A large group of high administration officials, including 17 women, yesterday asked Richard L. Lesher, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to apologize for using "sexist and thoughtless" language in an attack on Esther Peterson, President Carter's consumer adviser.
Two weeks ago, Peterson gave a speech charging that big business was using "every tactic money can buy" to try to defeat legislation to establish a new consumer agency. It would, Peterson said, give consumers "the same rights of representation in Washington that large companies have long enjoyed."
She singled out the chamber, among others, as a leader in the effort to defeat the bill.
The following week, Lesher opened a press conference by quoting Shakespeare's "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," and described Peterson's reactions as "the saga of a woman scorned."
In their letter to Lesher, the officials, who include White House assistant Midge Costanza, Action Deputy Director Mary King, Department of the Army General Counsel Jill Volner, and Under Secretary of State Lucy Wilson Benson, took him to task for using "words which display blatant bigotry."
". . . With business under continual criticism for discriminating against women, corporate pronouncements to the contrary notwithstandinhe choice of words by a leading representative of business displays such deplorable insensitivity and prejudice," they wrote.
Lesher said yesterday he was surprised to get the letter. "I certainly did quote Shakespeare . . . if that offended any woman, I certainly would apologize to them but I fail to see how it would . . ." he said. "To me there are many more important things in the women's movemre."