Republican presidential contender Donald Trump is facing heavy criticism Thursday for mocking a New York Times reporter who has a disability during a rally in South Carolina on Tuesday.
Speaking in front of supporters, Trump ridiculed Times reporter Serge Kovaleski and an article the reporter wrote – at the time for The Washington Post – after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Trump used the 2001 article by Kovaleski to back up his claim that “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheered as the World Trade Center collapsed. The assertion has been widely discredited by government officials who were in New Jersey in the days following the attacks.
“Now the poor guy, you gotta see this guy,” Trump shouted before launching into an impression of Kovaleski, jerking his arms around and holding his hands at a sharp angle in front of his chest.
“Uh I don’t know what I said. Uh I don’t remember. He’s going like ‘Err I don’t remember. Maybe that’s what I said.'”
Kovaleski has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that affects joint movement.
“We think it’s outrageous that he would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters,” a spokesperson for the New York Times told Politico.
Trump issued a statement about the incident Thursday afternoon and said he has “no idea who this reporter” is, “what he looks like” or “his level of intelligence.”
“I merely mimicked what I thought would be a flustered reporter trying to get out of a statement he made long ago. If Mr. Kovaleski is handicapped, I would not know because I do not know what he looks like,” Trump said in his statement. “If I did know, I would definitely not say anything about his appearance.”
In the original Washington Post article, Kovaleski reported that authorities in Jersey City “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.”
The Post has since added a disclaimer to the report, distancing it from the claims.
“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,” Kovaleski told CNN in an interview earlier this week.
Trump has not commented on the latest controversy, but sent several tweets attacking the New York Times on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, The New York Times ran a scathing editorial of the Republican presidential frontrunner for telling voters “racist lies” and compared him to Joseph McCarthy and George Wallace.
“Mr. Trump has distinguished himself as fastest to dive to the bottom. If it’s a lie too vile to utter aloud, count on Mr. Trump to say it, often. It wins him airtime, and retweets through the roof,” the Times wrote.
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