'Today' Show Apologizes for Mandela Deaf Interpreter Spoof (Video)

Thursday, 12 Dec 2013 10:23 AM

By Alexandra Ward

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The "Today" show issued an apology Wednesday for its Nelson Mandela sign language interpreter scandal report, which contained a spoof that was offensive to the deaf community.

As Natalie Morales, Willie Geist, and Al Roker discussed the interpreter, who reportedly faked his way through the memorial service's translation earlier this week, an inset popped up on screen of a producer miming senseless sign language backstage.

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The on-air anchors reacted immediately.

"No, no, no. Guys, let's not do that," Morales said. "That is horrific."

"No, no, no, no, no, wrong," Roker said, before putting his head in his hands.


NBC's morning show apologized shortly after the broadcast on Twitter.


The deaf community was outraged after watching interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie's motions during Tuesday's funeral for Mandela, the revolutionary anti-apartheid hero who died last week at age 95. 

"[Jantjie] was a complete fraud," Cara Loening, director of Sign Language Education and Development in Cape Town, told Agence France-Presse, via the New York Daily News. "He wasn't even doing anything. There was not one sign there. Nothing. He was literally flapping his arms around."

The African National Congress reportedly commissioned a company called SA Interpreters to provide a sign language interpreter to work the funeral. Jantjie, the employee chosen, was seen in video footage signing for South African President Jacob Zuma last year, but the South African Press Association reported that there were complaints about his performance after the event.

Jantjie is now speaking out about the scandal. First, he told the Johannesburg Star that he suffered a schizophrenic episode during the interpretation. The loud voices in his head drowned out the speakers, he said, causing him to lose concentration and sign nonsensically. 

But he told CNN Thursday that he stands by his work.

"It has been many years I have been doing this job," he said. "My portfolio shows that I have been a champion of what I have been doing… I have never in my life had anything that said I have interpreted wrong.

"For the deaf association, if they think that I have done a wrong interpretation, I ask forgiveness. But for deaf South Africans, if you will tell me that I was doing wrong interpretation, then they should answer me why they were silent all the time."







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