The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Meryl Streep was right. Donald Trump did mock a disabled reporter.

President-elect Donald Trump fired back at Meryl Streep Monday morning after the actress denounced his campaign rhetoric during a speech at the Golden Globe Awards Sunday night. Streep ripped Trump for his obvious mockery of a journalist's physical disability in late 2015, and Trump responded by once again denying that he meant to make fun of the reporter's condition.

Golden Globes: Lots of ‘La La’-dee-da, but a wake-up call from Meryl Streep

This was Streep's commentary:

An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like, and there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work.
But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hook in my heart not because it was good. It was — there was nothing good about it, but it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back.
It kind of broke my heart, and I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

And this was Trump's answer:

Trump has previously claimed he was not aware that the reporter, Serge Kovaleski of the New York Times, has an impairment that visibly affects the flexibility and movement of his arms. The billionaire says that when he singled out Kovaleski for ridicule during a rally in South Carolina — "You've got to see this guy," he said, before jerking his arms spastically — he did not intend to call attention to Kovaleski's disability, arthrogryposis.

"I was never mocking anyone," Trump told the Times on Monday. "I was calling into question a reporter who had gotten nervous because he had changed his story. People keep saying I intended to mock the reporter's disability, as if Meryl Streep and others could read my mind, and I did no such thing."

As I've written before, Trump's defense simply isn't believable. Kovaleski, who covered Trump long before the real estate mogul entered politics, has said that "Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years." Trump was undoubtedly aware of Kovaleski's disability.

Trump apologists such as Ann Coulter have claimed that he has mocked other, non-disabled people in exactly the same fashion — supposedly proving that he was not imitating Kovaleski — but their assertions are not supported by video evidence (more on that here). Trump's impression of Kovaleski was unique and clearly specific to him.

Ann Coulter says she can prove Donald Trump never mocked a reporter’s disability. (She can’t.)

This is Kovaleski, on the right:

This was Trump's impression:

Here's a look at the two, side by side:

On CNN Monday morning, Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway protested the notion that the incoming president made fun of Kovaleski's disability.

"You can't give him the benefit of the doubt on this, and he's telling you what was in his heart?" Conway asked anchor Chris Cuomo.

"It's a gesture that he's making on video," Cuomo replied. "Everyone can see it."

Exactly. There is no doubt.

Also, Trump's charge that Kovaleski "changed his story" is not accurate. Trump was referring to coverage of his own, false claim that on Sept. 11, 2001, he "watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as [the World Trade Center] was coming down."

Kovaleski, then at The Washington Post, wrote a week after the 9/11 attacks that "law enforcement authorities 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."

When Trump said during the presidential campaign that he watched thousands of people celebrate, Kovaleski disputed the claim: "I certainly do not remember anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating. That was not the case, as best as I can remember."

As The Post's Fact Checker noted, there is no inconsistency between Kovaleski's reporting in 2001 and his statement in 2015:

Of course, “a number of people” obviously does not equal “thousands” — and “allegedly” indicates there is no video footage or other proof that celebrations actually took place. Recall that Trump claimed he saw this on television — and that it was “well covered at the time.” This newspaper article appeared days later.

Trump can complain about Streep's speech all he wants, but she was right about his cruel treatment of Kovaleski. And Trump was wrong about Kovaleski's reporting.