Conservative commentator and frequent Fox News guest Ann Coulter defended her repeated use of the derogatory term "retard" on Thursday, saying the word is simply a synonym for words like idiot and moron. In fact, the word is widely considered a slur and disability advocates argue it is hate speech.
Appearing as a guest on Alan Colmes' Fox News Radio show, Coulter stated she did not regret her use of the word, saying that "no one would refer to a down syndrome child, someone with an actual medical handicap, by saying retard." She added: "Where do you think the words idiot, imbecile, cretin, moron, come from? These were all technical terms at one time. Retard has been used colloquially to just mean 'loser' for 30 years."
In an October 22 post on her Twitter feed following the presidential debate, Coulter wrote: "I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard," presumably a reference to President Obama. The next day she again tweeted that if Obama is "'the smartest guy in the room' it must be one retarded room." In an email to Politiker defending her remarks, she wrote: "The only people who will be offended are too retarded to understand it."
But many agree that the word is meant only to demean and should be considered hateful speech.
Huffington Post blogger Ellen Seidman, who has a son with special needs, says that while it's not true that "anyone who uses the word flippantly has something against people with special needs," the word is demeaning "even if it's meant as a joke, because it spreads the idea that people who are cognitively impaired are either stupid or losers."
Analyzing the fact that the word is now being increasingly avoided, NPR reported that disability advocates have continually campaigned against the word, arguing that "it's not a hilarious put-down; it's hate speech."
Organizations like the American Psychiatric Association still use the medical phrase "mental retardation," so the term "retard" is culturally understood to be associated with mental disability, regardless of context. What distinguishes the term from the other words Coulter cited, such as idiot and cretin, is that unlike "retard," they do not necessarily denote mental disability.
However, CNN reports that even the APA "plans to replace the term 'mental retardation' with 'intellectual development disorder'" in the 2013 edition of their manual.
There have been efforts to remove the term "retard" from discourse for decades, but CNN notes that the movement picked up speed in 2009 after college students across the country pledged to stop using the word. One online pledge currently has more than 300,000 signatures.
The stigma attached to the word prompted Congress to pass 'Rosa's Law' in 2010, banning the use of the words "retarded" and "retardation" in all health, education and labor laws, and replacing the terms with "intellectual disability."
Coulter's use of the word has sparked considerable backlash.
John Franklin Stephens, a Global Messenger for the Special Olympics who has Down Syndrome, wrote Coulter a letter explaining why the term "retard" is offensive to him:
After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.
I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.
Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.
A Special Olympics representative also stated: "We are disappointed in [Ann's] regular use of the word despite our constituents regular appeals to her for compassion," and "[We] welcome an open invitation for her to be involved in an educational meeting with our athletes to understand the demeaning use of the R-word in everyday speech."
Parents of children with special needs reportedly demanded an apology from Coulter.
Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin also criticized Coulter, tweeting: "What a stupid, shallow thing to say, Ann."
This is not the first time Coulter has used the term "retard" as an insult. In an August tweet, she referred to MSNBC host Chris Matthews as "retard."
When challenged for her use of the term then, Coulter responded in the same way as she did on Colmes' show, writing, "where do you think cretin, idiot and moron come from? I say O.K. if not literal."
Coulter is a regular guest on national news shows, including on ABC, CNN, and Fox, despite her history of controversial and offensive comments, which she has said she doesn't regret. Just last month, she was a panelist on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. She has appeared on the program four times since April 1. She was on CNN's Showbiz Tonight in February and a guest on CNN's Starting Point in March.