Outrage as Trump 'mocks' disabled reporter

Republican presidential hopeful denies doing so, while arguing over claims about Muslims

Mr Trump claims he was just mimicking how a flustered reporter trying to deny a statement he wrote years ago would behave.
Mr Trump claims he was just mimicking how a flustered reporter trying to deny a statement he wrote years ago would behave.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • While most Americans are elbow-deep in Thanksgiving stuffing, Mr Donald Trump is hip-deep in recriminations after allegedly mocking the disability of a reporter who failed to corroborate the Republican presidential candidate's claim that Muslims in New Jersey cheered the toppling of the World Trade Center.

The New York Times, which the journalist works for, and journalists inside and outside the newspaper reacted with outrage after Politico reported on Wednesday that Mr Trump, at a South Carolina rally the day before, jerked his arms while imitating Mr Serge Kovaleski, a journalist who suffers from arthrogryposis, a chronic condition that affects his movements.

"Now the poor guy, you ought to see this guy," Mr Trump said, before jerking his arms around and holding his right hand at an angle.

"'Ah, I don't know what I said! I don't remember!'"

Reports said Mr Trump is familiar with Mr Kovaleski because the journalist covered the billionaire real estate mogul when he was a reporter for the New York Daily News but this was denied by Mr Trump.

"Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years," Mr Kovaleski said. "I've interviewed him in his office," he added.

"I've talked to him at press conferences. All in all, I would say around a dozen times, I've interacted with him as a reporter while I was at the Daily News."

A spokesman for the Times said they are "outraged that Donald Trump would ridicule the physical appearance of one of our reporters".

The presidential hopeful repeatedly has insisted that Muslims living in Jersey City, a community overlooking Manhattan from bluffs above the Hudson River, celebrated the 2001 downing of the twin towers by Al-Qaeda, in a case widely referred to as the 9/11 attacks.

Challenged on the claim, he cited as evidence a story that Mr Kovaleski wrote 14 years ago while working as a reporter for the Washington Post.

The story contained a sentence saying "law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river".

But in interviews this week, Mr Kovaleski said he and other journalists never found evidence of the "thousands and thousands" of people that Mr Trump has claimed were celebrating the attacks.

Mr Trump denied that he was mocking the appearance of the reporter in a Thursday statement published on Twitter.

"I have no idea who this reporter, Serge Kovaleski, is, what he looks like or his level of intelligence," Mr Trump said.

He insisted he "merely mimicked what I thought would be a flustered reporter trying to get out of a statement he made long ago".

He added: "(If) Mr Kovaleski is handicapped, I would not know because I do not know what he looks like. If I did know, I would definitely not say anything about his appearance."

A Thanksgiving Day statement from the Ruderman Family Foundation, which works to promote more inclusive policies for people with disabilities, condemned Mr Trump.

"Our presidential candidates should be moral examples for all Americans and not disparage people with disabilities, who make up 20 per cent of the American population," said Mr Jay Ruderman, the foundation president.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'Outrage as Trump 'mocks' disabled reporter'. Subscribe