Tuesday night, Dr. Laura Schlessinger went on CNN’s “Larry King Live” to announce that she’s quitting her radio show at the end of this year.
Let’s pause to note she chose a TV show on which to make her announcement — she knows how unimportant her own radio show has become over the last few years, so she had to choose another media platform to get the word out.
On CNN, Schlessinger explained,
“I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I’m done with that.”
It’s clear that Schlessinger doesn’t understand the First Amendment, which says “Congress shall make no law….” There’s nothing in there about “Listeners shall not complain….” The freedom of speech guaranteed in the Bill of Rights pertains only to governmental interference, and there is none of that in Schlessinger’s case. The FCC hasn’t cracked down on her, nor has any other official in Washington decreed that she can’t spew her ludicrous opinions.
The blowback she’s experienced for years — back to 2000, when she claimed homosexuality is a “biological error” — has come from other Americans who expressed their free speech rights by complaining about her to advertisers and the radio stations who carried her show. That’s the way things work in this country, but it’s apparent Schlessinger can’t stand the heat, so she’s running out of the kitchen.
She claims she’ll now be “stronger and freer to say the things that I believe need to be said for people in this country.” But she won’t have nearly as big a platform. She’ll no doubt write a few books, go digital with a new online presence, and open Twitter and Facebook accounts, where she can spew nonsense nonstop a la Sarah Palin.
The difference is that when Palin quit her job prematurely, she left the lower-paying life of a governor for the higher-paying life of media celebrity. Schlessinger is already a media celebrity and is about to discover that the paychecks are a lot smaller in the real world compared to the radio universe she thrived in.
All of this is because of an incident on her show a couple of weeks ago in which a black caller married to a white man complained that his friends and family often used racial epithets in her presence, and she wanted Schlessinger’s advice. Schlessinger’s reply was to explain that there’s a double standard between black and whites involving the use of the N-word. She said the actual word on the air, over and over again, a total of 11 times. The call created controversy online and on cable news shows, so Schlessinger apologized the next day, but that only exacerbated the problem by bringing more attention to the previous day’s conversation.
I’m no fan of Schlessinger by any means, but I’ve heard the audio and, while she was overzealous in her overuse of the N-word, much of the criticism aimed at her was unwarranted. It came from groups that hate her for previous comments on race and homosexuality, who saw this as an opportunity to break the camel’s back with one more straw.
That’s how the system works. Those groups have the legal right to protest, contact sponsors, picket the stations, and run e-mail campaigns against her. There are plenty of extremist groups on her side of the ideological fence who do the same thing every day to radio and TV shows they disagree with. In Schlessinger’s case, her opponents have been successful in the last decade in reducing the popularity of her show simply by showcasing the actual words that came out of her mouth. If she can’t stand up to scrutiny, she’s better off leaving.
Ironically, in the internet age, she won’t be able to avoid that scrutiny simply by leaving the air. Those groups will continue to monitor what she says online and in print and respond in kind via blogs and other outlets, but from now on, Schlessinger won’t have her cozy cash-producing radio cushion to cry into.
Her absence won’t leave much of a void. There are plenty of other racist homophobes on the air for her affiliates to choose from. And Mel Gibson could probably use the work.
If nothing else, Schlessinger did inspire a great scene on “The West Wing.” It’s election night and, as returns are coming in, radio personalities from around the country have been invited to the White House (including one guy who claims he was “In The Morning” before “Imus In The Morning,” even though his age makes that impossible). As the talk-jocks are mingling and enjoying some crab puffs, President Bartlet enters to say hello, notices Dr. Jenna Jacobs (the Dr. Laura Schlessinger doppelganger), and engages her with a few choice words…