Trump is ever so slightly right about media bias, part 2: Streep-gate

January 10, 2017

[Click here for Part 1.]

Everyone has been talking about Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes acceptance speech in which she criticized Donald Trump for mocking a reporter’s disability. Predictably enough, Trump fan are incensed. But did Trump really make fun of Serge Kovaleski’s arthrogryposis? The truth, according to me, is that we’ll never know for sure.

Everyone who cares about this issue has seen the footage of Trump flailing around as he momentarily pretends to be Kovaleski. The key question is, was he specifically referencing Kovaleski’s physical limitations, or just impersonating a generic flustered, incompetent person?

The first interpretation is definitely plausible. But so is the second one, in light of two key points made by pro-Trump sites such as Catholics4Trump.com. First, Trump’s vaguely epileptic flailing bears little resemblance to Kovaleski’s limited movements. Second, Trump has made similar flailing motions when mocking other (non-disabled) people (a general; Ted Cruz; himself, when forced to go on vacation; a bank president; Donna Brazile).

(The article I’m linking to is NOT a good article overall. It has many problems. But we’re not going to get into those. Let’s focus solely on the disability issue.)

I’ve read the Washington Post’s defense of Streep, but the evidence is not nearly as strong as the Post claims. In particular, the Post’s use of the still frame, showing that Trump’s arm and wrist were bent like Kovaleski’s for at least a fraction of a second, is a cheap trick, as pointed out by Catholics4Trump.com. If Trump had frozen himself into a distinctly Kovaleski-like pose, that would indeed be damning, but the fact that his arm resembled Kovaleski’s at one moment in time is NOT a smoking gun. Not even close.

If Meryl Streep — whom I generally admire as an actress and as a person — wanted to make a compelling statement about Donald Trump’s treatment of marginalized people, she should have chosen a better, more clear-cut example. The fact that Trump seems (to liberals like me) like the kind of guy who might mock a disability does not mean that he actually did.

We need to pick our battles, people. This should not be one of them.

[UPDATE: Via Facebook, my friend David Crossman, who disagrees with me, cites another Washington Post fact-checker article that exposes Trump’s dishonesty in talking about Kovalesky. I agree with many aspects of that article, though not its specific conclusions on the disability issue.]

What exactly does this prove? Image taken from Catholics4Trump.com.


  1. Greg,

    Thanks for your refreshing thoughtful commentary.


  2. Greg, I really appreciate the way you are helping us examine and reconsider our (liberal) knee-jerk reactions to a jerk (Trump); please keep it up. I also appreciate what I consider your largest point on this post, from your penultimate sentence, that “we need to pick our battles.” However, I want to push back on your analysis of this particular instance. I would argue from the videos of Trump’s alleged mocking of the differently-abled reporter that he is, indeed, mocking those who are differently abled: that arm-and-wrist position is a socially-understood cue that stands for physical disability. But, beyond that particular, the larger point should be that any such mocking is unacceptable behavior for a person who wants to be President. If he uses the same motion to mock someone who is not physically differently-abled (Cruz, from your example), that’s also unacceptable. If he mocks (bullies) someone (anyone) by using a different motion, that, too, is unacceptable. A person aiming to be President of the U.S.A. should know that s/he will be seen as a role model, and therefore should not engage in base mockery, and we should hold that person accountable the way that Meryl Streep did in her Golden Globes speech.

    • Matt — er, Frank (sorry to blow your cover there) — thanks for your thoughts. Please note “that arm-and-wrist position” is one that Trump’s limb just happens to pass through momentarily (hence my dislike of the still frame as being cited as “proof”), so I don’t think we know whether he was referring to any sort of disability. Both possibilities are plausible to me. But I acknowledge and accept your larger point. If I were rewriting this post, I would say more clearly that Streep was right to hold Trump accountable for his bullying, and that I just wish she had chosen an example that was less open to interpretation.

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