Published October 06, 2009
The billionaire co-founder of Black Entertainment Television has apologized for mocking the speech impediment of the Democratic candidate for governor at a campaign event in Virginia last month.
Sheila Johnson, who has long been a major donor to President Barack Obama and Gov. Timothy Kaine, stunned the state's political observers in July by endorsing Republican Bob McDonnell in the race for governor. Democrat Creigh Deeds is running to replace Kaine, who is barred by state law from running for a second consecutive term.
In a 32-second YouTube video, posted by Democratic blogger Ben Tribbett from a Sept. 25 McDonnell event, Johnson 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."
In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press on Monday, Johnson said she sought to highlight Deeds' inability to "clearly communicate effective solutions" on important issues.
"I shouldn't have done it in the manner in which I did and for that I apologize for any offense he, or others, may have taken," Johnson said.
Deeds, a state senator from Bath County, has previously joked about his unpolished speaking style during ordinary conversations, speeches and interviews with reporters. Calls seeking comment from Deeds on Tuesday were not immediately returned.
Crystal Cameron, a spokeswoman for McDonnell, declined to indicate on Tuesday whether the candidate will distance himself from Johnson or to provide any additional statement on the matter.
Cameron told FOXNews.com on Monday that 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."
Jared Leopold, Deeds' press secretary, said the video 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."
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.
Calls seeking comment from Johnson were not immediately returned on Tuesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.