Donald Trump Denies Knowing NY Times Reporter At Centre Of Disability Row
Trump escalated his attack on reporter Serge Kovaleski and demanded an apology from his paper after it accused the Republican frontrunner of ridiculing Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that affects joint movement.
“I have no idea who this reporter, Serge Kovalski [sic], is, what he looks like or his level of intelligence,” Trump said in a statement issued by his campaign on Thursday afternoon.
“Despite having one of the all-time great memories, I certainly do not remember him.
“I don’t know if he is [Houston Texans defensive end] JJ Watt or Muhammad Ali in his prime – or somebody of less athletic ability.”
In a speech to supporters on Tuesday night, Trump derided Kovaleski, who has disputed Trump’s claim that he saw “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrate the 9/11 attacks – while flailing and twisting his arms.
Kovaleski worked for the Washington Post at the time of the 9/11 attacks and was one of the authors of an article that Trump has cited in support of his claim. The Washington Post has since added a disclaimer that fact-checks Trump’s claim.
In his Thursday statement, Trump said: “I know nothing about [Kovaleski] other than I have great respect for the way he wrote the story on 18 September 2001, and in particular the paragraph talking about Muslims and tailgate parties taking place in New Jersey.”
Trump later added to his statement, asking the paper to apologise to him for accusing him of mocking Kovaleski. He also reinforced his criticism of the Times in light of its business decisions and fortunes in terms of sales and readership.
“Serge Kovaleski must think a lot of himself if he thinks I remember him from decades ago – if I ever met him at all, which I doubt I did,” Trump said. “He should stop using his disability to grandstand and get back to reporting for a paper that is rapidly going down the tubes.”
Kovaleski covered Trump’s businesses as a reporter for the New York Daily News in the late 1980s and 1990s, and has met him several times.
“Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years,” Kovaleski told the Times on Thursday. “I’ve interviewed him in his office. 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.”
Earlier this week, Kovaleski said he did not recall Trump’s account of what happened in Jersey City on 9/11.
“We did a lot of shoe leather reporting in and around Jersey City and talked to a lot of residents and officials for the broader story,” Kovaleski said on CNN. “Much of that has, indeed, faded from memory.
“I do not recall anyone saying there were thousands, or even hundreds, of people celebrating. That was not the case, as best as I can remember.”
At the Tuesday rally in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Trump ridiculed Kovaleski, telling supporters: “Now the poor guy. You ought to see the guy: ‘Err, I don’t know what I said. I don’t remember.’”
As he spoke, Trump pulled his arms up to his chest and flailed about in what looked like an imitation of the journalist’s disability.
In his Thursday statement, Trump said he had not been aware of the journalist’s disability and “merely mimicked what I thought would be a flustered reporter trying to get out of a statement he made long ago”.
Kovaleski told the Washington Post: “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, given his track record.”
A spokesperson for the New York Times told Politico: “We think it’s outrageous that he would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters.”
The controversy is the latest in a Trump campaign that has included a reference to Mexicans being “rapists”; an insinuation that Fox News host Megyn Kelly was particularly tough in her line of questioning in the first Republican debate because she was menstruating; and the removal of Univision journalist Jorge Ramos from a press conference after he pressed Trump on his immigration platform.
Despite the seemingly unending stream of controversies, which pundits agree would have derailed most candidates by now, Trump has maintained his standing at the top of the Republican polls, confounding the political establishment.
“This isn’t about shutting off Mr Trump’s bullhorn,” the New York Times editorial board wrote earlier this week. “His right to spew nonsense is protected by the Constitution, but the public doesn’t need to swallow it.
“History teaches that failing to hold a demagogue to account is a dangerous act. It’s no easy task for journalists to interrupt Mr Trump with the facts, but it’s an important one.”