Gaffe Track: Trump Mocks a Disabled Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Donald Trump, of course.

The gaffe: During the dustup over Trump’s imagined massive Muslim celebrations in Jersey City after 9/11, one point of contention was a Washington Post article by Serge Kovaleski. Trump cited the story; Kovaleski, who suffers from a joint condition called arthrogryposis and is now a New York Times reporter, disputed Trump’s reading.  “Now the poor guy, you ought to see this guy. ‘Ah, I don’t know what I said! I don’t remember!’” Trump said, doing what looks a lot like a mocking physical impression of Kovaleski.

The defense: “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. Kovaleski pointed out he has interviewed Trump at least a dozen times, going back to a tenure at the New York Daily News.

Why it matters (or doesn’t): Oh, who knows? Mocking disabilities is generally considered verboten, but so are many other things Trump does. His steadfast refusal to back down on the matter, demanding an apology from the Times (really) just adds another freak attraction to the three-ring circus of his candidacy.

The lesson: It’s best to maintain plausible deniability, but failing that, implausible deniability can sometimes suffice.