Published October 05, 2009
Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds' campaign blasted the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television on Monday for mocking the Democrat's occasional stuttering, calling it a "cheap shot and a new low" in the campaign.
Jared Leopold, Deeds' press secretary, said a YouTube video depicting BET co-founder Sheila Johnson criticizing the candidate on his communication skills was a "divisive personal attack."
"This is a cheap shot and a new low for this race," Leopold told FOXNews.com in a statement. "Virginians deserve better than personal attacks like this.
"Creigh Deeds isn't the smoothest speaker in the race, but when he speaks he is authentic and means what he says. That's what people will respond to, not divisive personal attacks."
In the 32-second YouTube video, shown on MyFOXDC.com, Johnson, who supports Republican candidate Bob McDonnell, is seen telling a group of wealthy donors that Virginians needs a governor "who can really communicate, and Bob McDonnell can communicate."
Johnson then says, "The other people I talk to, especially his op-op-op-op-opponent, di-di-did this all through my interview with him."
Groans and muted laughter can then be heard from the group of wealthy donors.
"He could not articulate what needed to be done," Johnson continued. "So communication is hugely important."
The Stuttering Foundation of America issued a statement condemning Johnson's comments.
“It's never acceptable to mock stuttering any more than it would be to laugh at someone in a wheelchair," said Jane Frezier, president of the organization. "Too many people still equate stuttering with being dumb. To imply that anyone is not capable of excelling to great heights or aspiring to our nation’s highest offices is irresponsible and hurtful. Many bright people stutter: James Earl Jones, John Stossel, Joe Biden and Winston Churchill to name a few."
Johnson is listed as a founding partner of BET in a biography on the Web site of Salamander Hospitality, where she now serves as CEO. Johnson and her former husband, Robert Johnson, sold the company to Viacom in 1999 prior to divorcing in 2002.
Crystal Cameron, a spokeswoman for McDonnell, said Deeds has "been unable to express" any vision for Virginia's future and regularly takes two positions on critical issues.
"Democratic businesswoman Sheila Johnson was noting that fact," Cameron said in a statement to FOXNews.com. "Why the Deeds campaign wants to attack a prominent supporter of both Governor Tim Kaine and President Barack Obama, while reminding voters that she strongly supports Bob McDonnell for governor, is beyond us."
Calls seeking comment from Johnson were not immediately returned on Monday.
Ronald Webster, founder and director of the Hollins Communications Research Institute in Virginia, said Johnson's misinformed response is "not unusual" for people who do not stutter.
"Stuttering is generally misunderstood by people who don't stutter, which means 99 percent of the population," he told FOXNews.com. "When they see someone who stutters, they think that person is mentally slow or mentally disorganized, possibly neurotic or just kind of mentally off in some curious way. But the point is, people who stutter are normal who have trouble when they try to talk."
Webster, whose organization has successfully treated nearly 6,000 people for stuttering, said the physically-based problem is not typically a defining barrier for communication, particularly for the person who is a moderate stutterer.
"[Johnson's] negative message is effective because it plays to people's ignorance," Webster said.