Actress Meryl Streep spoke at the Golden Globes award ceremony last night, remarking that Donald Trump had “imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back.” Hillary Clinton repeated the story, as have various media since 2015 after Trump publicly disagreed with New York Times reporter Serge Koveleski at a rally in South Carolina while throwing his arms around.
Trump’s gesture at that rally inspired the media to find photos of Kovaleski, whose right hand is permanently flexed downward, and announce that he is disabled. A freeze-frame of Trump making his gesture was matched with a photo of Kovaleski and his disabled arm circulated widely, thus confirming the media’s version that Trump had mocked a disabled man.
Trump has always denied that he mocked the reporter’s disability.
Spero News found videos of Trump that back his claim. In the videos, some going back a decade, Trump used the same mannerisms as he made at the South Carolina rally. For example, in an interview with Larry King in 2005, Trump made similar gestures about avoiding a vacation. The liberal Huffington Post described the video by saying that Trump used the impression in a "a self-deprecating manner." It went on to say that while Trump is a "one-trick pony when it comes to doing impressions,” it pointed out that “it's unlikely that he was mocking Kovaleski's disability."
In 2015, he used the impression again to describe an Army general’s policy towards Islamic State terrorism. Again waving his hands to describe the general’s approach to ISIS, Trump said, “Oh, ISIS is very tough!”
In reality, Kovaleski does not suffer from cerebral palsy or uncontrolled spastic movements. He does have a congenital disability known as arthrogryposis, which causes restricted movement of the joints but not spasms. Reports that showed photos of Kovaleski added to the implication that Trump had mocked Kovaleski’s disability, but masked its true level of disability.
In a rally in South Carolina last year, Trump spoke of Sen. Ted Cruz’s reluctance to speak about enhanced interrogations techniques used by the CIA on terror suspects. Using gestures similar to those that supposedly mocked the disabled reporter, Trump said “They’re chopping off heads, and he doesn’t want to talk about waterboarding.”
A video recorded his gestures.
In a post on Twitter, reporter Kovaleski appeared to approve of actress Streep’s remarks. He tweeted, “Committee to Protect Journalists saw a spike in donations after Meryl Streep’s speech.”