I don’t know Michelle Fields beyond what I’ve seen and heard about her. I’m thankful for that, because it allows me to dispassionately look at the current situation involving her, a Trump campaign staffer and more importantly, the overall impact this is having on journalism, gender issues and social media.
I also want to say that I do not support Donald Trump or ANY Presidential candidate, as I feel choosing a candidate to vote for would be subconsciously placing one in a position ahead of others; so by not picking one and not voting I can try to stay as impartial as possible.
So..to be clear..nothing here is pro-Trump, anti-Trump, pro-Fields, anti-Fields or any other social media encamped position. This is a look from someone whose only skin in the game is that I’m a journalist and I think the profession is being harmed by the current situation.
Now, the incident itself. As I watch video of the encounter, Fields was doing at first what I would do in a heartbeat. If a candidate, regardless of who it is, came within a few feet of me, I’d have my recorder out and running. I’d ask the candidate a question they likely don’t want to answer. That’s what a journalist is supposed to be doing; catching the candidates when they’re not prepped, ready and on-script and getting to the truth behind their carefully crafted veneer.
(The video above the only one I could find on YouTube that was without major partisan spin on it. Sorry it’s not just the raw video, and props to Brian Carey for posting it.)
This is where the problems begin for this situation. Michelle Fields made a MAJOR mistake. She touched the candidate after being warned by the Secret Service not to do it.
Touching him once? I can excuse that. I might even do it. You want to get the man’s attention and it’s instinct for someone to reach out and tap someone on the arm or shoulder to get their attention in a crowd. Being a credentialed reporter, the Secret Service likely knew there was no ill intent, hence the warning to not touch Trump a second time. When she did that, she moved out the realm of being a responsible journalist and into the area of being a security risk to the candidate. Now, I’m not saying she was an actual threat in the sense she would cause harm; but the Secret Service gave a warning to her not to touch Trump. She violated that. In the pure sense of violation of a Secret Service directive, that made her a threat to the candidate.
Now, if a Secret Service agent had shoved her out the way, it’s possible it would be news but not on the level we’re seeing the story right now. Their job is to protect candidates, they warned her, she ignored it, she got moved. Most sensible Americans would say “hey, that’s on her.”
Instead, Fields appears to have been shoved by Corey Lewandowski, the campaign manager for Donald Trump. Should he have done it, if indeed he’s the one who did it? No, he shouldn’t have done it. That’s why you have the Secret Service there. That is their responsibility. I can completely understand the instinct to protect your candidate and to jump in if you feel the Secret Service isn’t handling the situation the way you think they should do it. But come on, it’s the SECRET SERVICE. They know a heck of a lot more about protecting a candidate than Corey Lewandowski.
Almost immediately, Michelle Fields made an issue of it on social media, through outlets available to her, through friends in the media and finally by filing charges against Lewandowski. All of those things were her right, and I wouldn’t deny her that. However, I think she acted very irresponsibly as a journalist and in her actions harmed the profession.
Allow me to explain further.
Journalism is a contact sport.
I know it doesn’t look like it when you see, to quote Don Henley, “the bubble headed bleach blonde” or the snappily dressed reporter that is smiling wider than your average GQ model in a suit that costs more than many of us make in a month. However, when you’re in the trenches, pushing and shoving is common. Over the years, I’ve had elbows to the face, been tripped, had equipment knocked over and been shoved out of the way. Most of the time the physical altercations were by accident but there are a handful of reporters I came across who would do anything to get the story first and that included a well time hip check.
Now, I grew up in Pennsylvania, so I gave as good as I got when someone tried that on me. I never started it. I finished a few.
The point being: physical contact is just part of the job.
When Michelle Fields placed herself between Trump and his handlers and the Secret Service, she placed herself in a situation where any journalist would be shoved out of the way. She was intruding, which a good journalist will do, but then she screamed about being grabbed and pulled away, which is NOT what a good journalist would do. A true professional journalist would take that situation, wear the bruises as war marks and say they’re from diving in to try and get a scoop.
(Note: this is assuming the bruises really are from Lewandowski, which hasn’t been proven. Fields showing pictures of bruises only proves she has bruises, NOT that they’re from Lewandowski, and not that they came from that night. I have bruises on my arms from the last time my autistic son came to visit over a week ago. And I’m not defending Lewandowski; the video clearly shows he did touch her, but I can’t say from the video it proves the bruises in the photos shown by Fields. He denied it, that was a lie, and he should own up to it.)
At this point, things really go off the rails in the situation.
Fields has supporters screaming because she’s a woman. How they wouldn’t try to shove a man. How she’s disrespected because she’s a woman. A litany of hue and cry about her gender as if that has ANY impact on this situation.
It doesn’t. As Chris Rock said at the Oscars, not everything is racism, not everything is sexism.
Michelle Fields was treated like every other journalist would be treated in that situation. Male, woman, black, white, Martian, Cuban, Latvian, Gallifreian. If you came that close to a candidate, touched them after being told not to and continued to press, you would be shoved. Michelle Fields was given no preferential treatment because she was a woman and also given no quarter because she was a woman.
That was true equality. The very thing that women say they want given to them in their chosen profession. Michelle Fields was given just that.
There is no sexism here.
However, social media now making this a cause célèbre. Those who hate Trump are screaming about he hasn’t fired his campaign manager, how this proves they hate women, etc. The baseless accusations are in a continual roll of sewage down your Facebook or Twitter timelines. Likewise, Trump supporters are rushing to make every excuse they can make to degrade Fields, to defend Lewandowski and act like he is above reproach in all things. Neither side listens to reason, neither side is open to fault and neither side really cares about anything other than the talking points of their chosen side.
And so the campaign further degrades…and the reputation of journalism degrades. Donald Trump has been merciless in his slander of our profession. I’ve worked very hard to be the anti-thesis of the things Trump claims on the campaign trail and it bothers me personally to hear him insult me without having ever met me nor read my work. I don’t disagree with him that there is some bias in some of the major network reporters. I’ve met many of them. It’s there. I chalk it up to their being humans. But I know many who can keep it out of their work. (Someday, I hope to get that coveted five minutes with Trump where I can ask him questions he doesn’t want to answer in a respectful way and since he’s a New York boy and I’m a Pennsylvania boy, speak our native tongue to call out, um, baloney if he issues it in response to questions.)
But Trump wails away on the media, and his supporters eat it up like candy without every questioning it. In that sense, they’re just like supporters of President Obama, who believe whatever he says without question and get angry that those who point out it might not be completely accurate. The Cult of Personality has been strong the last 8 years in Presidential politics.
Now, people will look at Michelle Fields demanding a man be jailed because she overstepped her bounds as a professional journalist. They cry that it’s sexist and other politically correct things that just make the Trump supporters more angry at the press because after all, she’s one of “them.”
Meanwhile, those of us who try to actually do the job like myself or a Russ Jones or a David Martosko or a Sharyl Attkisson have to deal with all the sins of those who claim the mantle journalist without wanting to take on the full measure of the responsibility of the job.
At the end of the day, nobody wins here. And what grieves me is that journalism is going to be one of the biggest losers because of the actions of Michelle Fields.