Why the Michelle Fields Flap Matters

fields&trump

Many of us agree that the Fourth Estate deserves to have its collective face smacked—but the literal manhandling of a woman is always a shameful barbarity.

Even before Breitbart News opted to join the propaganda machine of a particular presidential candidate—even while Andrew Breitbart himself yet lived and stood at the organization’s helm—I was not a regular consumer of its service. Furthermore, I have every reason to suppose that the now renowned (or, to some, notorious) Michelle Fields is not exactly an advocate of my personal values. Those who have been charitable enough to wade through my posts of the past month may be surprised to know that I zealously avoid the more glamorous image of Megan Kelly on my TV screen. Months ago, I found the line of questioning adopted by Ms. Kelly as she grilled Donald Trump to open the first Republican debate to be needlessly antagonistic and downright annoying—but I’d developed a distaste for her wiseacre style long before that.

(By the way, Karen Norling’s March 12 IC post describes almost precisely my own painful transition during the primaries.)

This is not a partisan “hit piece”, therefore, and its sentiments are not stirred by a special affection for any of the persons involved.

On top of that, a good friend whose opinion I greatly value views the Fields-Lewandowski dust-up as a silly sideshow that detracts from significant issues. He shares Judge Andrew Napolitano’s take on the fracas as suitable, perhaps, for a charge of civil—but definitely not criminal—assault.

I will write first of what I’ve seen and heard, then of why I think it matters.

Point One: It is beyond question that Ms. Fields was taken rudely by surprise. The tape-recorded exchange between herself and Washington Post reporter Ben Terris in the moments immediately following the encounter was not staged. Something had happened, and Terris was an impartial witness to it. The incident appears to have been something quite out of the ordinary, for Terris sounded almost as shocked as Fields.

Point Two: The security camera whose footage has been replayed probably hundreds of times on dozens of newscasts seems to have recorded frames at about half-second intervals. I had to watch the incident repeatedly before I could identify what struck me as distinctly odd about it: the extreme shift in Fields’ position from the time Lewandowski reached for her to the next frame. A gentle touch, or even a firm grab, would not have accounted for how she managed to cover so much space in so short a span. She was jerked, and obviously with considerable force. This was not the “the moral equivalent of being jostled in the subway” that Judge Napolitano made of it by way of analogy: this was more like a man throwing a woman out of the way as both try to be last through the subway’s closing doors.

Almost as interestingly, a Secret Service agent appears to be reaching for or gesturing at Ms. Fields just before Lewandowski barrels past him. This would seem to verify the contention that the SS was uncomfortable with Fields’ proximity to Trump. It also indicates that Lewandowski was a “man on a mission” who—for whatever reason—had decided that highly trained security agents were not showing a due sense of urgency.

Point Three: Fields was grabbed with sufficient force to leave bruises. Those who believe that her tweeted photo was Photoshopped or otherwise staged will probably insist with equal confidence that the tape-recorded response was faked and the security camera’s footage doctored. I’m not writing this post for dysfunctional paranoids, and I’m sure none such is reading it.

So Michelle Fields was wrenched away from Donald Trump’s side with remarkable force: I don’t see how a sane, honest, faintly intelligent person can doubt that. Why Lewandowski used such force is a question that will never be answered with certainty in this world, given the fact that the man himself offered several different motives within a few hours and that anything he says now is bound to be whatever plays best in the gathering media/legal circus. But motive aside… why does it matter?

Here’s why it matters to me. A gentleman doesn’t throw a woman around. She doesn’t have to be a “lady”, nor does she have to be a lady who rejects radical feminist doctrine. On a few occasions back in the inglorious Seventies, I practically had my face slapped for holding a door open as a female approached behind me or for offering to surrender my chair in a crowded room. Some of these “ladies” were truly furious. It didn’t make any difference to me. My act of homage was not directed at them personally, but at a way of life that I refused to give up.

If you’re a civilized male, you don’t do what Corey Lewandowski did with full intent and without subsequent compunction. Now, there could be mitigating factors. Things happen on the campaign trail. You’re tense, you’re tired, and potential dangers lurk everywhere… so maybe your hair-trigger pulls too quickly from time to time. Then you offer what we used to call an APOLOGY. “I’m sorry, Ms. Fields, if it was my hand that inflicted those bruise marks. The room was crowded, we were trying to make a fast exit, I wanted to make some space for Mr. Trump, people kept pressing in upon him… I honestly didn’t see anything more than an arm that was too close to his side. I hope you understand.” That much would have done the trick. And while my friend has observed that issuing an apology might be construed as an admission of wrongdoing and lead into a legal snare, my kinder, gentler Lewandowski above, notice, makes the regret conditional on the bruises’ being caused by his grasp and not someone else’s. He would not have been not confessing that he knew he had grabbed hard enough to bruise. On the contrary, he would be saying that discovering this later as a possibility has left him stunned.

And if I may shift my over-the-shoulder perspective now to Ms. Fields’ side, I think she would have been entirely satisfied with the suggested formula. Her decision to files charge was not made until Lewandowski and his boss had impugned her character and her own lickspittle employers had taken up the same tune. Had she not sought legal redress, the portcullis would have come down hard on her professional future. That future yet hangs in the balance, but at least she has given herself a chance to recover some credibility.

Am I surprised that Mr. Trump has hired a boor to be his right-hand man? Well, I will admit that I am surprised at the supposed mastermind of The Deal’s not dictating a mea culpa to his foreman and saying, “There, throw that her way… or you’re fired.” Forget about chivalry; what about common sense? What about self-preservation? What in hell were these people thinking? In Hamlet’s words, “Assume a virtue if you have it not.” Or in Bill Belichick’s, “Do your job.”

Yet the most sickening side of this sorry (but no longer silly) business hasn’t been Lewandowski’s non-response or the Trump campaign’s alternately evasive and dismissive reactions: it has been the number of public figures and personal acquaintances I once respected who’ve essentially told Michelle Fields to “man up”. Rush Limbaugh leaps to mind, only because of his name’s conjuring power. He seemed all too eager to repeat the “she’s a big girl” line that came both from Trump and from Piers Morgan, and then to embellish it with a perceived irony that feminists who for so long have wanted an equal portion of the man’s world can’t even carry little fragments of it. This is scoffing worthy of a complete lout. If young women are one day massively conscripted to get shot up on the front line of an ugly war, should we gloat over their bodies, “See? Wasn’t quite what you’d bargained for, was it?” What if the Good Samaritan had jeered over the crumpled victim of highwaymen, “Bet you’d like to have my help now, wouldn’t you—though we Samaritans weren’t good enough to wipe your shoes before!” Maybe women-reporters don’t belong in NFL locker rooms… but since the times and the customs have placed them there, does that license players to start grabbing their crotches?

I thought that was the way the other side behaved. I thought we were going to wrest our culture back from that lot after eight long years. I thought we were the ones who gave our vanquished adversary a drink and who stopped to help a complete stranger stranded at the roadside. I thought we had a culture, and a faith… or at least a little class.

Now I find that “we” are part “they”—that the battleline cuts right through the middle of our ranks, and that I have people poised at my shoulder blades who wear the same warpaint as the enemy in front of me.

I think that matters. It may matter more than anything I’ve learned in the last ten years.

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