Laura Schlessinger and the First Amendment
August 18th, 2010
After I posted the news of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s announcement that she was quitting her radio program at the end of the year over controversy over her usage of a racial epithet on her program last week, I thought some more about her tendency toward playing the victim. I gave a few examples from rather ancient history in that post, but I didn’t include her latest example. Last night, when she announced her retirement from radio on Larry King Live, she said:
SCHLESSINGER: You know, when I started in radio, if you said something somebody didn’t agree with and they didn’t like, they argued with you. Now, they try to silence you. They try to wipe out your ability to earn a living and to have your job. They go after affiliates. They send threats to sponsors.
KING: That’s their right, too.
SCHLESSINGER: Yes, but I don’t hatch the right to say what I need to say. My First Amendment rights have been usurped by angry, hateful groups who don’t want to debate. They want to eliminate.
So, that’s why I decided it was time to move on to other venues where I could say my piece and not have to live in fear anymore that sponsors and their families are going to be upset, radio stations are going to be upset, my peeps, as I call them, are going to be upset.
I think Schlessinger has a rather odd view of the First Amendment. It only says that the government will not infringe on anyone’s right to say whatever they want to say. As we’ve pointed out many times, that provision protects some egregiously racist speech, much much worse than anything Schlessinger has ever said or written. And their rights have been protected in the courts as hers would be.
But as anyone with a passing familiarity with the First Amendment knows, that right doesn’t extend to private platforms. Any broadcaster or editor is perfectly free to bar any opinion, and they can use any arbitrary or inconsistent whim they wish to apply. The First Amendment does not prohibit that in the least. Talk Radio Network, which syndicates Schlessinger’s program, is free drop her program anytime they want, and they can do so for any reason as long as it is in accordance with their contract with her.
But that’s not what’s happening. It’s Schlessinger who’s walking away, not Talk Radio Network. Nor is Clear Channel Communications refusing to handle her satellite distribution and advertising sales. The decision to end Schlessinger’s program, according to her own admission to Larry King last night, is entirely her own.
Schlessinger prides herself on her calling-’em-as-she-sees-em aggressive style. To her, this brand of honesty is the essence of character. But she’s clearly not exhibiting it here, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s just another instance of a longstanding pattern. When her short-lived 2000 television talk show fell apart over low ratings and controversy over staff members posing as fake guests, she blamed gay activists for silencing her. Fast forward a decade, and she’s ending her radio show of her own volition and claims that someone — I don’t know who — is silencing her. But that’s not true. She’s only going away because people are criticizing her, and she seems to think the First Amendment ought to somehow make her immune from that. She’s wrong. Criticism is part of the essence of the First Amendment, not its enemy.
Ironically, one of Dr. Laura’s books is titled Stop Whining, Start Living. That’s rich because being tough-talking and thin-skinned is a really bad combination. She might consider that as the basis for an eleventh stupid thing people do to mess up their lives.