Breitbart hit by two high-profile resignations over handling of Michelle Fields incident (updated)

Bitterness and personal recriminations are splitting the Breitbart organization.  Michelle Fields and Ben Shapiro resigned last night in the wake of their dissatisfaction over the handling of Fields’s allegation against Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.  The details of the incident remain obscure, and are under police investigation, but one fact is clear: one of the most effective conservative media outlets, the organization legacy of Andrew Breitbart, has been riven by disputes arising from the Trump candidacy.

Fields’s statement was short and to the point:

Today I informed the management at Breitbart News of my immediate resignation. I do not believe Breitbart News has adequately stood by me during the events of the past week and because of that I believe it is now best for us to part ways.

Shapiro’s was much longer and highly personal:

As a close personal friend and mentee of Andrew Breitbart’s, it saddens me tremendously to announce that as of 9:00 p.m. Pacific Time, I have resigned from Breitbart News as editor-at-large. I met Andrew Breitbart when I was seventeen years old and remained his friend until his tragic death; I signed on with Breitbart News two weeks before Andrew’s death because I believed in his mission.

I am proud of what we accomplished in the years following his death, fighting back against the leftist media and debunking the left’s key narratives. I have many good friends at Breitbart News, including editor-in-chief Alex Marlow and editor-at-large John Nolte, and I admire CEO Larry Solov for his dedication to ensuring a financial future for Andrew’s widow, Susie, and his four children.

Andrew built his life and his career on one mission: fight the bullies. But Andrew’s life mission has been betrayed. Indeed, Breitbart News, under the chairmanship of Steve Bannon, has put a stake through the heart of Andrew’s legacy. In my opinion, Steve Bannon is a bully, and has sold out Andrew’s mission in order to back another bully, Donald Trump; he has shaped the company into Trump’s personal Pravda, to the extent that he abandoned and undercut his own reporter, Breitbart News’ Michelle Fields, in order to protect Trump’s bully campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who allegedly assaulted Michelle. I spoke with Michelle the night after the incident. She told me her story. That story was backed by audiotape, eyewitness testimony from The Washington Post’s Ben Terris, physical bruises, and video tape.

Both Lewandowski and Trump maligned Michelle in the most repulsive fashion. Meanwhile, Breitbart News not only stood by and did nothing outside of tepidly asking for an apology, they then attempted to abandon Michelle by silencing staff from tweeting or talking about the issue. Finally, in the ultimate indignity, they undermined Michelle completely by running a poorly-evidenced conspiracy theory as their lead story in which Michelle and Terris had somehow misidentified Lewandowski.

This is disgusting. Andrew never would have stood for it. No news outlet would stand for it.

Nobody should.

This truly breaks my heart. But, as I am fond of saying, facts don’t care about your feelings, and the facts are undeniable: Breitbart News has become precisely the reverse of what Andrew would have wanted. Steve Bannon and those who follow his lead should be ashamed of themselves.

Buzzfeed, the left-leaning website that got the scoop on the resignations, sees further turmoil ahead:

The exodus, which began with the company’s spokesman Kurt Bardella, is unlikely to end with Fields and Shapiro. Three sources say multiple staffers are searching for a way out of the company — with several actively circulating résumés, according to two sources — and more resignations could follow in the coming days and weeks. The company is known for having editorial employees sign unusually strict contracts, at least some of which include non-compete clauses that could make it difficult to leave Breitbart for another news outlet.

Relations between Bannon and the site’s staff — which were already fraught with tension over the direction and editorial vision for the company — have deteriorated sharply over the episode with the Trump campaign. According to one company source with knowledge of the situation, some editors have discussed telling Breitbart News CEO Larry Solov they will quit unless Bannon is ousted. Solov did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday night.

Breitbart has been very notable for its pro-Trump slant, so the eruption may reflect deeper sources of discontent among staff that don’t share that view, as well as unknowable pressures on management.  The Independent Journal Review received leaked internal communications showing Breitbart senior editor-at-large seeking to keep a lid on staff publicly commenting on the matter or retweeting Fields’s tweet of bruises on her arm and facing blowback.

The entire affair deeply pains me, as Breitbart has carved out an important role that now may diminish.  If the levels of bitterness being reported are close to accurate, there are likely to be other departures.

Anger, bitterness, and recriminations are now rampant throughout the entire conservative movement in an election cycle that ought to be an easy pickup in the wake of a disastrous Democrat two-term presidency and a leading Dem candidate who proclaims herself not a natural politician to explain away her lack of appeal as she awaits the outcome of a major FBI investigation.

The only certain thing is that more surprises lie ahead.  And that Andrew Breitbart’s spirit lies uneasy.

Update.  This morning, Joel Pollak is apologizing, having replaced an article initially titled "Ben Shapiro Betrays Loyal Breitbart Readers in Pursuit of Fox News Contributorship" with:

Statement from Breitbart News Editor-at-Large and In-House Counsel Joel B. Pollak:

The article was written by me as part of an effort to make light of a significant company event, and was published as a result of a misunderstanding without going through the normal editorial channels.

I apologize to Michelle Fields, my friend Ben Shapiro, and to everyone concerned.

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