Emanuel says he will join effort to stop use of 'retarded'

By Michael D. Shear
Thursday, February 4, 2010

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel apologized again Wednesday 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.

The controversy over Emanuel's remark continued to dog the sometimes foul-mouthed senior Obama adviser despite his having privately apologized to Special Olympics Chief Executive Tim Shriver shortly after the comment was made public last week.

In a statement after an afternoon meeting at the White House, 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.

An Emanuel aide declined to comment after the meeting.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Emanuel used the phrase "[expletive] retarded" during a meeting with liberal activists in August. In a letter to Emanuel on the day the article appeared, Shriver took the chief of staff to task for using a word that is considered insulting.

"I know that private political discourse can sometimes include profanity. But at the same time, our community cannot accept the idea that they will remain the butt of jokes and taunts," Shriver wrote. "I hope you will join us in changing the conversation and eliminating this word from your vocabulary."

Emanuel responded to the letter with a private apology to Shriver, which a White House aide said Tuesday had been accepted. That apology was first noted on an online site called Disability Scoop.

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 Emanuel?"

The meeting at the White House included Shriver; Andrew Imparato, the president and chief executive of the American Association of People with Disabilities; Peter V. Berns, the chief executive of the Arc; and three advocates for disability rights. A spokeswoman for Shriver said Wednesday after the meeting that, "Tim accepted the apology."

The advocacy groups have launched a campaign at http://www.r-word.org to try to end the use of the word, which had until the early 1990s been in common usage. It is now seen as demeaning.

"Every day our community hears this word -- in schools and workplaces, in print and in movies, on radio and television," the statement read.

"And every day they suffer its dehumanizing effects -- mockery, stigma, ridicule. This is a word that is incredibly damaging -- not only to the seven million people with intellectual disabilities in the United States, but also their friends, family and to all of us."

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