Tuning out Dr. Laura: Do the Fierce Protests against Her New TV Talk Show Violate the Shock Doc's First Amendment Rights?
France, David, Newsweek
There is no progress without resistance." That's one of those "Lauraisms" that Laura Schlessinger, the radio scold better known as "Dr. Laura," must suddenly deplore. Even she could not have been prepared for the resistance by gays and feminists that preceded this week's debut of her new eponymous weekday TV show. Her incendiary views have galvanized antihate groups into perhaps the most successful "education campaign aimed at advertisers"--don't call it a boycott--in talk-show history. Before the television show was ever on the air, potential advertisers were backing out. Even her six-year-old radio show started taking on water, and 16 percent of her regular advertisers have jumped ship. "We have never faced anything like this before," says Premiere Radio Network president Kraig Kitchin, her syndicator.
Some people are starting to feel just the slightest bit sorry for Laura Schlessinger. Even the groups that share a common opposition to her rhetoric disagree on how far their protests should go. Some, like the Web site StopDrLaura.com, say they won't rest till she's off the air. But others, like People for the American Way president Ralph Neas, worry about violating Schlessinger's constitutional freedom. "We certainly believe the rhetoric of 'Dr. Laura' is ugly and inflammatory. We will do what we can in an educational realm" to expose that, he says. To that end, he cosponsored newspaper ads decrying Schlessinger's "hurtful" words. "But we are a proponent of freedom of speech," he adds. Hers included.
Such controversy hardly seemed inevitable last summer, when Paramount Domestic Television inked a $3 million deal for a spinoff of the top-rated radio show, which reaches 18 million listeners. After all, her Morton Downey Jr. routine has already taken aim at just about everybody. Parents who work ("Don't have children if you won't raise them!"). Single moms ("criminal and immoral!"). All women ("They have abortions! They go to bars! They get knocked up again!"). But her view of gays and lesbians is what most riles the anti-Schlessinger forces. She has famously branded homosexuality "a biological error," declaring that "a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys." She uses her enormous media reach to promote the psychologically harmful notion that homosexuality should (and can) be "cured."
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation joined the National Organization for Women and others to run newspaper ads that simply quoted from her broadcasts. For example: "I always told people who opposed homosexuality that they were homophobic, bad, bigoted and idiotic. I was wrong." She defends her wild assertions as "clinical" observations--she's neither a doctor nor a psychologist; her Ph.D. is in physiology--or as rooted in her Jewish faith. (She declined to comment to NEWSWEEK, but last week complained to Larry King that her "differing opinion is taken as discriminatory hate-mongering.")
In May, Procter & Gamble canceled plans to advertise on Schlessinger's TV program, and said it wouldn't appear again on her radio program, either. …