White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel apologized recently for using the word retarded during a private meeting last summer, telling advocates for the disabled that he will join their campaign to help end the use of the word.
In a statement, Special Olympics Chief Executive Tim Shriver and five other disability rights advocates said Emanuel had sincerely apologized for the earlier comment during a strategy meeting, which was reported in the Wall Street Journal:
We are happy that he will join more than 54,000 other Americans in pledging to end the use of the R-word at www.r-word.org, and that he committed that the administration would continue to look for ways to partner with us, including examining
pending legislation in Congress to remove the R-word from federal law, they said in the statement.
Controversy about Emanuel's use of the word erupted more broadly after former Alaska governor Sarah Palin called on President Obama to fire his chief of staff. In a statement on her Facebook page, she asked: Are you capable of decency, Rahm
The retard controversy swirling around public figures in the US has also been noted in the UK.
Channel 4 has 'enraged' disability charities and disabled people, with its initial refusal to apologize for the Channel 4 program Big Brother's Big Mouth , broadcast on 29.1.10, in which Vinnie Jones accused Davina McCall of walking
like a retard, and gave the audience a demonstration of what a retard walks like. Davina McCall responded by saying: I do not walk like a retard.
Channel 4 originally said that participants should be able to talk without censure, but after an active Facebook campaign by disabled people and groups did apologize privately to two individuals. A spokesman admitted that the original
defensive response was a mistake and there should have been an on-air apology.
It has now made its apology public, saying: We would normally respond to an inappropriate comment of that nature by asking the presenter to admonish the person responsible and apologize to the audience, but on this occasion, this did not
happen. We have removed their comments from the Video on Demand version of the program.
A spokesman for Vinnie Jones said: On behalf of Vinnie Jones I'd like to apologisze for any offense caused by comments made on Big Brother's Big Mouth on January 29th 2010. While the show was live and the conversation was unscripted and off
the cuff, Vinnie in no way meant to upset anyone and fully appreciates the choice of word was inappropriate.
The matter has gone to Ofcom which has ruled against the first complaint from Nicky Clark, who runs a campaign to boost disabled talent on-screen, saying that although the matter was sensitive the word was not aimed against people with a
learning disability. How strange, then, that so many people with a learning disability feel it was! As Mark Goldring, the chief executive of the learning disability, Mencap, comments, it's both offensive and insulting.
Ofcom said that its TV programme code guarantees freedom of expression to broadcasters as well as the audience's right to view programmes without interference from the authorities.
It made the defence as it rejected a request, made by the mother of two disabled children, to discipline Channel 4 after Vinnie Jones said the word retard on a Big Brother off-shoot programme.
The regulator claimed it was editorially justified because the insult was directed at someone who is not disabled, and because viewers of the reality show expect a certain level of outspoken banter .
Lloyd Page, a spokesman for Mencap, the learning disability charity, said: As someone with a learning disability, I was disgusted and hurt to hear the word 'retard' used on Big Brother. We will never change people's attitudes if this sort of
thing carries on. I hope Ofcom will realise why we want this to stop.
Nicky Clark, who made the complaint, added: Channel 4 has a commitment to ensure that diversity is fully and positively represented on its channel. If we are to have our faith restored in Channel 4's suitability to broadcast the Paralympics,
it needs to show that it regrets this incident by apologising on air.
She had complained to Ofcom about an exchange shown on Channel 4's digital channel, E4, during an episode of Big Brother's Big Mouth in January this year.
Vinnie Jones was asked how he had known that Davina McCall, the presenter, had entered the Celebrity Big Brother house in a chicken costume rather than a fellow contestant. He replied that it was because she was walking like a retard , at
which McCall laughed.
Ofcom rejected the complaint that the term was offensive, claiming that the context showed that it was not directed at anyone with any disabilities, and had been used light-heartedly.
Oops Channel 4 were slow to notice that the word 'retard' has been hyped into a major no-no.
The English language is littered with insulting terms that fall out of use as their jokiness gives way to political correctness. Now one more to add to the the list. But there's plenty more words where that came from.
(Celebrity) Big Brothers Big Mouth E4, 29 January 2010, 23:05
Big Brothers Big Mouth (BBBM) is the sister programme to Channel 4s main Big Brother series . It is transmitted live and is broadcast post-watershed and looks at events in the Big Brother House with a studio audience and celebrity
guests. It provides a platform for fans to voice their views, put questions to the evicted housemates and discuss the latest events in the house. Viewers are able to contribute to the programme by phone, e-mail, textpolls, or by leaving a message
on the 24-hour Mouthpiece rant line.
This episode was broadcast the same night as the CBB series finale and followed the Channel 4 coverage of the event. The programme was presented by Davina McCall. It was preceded with a warning which stated: First on Four, with strong
language, adult humour and flashing images, the Big Mouth on a big event, Celebrity Big Brother.
One of the guests on the programme was Vinnie Jones, who came third in the competition and had been evicted from the CBB house that night. During the programme a member of the studio audience asked Jones how he had known instantly that the person
who came into the house disguised in a chicken outfit was Ms McCall and not fellow housemate Nicola Tappenden. In response to the question, Jones said: she was walking like a retard, she was walking like this [he then demonstrated walking with
difficulty] and our Nicky walks lovely.
Ms McCall then responded by saying: I do not walk like a retard.
Ofcom received eight complaints about the programme. In summary, all of the complainants were offended by the use of the term walking like a retard by Jones, and the demonstration he gave after saying the comment. Seven of the complainants
were also offended by the response from the presenter, Ms McCall, who had repeated the phrase. Four of the complainants also raised concerns that Ms McCall had appeared to enjoy the joke and did not reprimand Jones for the comment.
In line with Ofcoms procedures, the complaints were initially considered by the Executive without representations being requested from Channel 4. On 18 February 2010, Ofcom wrote to Channel 4 informing them that eight complaints had been received
but not upheld. Ofcom stated that it was mindful of the overall context of the programme and decided on balance that there was not sufficient evidence to conclude that the word was necessarily intended to be offensive to anyone with learning
Two of the complainants requested a review of this decision. Ofcom considered Rule 2.3 of the Code (which requires material that may cause offensive must be justified by the context).
Ofcom Decision : Resolved
The Committee first examined the language used in this case in order to assess the potential it had for causing offence. In doing so the Committee recognised that the use of discriminatory language of this nature can be profoundly offensive to
some viewers as it singles out a minority in society. Ofcoms own research (-3-) into offensive language identified that the word retard is quite polarising. Those people who consider it offensive do so because it is a derogatory term that refers
to a disability.
In the Committees opinion, the comments made by both Jones and Ms McCall in this programme were clearly capable of causing offence. In reaching this view, the Committee noted that the use of the word retard by Jones, although arguably intended as
a joke and not aimed at an individual with learning difficulties, could be seen as being a comment on people in society with a particular disability. This was reinforced by Jones demonstrating walking with difficulty when imitating the way in
which Ms McCall had walked. Jones then unfavourably compared the walk with that of fellow housemate Nicola Tappenden, which he described as lovely. It was the Committees view that his use of the word retard was capable of being understood not as
merely a passing reference directed towards Ms McCall, but also as ridiculing those with a physical or learning difficulty, emphasised by his attempt at imitation.
The Committee was particularly concerned that not only was Jones comment not corrected but that it was repeated by the presenter, Ms McCall, without any apparent recognition of its potential to cause offence. The Committee, while acknowledging
this was a live show, considered that in this instance the action of Ms McCall had the potential to heighten the offence to viewers.
The Committee was also concerned that the programme makers took no action during the programme to seek to mitigate the offence that would have been caused by the comments. The Committee noted Channel 4s admission that it would normally respond to
a comment of that nature by asking the presenter to admonish the person responsible and if appropriate, apologise to the audience. It said that, due to human error, it had failed to do so on this occasion.
In the Committees opinion that failure suggested a lack of understanding during the live broadcast of how offensive the comments had been.
However, the Committee concluded that, on balance and in the circumstances of this particular case, there was insufficient context to justify the offence that was likely to be caused by the comments made during the programme. Therefore the
broadcast breached generally accepted standards.
The Committee then went on to consider whether Channel 4 had taken immediate and appropriate steps to remedy this breach of generally accepted standards. The Committee noted the action taken by the broadcaster in response to the complaints made
about the programme. In particular Channel 4 had voluntarily removed the comments from the Video on Demand (4OD) version of the programme after an internal review (albeit this was in response to a complaint several days after broadcast by an
individual who is also a complainant in this case), and had apologised in writing to the complainant. The Committee also noted the measures taken by Channel 4 to ensure this does not happen again. The Committee considered these measures
appropriate to remedy the breach of generally accepted standards and therefore considered the case resolved.
Earlier this week Jennifer Aniston came under fire for comments during an appearance on Regis and Kelly. While a guest on the morning show, Aniston made the comment comparing herself to a retard, saying, Yeah, I got to play
dress up . I do it for a living, like a retard.
The fallout from the incident was immediate with disability groups calling her choice of words inappropriate and offensive.
In a statement released to TV Guide, a representative for the Special Olympics commented, The Special Olympics is always disappointed when the R-word is used, especially by someone who is influential to society. The pervasive use of the
R-word, even in an off the cuff self-deprecating manner, dehumanizes people with intellectual disabilities and perpetuates painful stereotypes that are a great source of suffering and negative stigma.
The bad press did nothing to help Aniston's new film, The Switch which she was on the show to promote in the first place.
The Switch a romantic comedy starting Aniston and Jason Bateman bombed at the box office this weekend, grossing just $8.1 million. So did Aniston's talk show gaffe tank the film? The low box office is definitely due in part to some tepid
reviews and stiff weekend competition. However, one can't help but question whether her comment had an effect as well.
The launch of a new Transformers character called Spastic has been scrapped after fans vented fury over the name.
The new robot toy was ditched after US maker Hasbro was left stunned by the outcry in Britain over the insulting term.
Bosses of the US toy firm - unaware of how offensive the word is regarded here - were shocked at the anger the name sparked when they proudly revealed the toy on its website.
But the company insisted the toy will go on sale with its original name in the US as planned in January.
Last night Hasbro said: We intended no offence by the use of the name Spastic. It will not be available via traditional retail channels in Europe, including the UK.
The word spastic , regarded as derogatory in Britain, is used to describe people suffering severe forms of cerebral palsy with reduced control of their muscle movements. It is used widely in the US as a casual term for clumsiness or an
In US slang the word spastic is often shortened to spaz - and has been used in TV show Friends and by golfer Tiger Woods, although they were only criticised for using it in Britain.
Ricky Gervais has refused to apologise after disability groups and fellow comedians condemned him for repeatedly using the word 'mong' on Twitter and posting photos of himself pulling monged-up faces. In the past month Gervais's
Twitter followers have leapt from 68,000 to more than 440,000 as the comedian became embroiled in an online row about the use of the term.
In a statement Gervais said that the term was completely different to mongol , a derogatory term for people with Down's syndrome. I have never used the word 'mongol'. I have used the word 'mong', he said. I have never used that
word to mean Down's syndrome and never would. The modern use of the word 'mong' means 'dopey' or 'ignorant'. It's even in modern slang and urban dictionaries.
Mong is short for mongoloid , which was originally an anachronistic term for a Down's Syndrome sufferer. The modern Mong however is a total fuckwit, who deserves nothing less than complete humiliation for their
The controversy began after Gervais returned to Twitter on 29 September. He made a string of tweets involving variations on the word mong . Phrases included What a fucking useless Mong I really am , two mongs don't make a right
and good monging .
Gervais had already responded to criticism earlier this month, tweeting: Just to clarify for uptight people stuck in the past. The word Mong means Downs syndrome about as much as the word Gay means happy.
The tirade has now come to the attention of the press. Frank Buckley, of Down Syndrome Education International, told the Sun: Most would consider it as offensive as comparable terms of abuse referring to racial background or sexual
orientation. A Mencap spokesman, Mark Gale, said that the comedian's behaviour was very disappointing , adding that such language can perpetuate discriminatory attitudes .
Gervais remains unrepentant, bullishly posting another gurning self-portrait of himself on Twitter with the caption: The police just came round and confiscated all my awards. Gutted.