Serge F. Kovaleski

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Serge F. Kovaleski
Born (1961-04-08) April 8, 1961 (age 61)
Cape Town, South Africa
OccupationInvestigative journalist
EducationCollege of William & Mary (B.A., 1984)
Years active1980s–present
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize, 2009; George Polk Award, 2016

Serge Frank Kovaleski (born April 8, 1961) is a South African-born American investigative reporter at The New York Times.[1] He contributed to reporting that won The New York Times a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation of the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal.[2][3][4]

Early life[edit]

Born in Cape Town, South Africa,[1] Kovaleski spent his early childhood in Sydney, Australia, until his family moved to New York City in the 1970s.[5] His father, Fred Kovaleski, was a spy for the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1950s.[6][7]

He graduated in 1984 from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, with a degree in philosophy.[2] After receiving his bachelor's degree, Kovaleski studied French philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. His travels through Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall inspired him to become a journalist.[5]


Kovaleski began his journalism career in the mid-1980s at The Miami News.[2] He then worked for the New York Daily News, The Washington Post,[2] and Money magazine.[1] He joined The New York Times in July 2006 as an investigative and general assignment reporter on the Metro desk.[1][2] He joined the Culture desk as an investigative journalist in 2014,[1] and moved to the National desk in 2016.[1][8]


In 2009, Kovaleski received a Pulitzer Prize for "Breaking News Reporting."[2]

In 2016, he and Nicholas Kulish, Christopher Drew, Mark Mazzetti, Matthew Rosenberg, Sean D. Naylor and John Ismay received a George Polk Award for their investigation into allegations that members of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six abused Afghan detainees.[9]

Comments by Donald Trump[edit]

In a speech at a November 24, 2015, rally in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, presidential candidate Donald Trump claimed that "thousands and thousands of people were cheering" in Jersey City, New Jersey, as the World Trade Center collapsed.[10]

After this claim was questioned,[11] the Trump campaign referred to a September 18, 2001, Washington Post article that Kovaleski had co-authored with Fredrick Kunkle, as substantiation of the claim. According to the article, "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."[12]

Kovaleski issued the following written statement in response to the Trump campaign's adoption of his report as an independent verification of New Jersey-based celebrations following the destruction of the World Trade Center:[10]

"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."[13]

In apparent response to this written statement, Trump said in a November 25, 2015, speech in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: "You've got to see this guy: 'Uhh, I don't know what I said. Uhh, I don't remember,' he's going like 'I don't remember. Maybe that's what I said.'"[14] Trump flailed and jerked his arms around, something which Kovaleski is not able to do, and which Trump had done several times previously to mock perceived cowardice in other individuals. [15][16][17] The incident drew widespread domestic and international criticism.

Trump was severely criticized worldwide for mocking Kovaleski's disability. Kovaleski has arthrogryposis, a condition causing joint contracture in his right arm and hand.[18] Following domestic and international condemnation, Trump said that he was not mocking Kovaleski's disability because he did not know what Kovaleski looked like.[19] Kovaleski has said that while reporting on Trump for the New York Daily News, the two had been on a first-name basis and had met face-to-face on a dozen occasions, including interviews and press conferences in the late 1980s.[19] That the two knew each other was corroborated by multiple other witnesses.[20][21]

Meryl Streep speech[edit]

During her January 8, 2017, acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Award ceremony, actress Meryl Streep referred to the incident as "one performance this year that stunned me".[22][23][24] Streep said:

It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; 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 when 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 kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.[24]

Trump responded on Twitter, calling Streep "one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood."[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Serge F. Kovaleski". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Zagursky, Erin (28 May 2009). "Serge Kovaleski ('84) earns Pulitzer Prize". William & Mary News. Williamsburg, Virginia: College of William & Mary. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  3. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes: Spitzer Wrestles Over Response, Paralyzing Albany: Wife Said to Urge Fighting On". The Pulitzer Prizes. 2009. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  4. ^ Kovaleski, Serge F.; Urbina, Ian (13 March 2008). "The Pulitzer Prizes: The Young Woman in Question, 22 and Worried About the Rent". The New York Times (republished by The Pulitzer Prizes for 2009 award recognition). Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  5. ^ a b Staff (18 March 2016). "Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Serge Kovaleski '79 Asks the Tough Questions". Dwight School. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  6. ^ "Fred Kovaleski, Once a Spy in a Tennis Disguise, Dies at 93". The New York Times. 29 May 2018. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  7. ^ Kovaleski, Serge F. (15 January 2006). "The Most Dangerous Game". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  8. ^ Romenesko, Jim (7 November 2014). "Serge Kovaleski is named New York Times Culture department investigative reporter". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  9. ^ Staff (16 February 2016). "The New York Times Wins Three Polk Awards". The New York Times Company. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  10. ^ a b "Full Speech: Donald Trump Rally in Birmingham, AL- November 21, 2015 – Right Side Broadcasting". Right Side Broadcasting. 21 November 2015. Archived from the original on 28 December 2016. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  11. ^ "Trump's outrageous claim that 'thousands' of New Jersey Muslims celebrated the 9/11 attacks". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  12. ^ Kovaleski, Serge F.; Kunkle, Fredrick (18 September 2001). "Northern New Jersey Draws Probers' Eyes". The Washington Post. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  13. ^ Kessler, Glenn (2 August 2016). "Donald Trump's revisionist history of mocking a disabled reporter". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  14. ^ Trump mocks reporter with disability - CNN Video, retrieved 28 December 2016
  15. ^ Timmons, Heather (25 November 2015). "Donald Trump mocked a reporter with a disability at a South Carolina rally". Quartz. Retrieved 13 April 2019. During a rally in South Carolina on Tuesday (Nov. 24,) US presidential hopeful Donald Trump mocked a reporter suffering from a disability that freezes one's joints in place. Jerking his arms like robot, and bending his right wrist, Trump told the crowd, 'You've got to see this guy.'
  16. ^ Mackey, Robert (9 January 2017). "Beneath Trump's Mockery of a Reporter, a Cascade of Lies Leading Back to 9/11". The Intercept. Retrieved 13 April 2019. The fact that Trump introduced his impression of Kovaleski by saying, "the poor guy, you got to see this guy," and then held his right arm in the very position — raised, with the wrist locked so that his hand pointed down — the reporter's colleagues are familiar with, convinced many people who know him that the then-candidate had, consciously or not, improvised a physical impersonation of the man.
  17. ^ Hjemlgaard, Kim (26 November 2015). "Trump blasted for mocking reporter with disability". USA Today. Retrieved 13 April 2019. Referring to Serge Kovaleski while on the campaign trail in South Carolina, Trump told a rally: "You've got to see this guy." He then flailed and jerked his arms around which Kovaleski is not able to do and which Trump had done several times previous to express perceived cowardice.
  18. ^ Staff (28 July 2016). "Donald Trump Criticized for Mocking Disabled Reporter". Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  19. ^ a b "Donald Trump Says His Mocking of New York Times Reporter Was Misread". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  20. ^ Mooney, Mark (27 November 2015). "Donald Trump's denial challenged by reporter with disability". CNNMoney. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  21. ^ Sargent, Greg (30 November 2015). "Another witness contradicts Donald Trump's claims about disabled reporter". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  22. ^ a b Healy, Patrick (8 January 2017). "Donald Trump Says He's Not Surprised by Meryl Streep's Golden Globes Speech". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  23. ^ Brooks, Barnes; Huckley, Cara (8 January 2017). "'La La Land' Wins Seven Golden Globes; 'Moonlight' Wins Best Drama". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  24. ^ a b Victor, Daniel; Russonello, Giovanni (8 January 2017). "Meryl Streep's Golden Globes Speech". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 January 2017.

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