Tuesday, December 16, 2008

National blindness groups ask for apology from SNL

From the NY Post. And Joe Grimm writing for the Poynter Institute, which focuses on journalism education and training, says the news media are using lots of blindness puns when writing about the SNL story.

Advocates for the blind piled on NBC and "Saturday Night Live" Dec. 15, seeing red about a sketch that mocked Gov. Paterson's handicap.

Four separate national organizations called for "30 Rock" suits and "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels to apologize for a Fred Armisen "Weekend Update" bit.

Registered nurse Tara Cortes, president and CEO of Lighthouse International, said the show should take a minute to apologize on air.

"We applaud the courage it takes every day for people who are blind and visually impaired to live productively and effectively," said Cortes, who runs that group that advocates for the blind and vision health issues.

"'Saturday Night Live' has taken a cheap shot at that courage. They should issue an on-air apology."

In the "Weekend Update" sketch, Armisen's Paterson was disoriented, used an upside-down chart and wandered aimlessly in front of a camera.

Gov. Paterson said in Albany yesterday that he can take a joke - but accused "SNL" of going too far in mocking blind people.

Paterson is legally blind. The governor has aides help him with some tasks, but he generally moves about a room with command of his surroundings.

"The perception that disability equals an inability to be responsible is totally wrong," Paterson said.

"Now the number of people in America that have disabilities that are working is only 37 percent – so when you have an unemployment rate that is 10 times the national average it's very noteworthy."

Carl Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind, said "SNL" is better than stock blind jokes.

Augusto was particularly peeved that "SNL" took a shot at Paterson, who is known for his self-effacing humor.

"It is difficult to understand why 'SNL,' a show known for its clever, political satire, would take cheap shots at people with disabilities instead of coming up with better material - especially when mimicking a politician known for his sense of humor," Augusto said.

Michaels and "SNL" staffers, through an NBC spokesman, refused to comment on the avalanche of criticism.

Advocates for the blind fear employers will be hesitant to hire the visually impaired because of the "SNL" mockery.

"Convincing employers to give disabled people jobs is no joke especially in this economy," said Joseph McNulty, executive director of the Helen Keller National Center.

Another advocate for the blind asked "SNL" staffers to think of newly blinded servicemen and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Attacking [Gov. Paterson] because he is blind is an attack on all blind Americans – blind children, blind adults, blind seniors, and newly-blinded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan," said Chris Danielsen, spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind.