Donald Trump has been widely condemned for mocking a reporter’s disability during a campaign speech.
The Republican presidential frontrunner imitated The New York Times’ culture and investigative reporter, Serge Kovaleski, during a rally for supporters in South Carolina on Tuesday.
Mr Kovaleski suffers from arthrogryposis, a congenital condition affecting how his joints move.
The millionaire entrepreneur made several offensive gestures while defending a claim he made a few days earlier in which he said he had witnessed thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating on the day of the 9/11 attacks.
This claim has reportedly since been discredited by government and law officials who were in New Jersey in the days following the terrorist attack.
A 2001 article written by Mr Kovaleski for the Washington Post had claimed that “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” in Jersey city, within hours of the planes crashing into the World Trade Centre.
But Mr Kovaleski told CNN this week: “We did a lot of shoe leather reporting in and around Jersey City and talked to a lot of residents and officials for the broader story. Much of that has, indeed, faded from memory.
“But I do not recall anyone saying there were thousands, or even hundreds, of people celebrating. That was not the case, as best as I can remember it.”
Mr Trump was referencing these comments during his speech when he imitated Mr Kovaleski.
He said: “The poor guy. You’ve got to see this guy. Ah, I don’t remember what I said! I don’t remember!”, while jerking his arms and hands in a manner mocking Mr Kovaleski’s condition.
The presidential candidate’s campaign spokeswoman declined to comment on the incident, but another campaign official said the entrepreneur was “not aware of any condition and was not mocking his physical appearance in any way,” according to the Washington Post.
The official added that Mr Trump “was merely emphasising the uncertainty of the verbal/written statement provided by the reporter in regards to his article”.
It is understood that Mr Trump is familiar with Mr Kovaleski as the latter covered him while a reporter for the New York Daily News in the late 1980s to early 1990s.
The New York Times has said it was “outrageous” for Mr Trump to have ridiculed Mr Kovaleski’s appearance.
“We think it’s outrageous that he would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters,” a spokeswoman for the newspaper said on Wednesday.
Following the incident, Mr Kovaleski said: “The sad part about it is, it didn’t in the slightest bit jar or surprise me that Donald Trump would do something this low-rent, given his track record,” reports the Washington Post.
Mr Trump has been much criticised on social media for the stunt, with a petition even being started on the change.org website to “make Trump apologise to Serge Kovaleski”.
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