Tuesday, October 2, 2012

From the public editor of The NY Times

From: nytimes, public [mailto:public@nytimes.com]

Sent: October 2, 2012 12:50

To: Louise Kinross

Subject: Re: To the Public Editor

Thanks for writing. This is something we're continuing to examine. I didn't know the language in yesterday's article was changed, so that is interesting. I appreciate you pointing this out to us as we continue to look into this issue.


Joseph Burgess
Office of the Public Editor
The New York Times

Note: The public editor's opinions are her own and do not represent those of The New York Times.

From: Louise Kinross
Date: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 10:34 AM
To: Joseph Burgess
Subject: To the Public Editor

Article Headline: Lawmaker To File Suit Charging Abuse of His Disabled Son

Date Published: October 1, 2012

Web or Print: Print issue – Use of the word “retarded” in “sell" on page 1 and in lead on page 18

Your concern:

The NY Times Manual of Style and Usage (in its foreword) recommends reporters use neutral words and those favored by groups such as women, minorities and people with disabilities.

So why, in a story about horrible abuse of a vulnerable, voiceless man in a group home, would your reporter and editors choose to describe him in first reference on page 1 and in the lead on page 18 as “retarded?”

How is that neutral or respectful?

I note in the online version of the story (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/01/nyregion/assemblyman-to-file-suit-charging-abuse-of-his-disabled-son.html?_r=1) that the phrase “is severely retarded” has been changed to “has a severe mental disability.”

Why isn’t the reader advised as to the rationale for the word change?

I see that this reporter has exposed horrible physical, sexual and psychological abuse within the care system for people with developmental disabilities in a series of articles last year called Abused and Used. Isn’t it ironic that he finds it necessary to use a demeaning slur as his first descriptor for Ricky in this new story?


Thank you for raising this issue Louise. As the parent of a young special neesd child, the word 'retarded' as a particular sting. It is shameful that such a high profile and mainstream publication as the NY Times, and in particular, their editorial team, did not catch this.
In my opinion, the reporter was lazy in his research and highly misinformed about this use this term.
I hope the NY Times will print an apology to parents and individuals of the special needs community.

And then there's that pesky "wheelchair-bound" -- maybe I'll write in and note it?

Love the thread!

But I didn't get the sense that the reporter is at all considering NOT using the word. He sounded pretty defensive, that "it's still use used to describe a medical condition, blah, blah..."

But still. I hope they think twice in the future AND yes, the "wheelchair bound" bit - which, everytime I see in print, I think of the wonderful Paul Longmore and what he said about it, "it just sounds kind of... kinky"