Donald Trump has proved himself a master of mockery. It is a powerful weapon in his rhetorical arsenal. Sometimes it’s on target. Occasionally it misfires. It has yet to backfire. When his mockery has veered off target, Trump has effectively denied the upshot of the mockery. The latest case seems to me a misfire and the denial particularly implausible.
Anthony Trollope titled the first of his Palliser series of novels Can You Forgive Her? The British magazine Punch offered the alternate title Can You Stand Her? I think the current case raises variations of those questions along with Do You Believe Him? That’s the question that John Hinderaker raised yesterday sitting in as the host on Laura Ingraham’s radio show.
The case is of interest in part because John Hinderaker played a role — I would say he was a proximate cause of — the chain of events that led to the incident. John’s posts on Glenn Kessler’s “fact check” of a Trump anecdote regarding Muslims celebrating 9/11 — here and here — focused attention on a September 18, 2001 Washington Post story co-written in part by then Post reporter Serge Kovaleski (photo at left). John relied on Kovaleski’s 2001 Post story to challenge Kessler’s “fact check” and lend support to Trump’s recollection, which John otherwise deemed exaggerated. Now a Times reporter, Kovaleski has backed off his 2001 story.
On Tuesday, Trump mocked Kovaleski’s retreat from his 2001 story. Kovaleski has a congenital condition called arthrogryposis that limits the movement of joints. At a campaign rally on Tuesday, flailed his arms in apparent mockery of Kovaleski’s movements. “Now the poor guy, you ought to see the guy,” he said as he gestured (video below).
Called on his performance after the event, Trump denied mocking Kovaleski’s disability. In his trademark style, he colorfully asserted that he knew anything personal about Kovaleski: “I have no idea who this reporter, Serge Kovalski is, what he looks like or his level of intelligence,” Trump said in a statement Thursday, misspelling the maligned reporter’s last name. “I don’t know if he is J.J. Watt or Muhammad Ali in his prime — or somebody of less athletic or physical ability.”
Kovaleski, on the other hand, said he got to know Trump well in the course of his career. In an interview with the Times on Thursday, Kovaleski said that he met with Trump repeatedly when he was a reporter for the New York Daily News covering Trump’s business career in the late 1980s, before joining the Post. “Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years,” Kovaleski said. “I’ve interviewed him in his office,” he added. “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.” I’m sure it was more memorable for Kovaleski than for Trump, but that’s Kovaleski’s testimony.
Reporter Maggie Haberman puts it this way in her article for the Times, alluding to Trump’s mockery of the Times itself in Trump’s response: “Mr. Trump, whose statement repeatedly criticized The Times, insisted that he ‘merely mimicked what I thought would be a flustered reporter trying to get out of a statement he made long ago.’” Trump’s mockery of the Times was off the point but accurate nevertheless. He may or may not know Kovaleski; he certainly knows the Times.
Do you believe him?