This story has been updated.
Latinos, Asians, veterans, women — Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has offended them all. But are you ready for his latest target? A journalist who’s disabled.
At a campaign rally in South Carolina this week, Trump tried to defend his unproven claim that “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” in New Jersey when the Twin Towers collapsed in 2001. His best evidence: A 2001 Washington Post story that reported an unspecified number of alleged celebrants taken in by authorities.
But those claims have been refuted by numerous officials — as well as by the author of the article. He doesn’t remember “thousands” of cheering terrorist sympathizers. He doesn’t even remember hundreds or dozens. His name is Serge Kovaleski, an award-winning investigative reporter, now with The New York Times, who happens to have been born with deformities in his hands and lower arms.
That’s what Trump appeared to pounce on as he spun a tale of media mistreatment for his crowd. “Now, the poor guy,” he said at the event of Kovaleski, “you’ve got to see this guy.” Trump curled and raised his arms to seemingly mirror Kovaleski. “‘Ah, I don’t know what I said! I don’t remember!’”
Trump replied in a statement provided to NBC News on Thursday, claiming that he didn’t recall meeting the journalist or knowing of his disability. “I have no idea who this reporter, Serge Kovalski [sic] is, what he looks like or his level of intelligence,” he said, while continuing to stand by his belief in the now-discredited report.
“I merely mimicked what I thought would be a flustered reporter trying to get out of a statement he made long ago,” Trump added with regards to his impression in South Carolina. “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.”
That’s arguably a hard line to sell. Kovaleski covered Trump while reporting for the New York Daily News between 1987 and 1993. Not incidentally, those were bad financial years for the man with the gold-leaf buildings.
In the statement released Thursday, he admitted to a possible lapse in what he recently described to NBC News recently as “the world’s greatest memory.” “Despite having one of the all-time great memories I certainly do not remember him,” Trump insisted.
Kovaleski is sure that Trump remembers him and his condition. Those who know the journalist, meanwhile, can easily see how closely Trump’s pose resembled Kovaleski’s condition.
“The sad part about it is, it didn’t in the slightest bit jar or surprise me that Donald Trump would do something this low-rent,” Kovaleski told The Washington Post in a statement. “Given his track record.”
The New York Times is also sure of Trump’s intentions, telling NBC News in a statement: ”We think it’s outrageous that he would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters.”
It’s not the first time that Trump has been accused of mocking someone’s physical disability. Back in July, in an interview with NBC New reporter Katy Tur, Trump teased a wheelchair-bound opinion writer who had called the candidate “a rodeo clown.”
“I went out, I made a fortune, a big fortune, a tremendous fortune,” Trump told NBC News. “Then I get called by a guy that can’t buy a pair of pants, I get called names?”