Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Racial issues have been front and center lately. A quick recap: Mel Gibson, Shirley Sherrod, Barack Obama, Andrew Breitbart – aahhhh, the memories. But the woman of the hour right now is Dr. Laura Schlessinger, radio talk show host, who thankfully announced the end of her radio career this week on Larry King. It all started when she, of the “tough love” advice radio format, recently lambasted a caller who sought advice on a racial problem in her own family. Listen:

First things first. Dr. Laura, as she is known, has a Ph.D in physiology from Columbia University. Respectable – some might even say impressive. But how a physiologist got herself an audience of about nine million listeners who tune in to hear her advice on love, life, career, family, etc., is anybody’s guess. Over the years, Schlessinger has consistently made outrageous, judgmental, arrogant statements that angered some and invigorated others. After Rush Limbaugh (approx. 20 million listeners) and Sean Hannity (12 million), Schlessinger has often tied for third place in Arbitron radio ratings with the likes of Glenn Beck. Schlessinger is a provocateur with few scruples, and a topical opportunist. Not long ago her listener base was estimated at 10 million, and that loss of about a million has to be weighing heavily on her tightly-coiffed head. It was predictable that she would pull something like you just heard, but disturbing just the same.

Just days after her ridiculous tirade, and after a half-baked on-air apology, Schlessinger no doubt saw the writing on the wall and said this:

Schlessinger is positioning herself as a victim of an overly predatory culture that preaches political correctness, when the truth is that she is a product of social change growing pains. The culture has decided that racist rhetoric is not acceptable any more. It has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It has to do with respect for all human beings, and the recognition of the responsibility that comes with the First Amendment. One cannot lean on the Constitution to support racial prejudice. Moreover, one cannot lean on the constitution to whitewash her imminent dismissal from the airwaves. I suspect the Talk Radio Network saw the immediate loss of sponsors and decided Schlessinger had become a liability. She knew that and had to put a spin on the situation that would allow her to leave with dignity.

Fortunately, the public is smarter than that, and we know what happened to other public figures when they cavalierly dismissed entire segments of the population.
Schlessinger’s personal and professional history does not inspire confidence. Here’s some juicy Dr. Laura stuff: In the 1970s she proclaimed her feminist self, but by turn of the century, she was anti-feminism. In the 1990s she went through the arduous process of converting to Orthodox Judaism, but by 2004 she announced she was no longer an Orthodox Jew and was having a tough time “connecting with God.” You may recall the hoopla about her mother’s death, when it was revealed her mother’s body was found in her condo, after having been dead for about two months. Schlessinger’s public response was typified by this statement: "I'm horrified by the tragic circumstances of my mother's death, and so sad to learn that she died as she chose to live -- alone and isolated.” (One wonders if her mother “chose” for her body to remain unfound for two months). In the late 1990s, Schlessinger, who was increasingly positioning herself as a pillar of virtue, was shocked when nude photos of her popped up on the Internet. A longtime-advocate of monogamy and faithfulness in marriage, it is common knowledge that the good doc had an affair with a married man, while she was still married to her first husband. A few years ago she told her listeners that men need a lot of sex, so women should “put out on demand” even if they don’t feel like it. As for her views on homosexuality, Schlessinger calls it a “biological error” and contrary to holy scripture. She also said that homosexuality is all about “pedophilia and the bestiality and the sadomasochism.”

Worst of all is what she said on her radio show about the death of young Matthew Shepard, who was murdered by two men who tortured, beat and tied him to a fence and left him to die in 1998. Dr. Laura: “If Matthew hadn’t been willing to leave [a bar] for sex, he might still be alive. That certainly doesn’t make him responsible for his own death but when you put yourself into a situation of going off to have anonymous sex with people you meet at a bar, what kind of person is gonna leave with you? Usually scum.... This was a terrible tragedy but it’s also one that might have been avoided if he had simply gone home with his friends instead of thinking he was gonna get a little."

For a long time, Schlessinger’s outrageous behavior and on-air comments were the stuff of media gold. She was widely talked and written about, and up until the early 2000’s she was still receiving awards for something or other. But that was then.

Now, Laura is treading water, at best. Harken to Don Imus,(below, left) who was at the top of his game when he made racist comments on his own show. Imus is back on the radio, but teetering on oblivion. At the time, Schlessinger wrote this on her blog about Imus: “"His remark was insulting, stupid, mean and ugly. It was so seemingly 'off-the-cuff' that it felt too casually familiar a thing for him to say." Laura should have thought of that before she made her recent comments, huh? On Monday, August 16, GLAAD, the Women's Media Center and Unity Journalists of Color all encouraged her advertisers to abandon her.

On Tuesday, August 17, Marc Morial, former mayor of New Orleans and currently head of the Urban League, called on the Talk Radio Network to drop Schlessinger’s syndicated radio show. Watchdog group “Media Matters” issued this statement: “It's clear the airwaves are no place for Dr. Laura's hate speech. By choosing to sponsor her, Dr. Laura's advertisers are not only funding her offensive radio show, but are implicitly endorsing its content."

So, Dr. Laura, since you chose not to think before you spoke, I choose to thoughtfully respond to your racist tirade this way. We humans (black and white and other colors) are trying to evolve the word “nigger” out of the language. Every time a public figure like you decides to say the word to a large audience, we are shot back several giant steps. The word “nigger” is a symbol of reducing another human being or group of human beings to their lowest common denominator. You are not in a position to do so. The airwaves you use are offered to you as a privilege, not as a basic right. Other public figures (Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, Don Imus, etc.) have been relegated to public humiliation and shame for doing just what you did. Since you, in your persona as Dr. Laura, choose to give advice to the masses, I will more humbly, as self-appointed Dr. Paul, choose to give my advice to just one person – you:

Dr. Laura, you should have used your position to lift the national conversation to a better place. You were in a position to flood the airwaves with smart rhetoric about issues that concern us, in a way that will add something constructive to the mix of ideas. You are a million listeners down from last year at this time because your words are damaging and hurtful to millions of people. You are underestimating the American public: We are smarter and more progressive in our thinking than you think. We will not rally behind a radio talk show host who dismisses an entire race of Americans. Feel that ice getting thinner under your well-pedicured feet? That’s the feeling of smart, forward-thinking Americans tuning you out. You can go quietly or we can digitally dismiss you, and it appears we just did.

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