Talk Radio’s Laura Schlessinger


Berkowitz

Over
the past several years Dr. Laura Schlessinger has taken talk radio to new
heights with her extraordinarily popular and controversial advice program. She
has adapted the call-in format to her own special brand of schtick—a no
excuses, "tough love" approach which frequently turns into a confrontational
bloodletting of her callers. But that doesn’t stop nearly 50,000 callers from
jamming the phone lines every day trying to air out their problems. She calls
these exchanges her "nagging, preaching, and teaching" approach. Critics
claim she’s arrogant, rude, mean-spirited, and the "queen of mean."

A few weeks ago I
experienced a typical Dr. Laura moment while watching the Fox News Channel. The
guest, Dr. Laura, was poised to take viewers’ questions. The phone lines got
screwed up, so the co-host went personal, telling Dr. Laura how conflicted she
felt when she left her children at child-care and asking her what she could do
about it.

Dr. Laura icily
replied, "The choice is simple, it’s either you or your kids. Your kids come
first and then your career. Period." The host, thoroughly discombobulated and
embarrassed, immediately went to commercial. Arrogant and mean-spirited
talk-radio host? Censorship maven? Internet pin-up? Her kids’ mom? Poster girl
for the Religious Right? Dr. Laura Schlessinger is all that…and more. At 52,
Dr. Laura, a recent convert to Orthodox Judaism, has moved from entertainer with
an edge to reliable conduit for the Religious Right’s social agenda.

A Multimedia
Sensation

In
August, her picture appeared on the cover of Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on
the Family Citizen
magazine with a headline that read, "Dr. Laura wants
America to behave—Pornographers and pedophiles beware: You can’t hide from
20 million listeners."

Jeff Hooten,
associate editor for the magazine, writes: "Five days a week on more than 450
stations, broadcast live in most markets, tape-delayed in others, The Dr. Laura
Program, is basically a three-hour sermon save for the fact that the pulpiteer
takes questions from the congregation."

She is the most
listened-to talk radio host in North America, eclipsing Rush Limbaugh and Howard
Stern. Kraig T. Kitchin, president of Premiere Radio Networks which syndicates
her show, claims: "The Dr. Laura Program reigns as the fastest growing
national radio program in our medium’s history, both in listeners and
affiliates."

In an article
about Schlessinger that appeared in Vanity Fair in September 1998, Leslie
Bennetts writes that, in 1997, "Schlessinger, her husband, Lew Bishop, and
their partner, John Shannon, sold her show to Jacor Communication Inc. for $71.5
million."

"My job,"
says Dr. Laura, "was basically to bring ethics—God’s decision of what’s
moral, because God decides what’s moral—and that was just such a turn-on."
She knows she is extremely influential: "I believe my show has brought more
people back to the Catholic Church than anything the Pope has ever said."

Ironically, last
year Dr. Laura single-handedly fueled an Internet explosion in pornography,
becoming an overnight cyber-phenomenon when pictures of her as a naked
20-something went up on the net. She was Clintonesque in her immediate response,
denying that it was her in the photos. Hooten writes, "when her restraining
order was denied and the photos loosed for public ogling, an embarrassed Dr.
Laura decided to have a heart-to-heart with her listeners." While millions
logged on to the Internet to catch a glimpse of Dr. Laura (and were linked to
one of the thousands of pornographic sites on the net), her listeners inundated
her with supportive faxes and letters. Sometimes when a person suffers an
injustice, it makes them a tad more empathetic and understanding of others who
are dealing with adversity. For Dr. Laura, says Hooten, the experience
"motivated her, made her more relentless, more devoted to her mission."

In addition to
her radio program, she has written a string of best-selling books, including: Ten
Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives
; How Could You DO That?!:
The Abdication of Character, Courage, and Conscience
; Ten Stupid Things
Men Do To Mess Up Their Lives
; and her most recent book The Ten
Commandments: The Significance of God’s Laws in Everyday Life,; co-written
with Rabbi Stewart Vogel. She publishes a magazine called Perspective
and
her web site offers all kinds of goodies for sale from T-shirts and mugs to a
mouse pad and a computer screen saver that "features Dr. Laura inspirational
messages for every day of the year."

She recently
signed a $3 million agreement with Paramount Domestic TV to develop a syndicated
daytime talk show, which will begin airing in the fall of 2000, and is
tentatively being called "My Kid’s Mom". In September, the conservative
Capital Research Center’s Philanthropy Culture & Society newsletter
focused on the Dr. Laura Foundation, which she established last year to
specifically support "charities that discourage abortion, encourage teen
abstinence, promote adoption and stay-at-home parenting and prevent child
abuse."

Over the past few
years she has spiced up her program by taking on a whole batch of social issues;
in almost every case, she unabashedly champions the Christian Right’s social
agenda. On her radio program and through her nationally syndicated column she
dispenses a steady stream of antifeminism, homophobia, antiabortion propaganda,
liberal bashing, and advocates against hate-crimes legislation and for
censorship of the Internet. To bolster her views she uses information gathered
from a cross-section of right-wing think tanks, policy institutes, and advocacy
organizations including: the Family Research Council, formerly headed by GOP
presidential wanna-be Gary Bauer; the Capital Resource Institute, an affiliate
of Focus on the Family; and the National Association for Research and Therapy of
Homosexuality, which advocates "reparative therapy" to "treat"
homosexuality.

The ALA
Becomes a Favorite Target

The
American Library Association is one of Dr. Laura’s favorite targets right now.
On her April 15 program, reports Patrizia Dilucchio in Salon.com, Dr. Laura went
off on a major rant: "The ALA is boldly, brashly contributing to sexualizing
our children. And now the pedophiles know where to go."

She bashed the
ALA because their web site recommends to teens, "Go Ask Alice, a [web] site
discussing many graphic issues including bestiality, sadomasochism, and group
sex. In my opinion, the ALA has done something evil, which—as you know from
Mother Laura—is something way past dumb."

Dilucchio points
out that "Go Ask Alice is, in fact, a site produced by Columbia University’s
Health Service to provide ‘factual, in-depth, straightforward information to
assist readers’ decision-making about their physical, sexual, emotional and
spiritual health’….[and that] the site has earned favorable attention from
media like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the
Harvard Health Letter."

Dr. Laura
followed-up her radio diatribe with a column ripping the ALA for standing by its
"so-called Bill of Rights, which opposes limiting access to any and all
material, based upon, among other things, age. This means that the ALA, along
with the ACLU, fights against parental, community and governmental pressure to
put filters on computers used by children, to protect them from accessing the
No. 1 Internet business—pornography" (Washington Times, August 24,
1999).

In this campaign,
she has received support from Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family
Association who, in his September 1999 AFA Action Letter, warned supporters that
"your local library and librarians are hostages of the national ALA," and he
encouraged them to "get informed, get involved and kick them [the ALA] out!"
He also enclosed post cards to send to Dr. Laura encouraging her in her efforts
"to expose the American Library Association’s indefensible stance on
children’s access to sexually graphic and pornographic material in our public
libraries."

Dr. Laura
reserves a healthy portion of her vitriol for "homosexuals" (she refuses to
use the term gay), and "homosexual activist groups," who, she complains,
call her "homophobic, hateful, dangerous and a voice for promoting
violence."

"Why?" she
asks in her August 24 column. "Because I believe that homosexual behavior is
deviant; that when homosexuals adopt children, these children are intentionally
robbed of a necessary mom and dad; and that marriage ought to stay defined as a
covenant between a man and a woman and God."

She goes on to
explain, "Mind you—I never have advocated hate or hostility toward
homosexuals. In fact, homosexuals often call my program with their life
struggles and write me of their disgust with the homosexual activists’
behavior and agenda."

In a Washington
Times
column (July 20), she called President Clinton nuts for proclaiming
June the month for "celebrating homosexuality," and using information from
the virulently antigay Family Research Council, she attacks Human Rights
Campaign leader Elizabeth Birch, and her partner Hilary Rosen, for adopting
twins and then "announc[ing] that the children will be raised by nannies," a
charge that HRC spokesperson David Smith vigorously denied.

Dr. Laura goes
on: "Since when do people have a ‘right’ to practice deviant sexual
behavior and bring innocent children into their homes?" On her radio program,
she could barely control herself when addressing the same issue: "I don’t
give a damn about what these two women want. It hurts children…. The
psychological literature for decades and decades has amassed voluminous
information that says these kids will be damaged because there’s no father in
the home."

Bruce Mirken
writes in the San Francisco Bay Times (September 2) that the Gay and
Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), in an attempt to counter her
growing homophobia, "has recently tried turning up the heat [on Dr. Laura]
with a campaign urging gays and lesbians to write her and ‘tell Dr. Laura the
truth,’ as the group’s representatives met with producers of
Schlessinger’s upcoming TV show."

Dr. Laura has
injected herself into several of the Christian Right’s ongoing political
campaigns. She relied heavily on the Sacramento-based Capitol Resource
Institute, for material opposing AB222, "which would have added sexual
orientation as a category to the law that currently protects students in
California public schools from discrimination based on race, gender, religion,
etc."

Schlessinger, who
claims to be committed to the well-being of all the children, declared that the
bill would "take sexually deviant behavior into schools from kindergarten and
up, and say it’s normal and equivalent to heterosexual, which undermines the
basic foundation of civilization, which is the family, which is defined by God
as a man and a woman…." Look for her to play a leading role in support of
the Knight initiative, the anti same-sex marriage bill appearing on
California’s March 2000 ballot.

Dr. Laura slams
Planned Parenthood with great regularity. In a recent article about gun violence
in America (Jewish World Review, September 22), Dr. Laura wrote that she
was "in the middle of a big change in attitude" in favor of a better-armed
populace.

By video, Dr.
Laura welcomed participants at the Family Friendly Libraries conference in
Cincinnati. Family Friendly Libraries, founded by Karen Jo Gounaud, has been in
the forefront of efforts to remove gay-positive materials from public libraries
and a supporter of blocking Internet access to schools and libraries.

In the June issue
of Perspective, she announced a campaign called "Dr. Laura’s
Warriors," saying that "a true Warrior will take specific, documentable
action to effect a positive change in his or her community that reasserts
values, morality and ethics."

If Dr. Laura and
her "Warriors" truly want to be champions for all children, here are three
issues they could immediately get involved in: (1) focus attention on the
appalling reality that one in five children live in poverty in this country; (2)
become advocates for universal health care for America’s children; and (3)
support "living wage" campaigns so that working people can provide for their
families.
                Z

 


Bill Berkowitz edits
CultureWatch, a monthly publication tracking the
Religious Right and related conservative movements, published by Oakland’s
DataCenter.