Friday, January 19, 2001

Politically inexcusable

I never watch the ABC late-night talkfest "Politically Incorrect" because...well, frankly, because I can rarely stay awake much past the kids' bedtime. And also because I can hear plenty of political incorrectness in my very own home, workplace and place of worship--I don't need to tune in for more.

But word of a recent episode has been buzzing around special-needs circles, and so I made a point of hopping over to ABC's Web site and checking out the transcripts. To save you a trip, I'll go ahead and quote them here--just in case you, like me, enjoy a good dose of righteous indignation of a morning to get your motor running.

The episode aired on Thursday, January 11. Appearing with host Bill Maher were guests Cynthia Garrett, former host of NBC's "In Concert" and the late-night talk show "Later"; Jay Nordlinger, managing editor of "The National Review,"; Sarah Ferguson, sometime royal and Weight Watcher's spokesperson; and Martin Short, who just really needs some TV exposure right about now. The part of the chat we're concerned with this morning went something like this:

Bill: But I've often said that if I had --
I have two dogs --
if I had two retarded children, I'd be a hero.
And yet the dogs, which are pretty much the same thing --

[ Laughter ]

What? They're sweet.
They're loving.
They're kind, but they don't mentally advance at all.

Cynthia: I'm going to throw my shoe at you for that one -- oh!

Bill: What? Dogs are like retarded children.

Jay: The show is living up to its name.

[ Scattered boos]

Sarah: Boo.

Cynthia: My 9-year-old nephew is retarded.
I've never thought of him like a little dog.

Bill: Well, maybe you should.

[ Scattered boos ]

Sarah: But I don't think you ought to use the word retarded.
I don't think that's right.

Bill: Don't use the word "retarded"? Well, what word should we use?

Sarah: Just a regular person.

Bill: But they're not a regular person.

Sarah: Well, they are regular people.
They have a heart and a soul.

Cynthia: Limitations.

Bill: They have a heart and a soul and a brain that's retarded.
That's a fact, people! Excuse me!

Sarah: No, because you can't say that.
Do you know their brain is retarded --
this word retarded? They could just be lacking in the ability.

Bill: That's what we call retarded.

[ Laughter ]

I mean, people, are you all retarded? I mean --

[ Laughter ]

That's a fact.

Martin: I'm not gonna comment.
You're a hideous, cold person.

Bill: I'm a truthful person.

Now before you start flexing your angry e-mail fingers, you should know that, contrary to everything his show stands for, Maher has already apologized for his insensitivity. It is not known how many ABC-owned guns were pointed at his head, but he has even told the New York Times that he feels terrible about what he said. Sure you do, Bill.

Still, though it's possible to doubt the sincerity of the apology, it is nice to know that there is still a line, somewhere, over which it is possible to step. And that the demeaning of disabled persons is still on the unacceptable side of that line. So many people are taking so much pride these days in being so insensitive, one can never be too sure about these things. Perhaps it's good, every now and then, for someone to go too far, just to be sure there's a too far to go.

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