UPDATED 11/16/11 4:35 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis apologized for some remarks she made to a group in Seattle last month, but she stood by those comments and blamed right-wing bloggers for publicizing them.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports, Lewis says she never should have engaged in a personal attack on U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan by saying his lisp would have been fixed if he’d had a public school education.
“I should have never engaged in a personal attack against anyone. It won’t happen again,” Lewis said at a Wednesday news conference.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports
But when asked if she intended to say what she did about Duncan, her response was, “That is exactly what I was saying, and I made a joke about it.”
But, as CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, she also blamed right-wing opponents of the teachers union for publicizing her comments.
“As you know, neo-conservative, anti-labor and anti-public education bloggers with a history of distorting and misrepresenting the truth seized the opportunity to create a pseudo-firestorm around my comments in order to distract from our work at the Chicago Teachers Union,” Lewis said.
The Education Action Group, which originally posted the video on YouTube, does say on its own website that it does not support teachers’ unions and hopes to “break the power of Big Labor in America’s schools.”
“She’s attempting now to be the victim, which I think is incredible,” said EAG staffer Kyle Olson, who edited the video and posted Lewis’ remarks on YouTube. “Everything that is going on, it was the result of what she said and now she’s trying to spin it.”
The video was also picked up by conservative Web publisher Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Government” site, which characterized the clip as “laced with potty talk” and “cheap personal attacks” on Duncan.
Lewis apologized to teachers, and said she will not step down.
When asked about her unsolicited comments that she “smoked lots of weed” while in college at Dartmouth, and whether that set a good example for students, she said she was only stating facts about her life.
“What I am saying to you is this is what I did, and I’m not going to pretend as if I didn’t. I did, but it was the ’70s,” she said.
In the speech, which Lewis delivered a month ago before a gathering of teachers’ union leaders, she paces back and forth as she dismissed Duncan as unqualified.
“This guy has the nerve to stand up say, ‘Education is the civil rights issue of our time,’” Lewis said in the clip, adopting a low, lisping monotone voice to mock Duncan as she quoted him. “But you know he went to private school, because if he had gone to public school, he’d have had that lisp fixed.”
She also points out that Duncan only holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Harvard, and compares his ascendance to U.S. Education secretary to a hospital custodian becoming Surgeon General.
Later, she remarked that while attending Dartmouth College, she “spent those years smoking lots of weed; self-medicating.”
In response to the video on Monday, CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said the remarks were only “an attempt at humor and candor before a live audience.” She also said the very reason the video is receiving attention is because it is being used as a tool by “right-wing, anti-public education advocates.”
Duncan led the Chicago Public Schools system before he was appointed Education Secretary following the election of President Obama. In both Chicago and Washington, Duncan has clashed with teachers’ unions over the expansion of non-union charter schools and other issues.