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New York Times Columnist Sorry For ‘R-Word,’ Pledges $25K


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When a mother of a boy with Down syndrome noticed that The New York Times’ “Ethicist” had a history of using the word “retard,” she took him to task. And boy did he respond.

Kari Wagner-Peck sent an email to “Ethicist” Chuck Klosterman asking “what are the ethics of using the r-word?”

The Portland, Maine mom says she was compelled to contact Klosterman after finding multiple examples of him using variations of the word “retard” over the years.

“Today people with cognitive disabilities and their allies are asking members of society to refrain from using the word ‘retarded,'” Wagner-Peck wrote to the columnist and author in a letter that she posted on her blog.

“I am the mother of a seven-year-old son who has Down syndrome. I believe your response to my question could make all the difference in the world,” she wrote.

Wagner-Peck told WCSH that days later she was overwhelmed when Klosterman not only replied, but owned up.

“I have spent the last two days trying to figure out a way to properly address the issue you have raised on your website. I’ve slowly concluded the best way is to just be as straightforward as possible: I was wrong. You are right,” Klosterman wrote.

He went on to apologize and offered to donate $25,000 to the charity of Wagner-Peck’s choice, saying “I have done something bad, so help me do something good.”

“This is so much greater than anything I could have imagined,” Wagner-Peck told WCSH. “I was a huge fan of Chuck Klosterman before. Now I am a huge fan of a man named Chuck Klosterman who seems to have tremendous character.”

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Comments (9 Responses)

  1. chris rose says:

    That is awesome. I tell my kids all the time that the best lesson is to “own your actions”. Here is living proof how something can be made into a positive. A lesson for all. Thank you Mr. Klosterman. I have a son also with Down syndrome and I would love to see that word removed from everyone’s vocabulary. We are never too late to change.

  2. Nancy Dougherty says:

    What would be even better is if he would address this issue in his Sunday column. That way millions of readers could be made aware of the ethics of using the “r” word.

  3. Tom Skrtic says:

    Thank you very much Mr. Kolsterman for your ethical response to Ms. Wagner-Peck regarding use of the “R-word.” You have set an important example for others in the news and entertainment media. I hope those who use the “R-Word”will follow your lead by publicly acknowledging that this is wrong and pledging to stop doing so. Tom Skrtic, Department of Special Education, University of Kansas

  4. Dean Parker says:

    The mother was absolutely correct in calling Chuck Klosterman out for making derogatory comments regarding people who are either disabled or have acted developmentally disabled. Most people do not realize that calling anyone a “retard” is offensive particularly to parents, friends, and family of those so disabled. Many thanks to Chuck Klosterman for acknowledging his mistake and making it right.

  5. Michael Gofton says:

    What is wrong with just using the term intellectual disability? which cover a wide range and usually doesn’t cause offense

  6. Frank says:

    Special Olympics would be a great recipient. They started thge movement to abolish the “R-word.”

  7. Teresa Roberts says:

    I have stopped using that word. It is wrong, plain and simple The columnist did the right thing by owning up and did not make any excuses. Unlike many leaders in our nation. I, too have a child with disabilities. The state in which we reside, continues to use that word in his diagnosis. An apology was conveyed, accepted and he chose the extra effort to convey goodwill. That is paying it forward.

  8. Jay McGinn says:

    I am very glad to hear that Mr. Klosterman has decided to take the high road and stop using insulting words to describe people. However, especially as a journalist, was he hiding under a rock for the past 5 years (at least)? As with the Incognito sports story (using the n* word), why does it take being called out to finally come to terms with the harm done by using disrespectful language? Both of these men should have known better. Having said that, I’m happy that they’ve been educated (or publicly embarrassed) enough to change their attitudes and behavior regarding these important issues.

  9. MB1975 says:

    Yes, just what our country needs, another banned word. Are we to completely remove the word from the English language? Doing so will not remove the true problem, the callousness much of society feels for anyone they deem beneath them. Much like the war on drugs, this ‘War on the “R” Word ‘ will not change how people feel, think or act; only drive them to create and/or use other, probably far more hurtful words, one’s not based on an actual definition that closely describes what they’re ( The Developmentally Disabled/Challenged?) are living with. I just find it hard to fathom how people are so easily offended by these words, yet use “disabled” and “disability” so easily. How long before society’s intolerant take these words and begin to use them in offensive derogatory ways? As I said before, racists, bigots and intolerants of all kinds are far too similar to those that abuse drugs; take away the “easy” choices and they’re sure to turn to the next worse thing…

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