Reflections on Dr. Laura

by Conor Friedersdorf

I'm confused by news of her impending retirement.

After her controversial exchange with a caller, she issued what seemed to be a forthright apology:

I talk every day about doing the right thing.  And yesterday, I did the wrong thing. 

I didn’t intend to hurt people, but I did.  And that makes it the wrong thing to have done.

I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the “n” word all the way out - more than one time.  And that was wrong.  I’ll say it again - that was wrong.

I ended up, I’m sure, with many of you losing the point I was trying to make, because you were shocked by the fact that I said the word.  I, myself, realized I had made a horrible mistake, and was so upset I could not finish the show.  I pulled myself off the air at the end of the hour.  I had to finish the hour, because 20 minutes of dead air doesn’t work.  I am very sorry.  And it just won’t happen again.

I happen to think that there are deep, longstanding problems with Dr. Laura's radio show that have nothing to do with racial epithets, and that even in the controversial call itself, the most objectionable element was the lack of attention, courtesy and respect shown to the caller. I've found that tick of hers galling since I was 14 years old.

Still, I have to credit the talk radio host for actually apologizing without the usual weasel words.

And I must concur with much of her followup remarks about what she's learned from the incident:

Now, what makes me sad…what pains my heart deeply…is that, beyond the reasoned letters which I continue to get, I have heard comments from some broadcasters and letters from some people that cannot be described as anything other than hate-filled diatribes.  Hate-filled.  This does not make me angry, but it hurts my heart. 
My hope with my apology, which was true and immediate and uncoerced, was that the silver lining might be that a dialogue be started to stop hate and bigotry.  I still hold out some hope… but I am a realist and I fear that there are those who frankly want to encourage hate and anger.
Now, when I first started out in radio, people would disagree…they DISAGREED…they didn’t HATE.  They didn’t try to censor, they didn’t try to destroy an opposing point of view.  Instead…they just argued and debated, and argued and disagreed, and debated and argued.  But our society has changed dramatically.  Self-appointed activist types breed hate, breed anger, breed destruction should anyone hold up a mirror or dare to disagree.  This environment, as you know, is not only in radio and television…it is in politics; it’s in every area of our society…in your neighborhoods, in your school districts, at work…

All true, and no less so because Dr. Laura herself has been an occasional participant in that culture of ugliness, as her gay listeners in particular know all too well. (She has since apologized for some of her more extreme remarks.)

It seems to me that there is a disconnect between Dr. Laura's remarks above, and the content of her appearance on Larry King.

"I want my 1st Amendment rights back, which I can't have on radio without the threat of attack on my advertisers and stations," Schlessinger said.

She emphasized that she is not retiring. "I will be stronger and freer to say my mind through my books, my YouTube Channel, my blog and my website," she said.

If she regrets the remarks for which she is being criticized, and regards them as a mistake, why does she require more freedom to speak her mind? (And what does the first amendment have to do with it?) Frankly, I'd rather that Dr. Laura retired than continue to treat her callers with such frequent disrespect, but even better would be a chastened host who maintained her various strengths while improving on her more galling weaknesses.

Here's hoping that her hate mail stops, that her post-talk radio career is an improved one, and that the number of people she helps -- even her critics can acknowledge there have been many over the years -- only increases.