise the media.

MARTIN: I have to note that you're not working in journalism at the moment. You have helped found, are one of the founders of a consulting firm, JMW Strategies. Did this incident push you out of the field in part?

FIELDS: Yeah. I needed a break. I'm very disenchanted. It was a hard year. I mean, I grew up sort of as a conservative activist. And then I got into journalism and I just had such a terrible experience. I mean, I know a lot of people say, well, you deserved it. You were naive. You worked for Fox News and Breitbart. Of course they would throw you under the bus. They're terrible people. But I was upset and I still am. And so I just needed a little break. But I still wanted to be in politics, so consulting seemed like the - a good thing to do.

MARTIN: That's Michelle Fields. Her op ed in The New York Times is called "Journalism In The Age Of The Body Slam." Right now Michelle was kind enough to stop by our Washington, D.C., studios. Michelle, thanks so much for speaking to us.

FIELDS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.