WASHINGTON - While most Americans are elbow-deep in Thanksgiving stuffing, Donald Trump is hip-deep in recriminations after mocking the disability of a New York Times 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 Times and journalists inside and outside the newspaper reacted with outrage after Politico reported Wednesday that Trump, at a South Carolina rally the day before, jerked his arms while imitating Serge Kovaleski, a journalist who suffers from arthrogryposis, a chronic condition that affects his movements. Trump is familiar with Kovaleski because Kovaleski covered the billionaire real estate mogul when he was a reporter for the New York Daily News. The story was corroborated by video from CNN.
“We’re outraged that Donald Trump would ridicule the physical appearance of one of our reporters,” a representative for the Times said.
A Thanksgiving Day statement from the Ruderman Family Foundation, which works to promote more inclusive policies for people with disabilities, condemned Trump.
“It is unacceptable for a child to mock another child’s disability on the playground, never mind a presidential candidate mocking someone’s disability as part of a national political discourse,” said Jay Ruderman, the foundation president. “Our presidential candidates should be moral examples for all Americans and not disparage people with disabilities, who make up 20 percent of the American population.”
Trump repeatedly has insisted that Muslims living in Jersey City, a community overlooking Manhattan from bluffs above the Hudson River, celebrated the downing of the twin towers. Challenged on the claim, he cited as evidence a story that Kovaleski wrote 14 years ago while working as a reporter for the Washington Post. The story reported that “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, Kovaleski said he and other journalists never found evidence of the “thousands and thousands” of people that Trump has claimed were celebrating the attacks.
Trump responded to the criticism with a series of tweets disparaging the New York Times.
Ruderman’s advocacy group meanwhile offered Trump sensitivity training after the candidate appeared to mock the disabled reporter.
Ruderman said Thursday that Trump should apologize to Kovaleski and the public.
Kovaleski has a congenital condition that affects joint movement. In the Tuesday speech Tuesday in South Carolina, Trump said: “poor guy, you oughta see this guy,” and gestured in a jerky fashion.
Trump was challenging recollections by Kovaleski and many others about the 9/11 aftermath. Trump has made unsubstantiated claims that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey were seen celebrating the attacks.
In 2001, Kovaleski, then with The Washington Post, and another Post journalist wrote a week after the 9/11 attacks about authorities in New Jersey detaining and questioning “a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks.” The story did not suggest “thousands” were celebrating, as Trump claimed, and a story then by The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey, said the reports of such celebrations by Muslims proved unfounded.
Even so, Trump has pointed to the Post story as backing up his claim and took issue with Kovaleski’s recent statement that he did not remember anyone alleging that large numbers of Muslims were celebrating.
“Written by a nice reporter,” Trump said in the speech. “Now the poor guy, you oughta see this guy — uh, I don’t know what I said, uh, I don’t remember. He’s going like, I don’t remember.” His voice took a mocking tone, too.
The Times expressed outrage afterward that Trump would “ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters.”
Ruderman said Trump would benefit from a “series of sensitivity training sessions” and offered to provide them.