On November 25, 2015, during a speech before thousands of supporters in South Carolina, Donald Trump mocked the disability of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski.
This is not a controversial statement, or one up for debate. It is a reflection of reality.
Here’s the video. The despicable attack came as Trump was attempting to rebut Kovaleski’s work debunking Trump’s false claim that he saw “thousands” of Americans cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center. You can see Trump holding his right hand at an angle while flailing about in cruel mimicry of Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, which limits the functioning of his joints.
Following criticism of his vicious attack on Kovaleski, Trump claimed he had not been mocking the reporter’s disability. He lied. Part of his defense was that he had never met Kovaleski and didn’t know what he looked like. That was false. Here’s PolitiFact’s ruling that his denials were false. Here’s The Washington Post FactChecker’s.
This is not in question. So why is The New York Times itself helping Trump redefine reality?
During a speech at The Golden Globes on Sunday, Meryl Streep criticized the “instinct to humiliate” on display during Trump’s attack on Kovaleski. The Times’ Patrick Healy called Trump up for his reaction, then authored an article depicting the exchange as a she said/he said: Streep had called attention to a speech in which Trump was “seeming to mock” its reporter and Trump had “flatly denied” the claim.
The Times knows better. When Trump first attacked Kovaleski in July 2015, the paper responded, “We’re outraged that he would ridicule the physical appearance of one of our reporters.”
This is what Trump and his allies do. When Trump says something that exposes a real vulnerability, they outright lie about what he said and why. Trump lies habitually, so unwinding the rationale behind any particular falsehood is difficult. But the result is a news environment in which facts become unstable, reality is constantly under attack, and both journalists and news consumers are unable to process new information within a coherent collective framework.
If the paper of record won’t stand up for the truth about an attack on one of its own reporters, I have to question whether the Times will be able to do so regarding key issues of policy and politics. And that’s a real concern as the next administration unfolds.