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By: David Astor

Column Gets Blasted By Alliance For Mentally Ill

The 210,000-member National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) has asked syndicated columnist Don Feder to apologize for what it called a ‘viciously prejudiced’ column.

‘I’m not going to apologize,’ the Boston Herald and Creators Syndicate writer told E&P. In his column, the conservative Feder used a part-
serious/part-satirical approach to question a Democratic Party effort to register mentally ill people to vote.

‘This is the reductio ad absurdum of democracy – everyone’s vote counts,’ wrote Feder, including ‘the person who not only believes the CIA covered up the so-called Roswell landing, but that he was on hand to greet the aliens.’

The column concluded, ‘Let me be the first to wish the Mental Health Voter Empowerment Project success. At last, politicians can have the support of their peers.’

NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn stated, in a letter to the Herald and Creators Syndicate, that Feder’s column ‘perpetuated the kind of stereotypes and stigma that historically result in unfair discrimination against people with mental illnesses. We doubt very much that a similar attack on racial or ethnic minorities or people with physical disabilities would be published.’

Flynn added that ‘one out of five American families are affected by severe mental illnesses during their lifetimes’; mental illness is a biological disorder that can be treated and managed; and that Republican and Democratic politicians alike have supported measures to help people with psychiatric disabilities.

Feder said he didn’t intend to ridicule the mentally ill, but to express his feeling that it was ‘odd’ the Democratic Party would seek voters from a group that includes people ‘who have a hard time dealing with reality.’

Creators Chairman and CEO Rick Newcombe, whose syndicate distributes Feder to about 50 newspapers, said he believes the column was aimed more at the Democratic Party than the mentally ill. ‘If we felt he was ridiculing the mentally ill, we would not have syndicated it,’ Newcombe said. ‘That would have been in poor taste and uncalled for.’

Feder reported receiving no reprimand from Herald executives. He added that he did receive about a dozen mostly critical letters from readers, while noting that people who like a column are less likely to write.

David Astor ( is an associate editor for Editor & Publisher magazine.

(c) Copyright 1999, Editor & Publisher

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