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Norm Macdonald Apologizes for 'Unforgivable' Comment About Down Syndrome

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Norm Macdonald, best known as a former “Weekend Update” anchor on the TV show “Saturday Night Live,” found himself embroiled in controversy over insensitive comments he made about the #MeToo movement and Down syndrome. He has since apologized.

In interview on Tuesday about his upcoming Netflix show, “Norm Macdonald Has a Show,” the comedian addressed Roseanne Barr’s firing from her TV show over a racist tweet and fellow comedian Louis C.K., who faced consequences after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct. Macdonald said in the interview:

There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day. Of course, people will go, “What about the victims?” But you know what? The victims didn’t have to go through that.

His comment was met with a swift backlash, which led to a last-minute cancellation of an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” on Tuesday. “Out of sensitivity to our audience and in light of Norm Macdonald’s comments in the press today, ‘The Tonight Show’ has decided to cancel his appearance,” NBC told The Wrap about their decision.

Macdonald tried to rectify the situation on Twitter. “Roseanne and Louis have both been very good friends of mine for many years,” he wrote. “They both made terrible mistakes and I would never defend their actions. If my words sounded like I was minimizing the pain that their victims feel to this day, I am deeply sorry.”

While trying to clear up his initial comments on the #MeToo movement, Macdonald incited more controversy when he appeared on “The Howard Stern Show.” He told the radio host, “You’d have to have Down syndrome to not feel sorry” for sexual assault victims. Macdonald continued, “Down syndrome. That’s my new word.”

Those in the Down syndrome community expressed outrage on social media, including Mark W. Leach, a father of a child with Down syndrome.

A number of Down syndrome advocacy groups also released public statements condemning Macdonald’s comments.

“The National Down Syndrome Society maintains a zero tolerance policy for this type of mockery and offensive language by anyone,” National Down Syndrome Society President/CEO Sara Hart Weir said in a statement. “This type of inappropriate language sustains and perpetuates negative stereotypes and further impedes the progress made by our organization and so many others as we strive toward full inclusion of people with disabilities.”

“To assert that individuals with Down syndrome lack empathy for victims of sexual assault displays incredible ignorance, insensitivity or both,” said National Down Syndrome Congress Executive Director David Tolleson in a statement while pointing out that those with disabilities are more likely to be victims of sexual assault than members of the general public.

Macdonald got the message. During an appearance on “The View” on Thursday, he apologized for his comment, saying he’d “done something unforgivable.” He went on to explain that instead of using a “word we all used to say to mean ‘stupid’” he “stopped and thought [about] what’s the right word to say.”

Following his apology, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation issued a strong statement, that didn’t let him off the hook despite his apology. “For Norm, glad you apologized. But REALLY? You needed a word for ‘stupid’ and you came up with ‘Down syndrome’?” Foundation President/CEO Michelle Sie Whitten wrote. “I call on you to spend a day with a person with Down syndrome and then see if you can’t come up with a better word.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Greg2600

Originally published: September 13, 2018
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