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Laura Schlessinger and the First Amendment

Jim Burroway

August 18th, 2010

Laura SchlessingerAfter 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.

Comments

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Lindoro Almaviva
August 18th, 2010 | LINK

OK, this is going to be controversial, but here it goes:

I am half agreeing with the Dr. on some of her anger. All this stems from the Dr. asking the caller why would the black community be offended by a word that they themselves use with one another. I don’t think it was nice of her to use the N-word, but she does have a point.

In our community we experience the same thing with the word “faggot”. It has been used as an insult for far too long, but within the community some have embrace it if nothing else to diminish the sting of it. I personally think is kind of hypocritical (and I will admit of being guilty of it) that I would feel free to use the word “faggot” to describe myself or anyone else but then be offended when a heterosexual uses it towards me or someone else, even if it is not meant as an insult.

What the Dr. did was reprehensible, but she does asked a question worth exploring…

Timothy Kincaid
August 18th, 2010 | LINK

Well… she’s partly right.

There were efforts to silence her. Media Matters began a campaign of targeting her sponsors. And some did drop her.

Of course, efforts to get an opinion to fail financially are also protected by the First Amendment.

Mark F.
August 18th, 2010 | LINK

Timothy:

Sure, but I’m very troubled at the attempt to put someone out of business or get them fired because they have an unpopular opinion or belief. For example, it is totally within your rights to boycott Jewish run businesses. Is that the right thing to do? I don’t think so. Just because you have the right to do it does not mean it is right to do it.

Earlier in the year, left-wing activists (including a friend of mine) were trying to put Whole Foods out of businesss via boycott because the CEO publically opposed Obamacare. Fortunately, this attempt bombed.

This sort of thing tends to shut down democratic debate, which I think is bad.

Timothy Kincaid
August 18th, 2010 | LINK

Mark,

I don’t much jump on the boycott train. I think idiots should have the right to be stupid and unless something is really egregious I tend to avoid targeting their sponsors (though I certainly have at points).

Besides, such boycotts are seldom effective.

Tommy
August 18th, 2010 | LINK

Actually Schlessinger’s use of the N-word was the least offensive thing about that call. Pretty much every moment of that call Schlessinger wallowed in racism and contempt. Her initial instinct when a black woman called in asking for advice about racism was to assume the woman was hypersensitive and whining. She went off on black people being uneducated and voting for Obama because he’s black. When the caller attempted to debate that point, Schlessinger accused her of having a chip on her shoulder. Then there was her extended claims about “black think” (her words) which is apparently, again, hypersensitivity and demonizing white people.

And, in the end, her advice for dealing with racism was to tell the caller to get a sense of humor.

Everything Schlessinger said dripped of pure racism. If anything she’s lucky that people are only focusing on her comments about HBO comedians.

Steve
August 18th, 2010 | LINK

Schlessinger has been given a free pass for way too long.

She portrays herself as a health care professional and yet has no background in psychiatry, psychology, or counseling. Her doctorate is in physiology. She is never one to leave out the “Doctor” title. What a bunch of crap and false advertising.

Her views are based on anything but science. For one who portrays herself as educated by virtue of having an advanced degree, she certainly doesn’t show any tolerance that comes along with being educated and realizing that not all in nature is black and white.

Finally, she caters to insecure women who call in and allow themselves to be humiliated and berated. Her caller population is predominately young or middle aged women with depression who are insecure and lack self esteem. They sit there and listen while this pseudodoctor cuts them off in mid sentence and further reduces their self esteem in her angry tirades.

Good riddance.

AdrianT
August 18th, 2010 | LINK

She abuses her ‘Dr’ title, effectively asking for her words to be judged by her reputation or status, rather than the other way about. It seems, if you have Dr or Rev in front of your name, you can get away with almost aby insult to dignity and truth. Well finally, truth won out.

She should stop whining – people want nothing to do with her, and it is their First Amendment right, if not duty, to encourage the owners of brands which they spend so much money on, not to spend their revenue on endorsing fanatics who do more damage than good to society. Her comments about LGBT people were highly inflammatory, the green light for for murderers like Calvin Glover, and numerous others. Maybe she should ask the parents of the late Barry Winchell what persecution means.

Emily K
August 18th, 2010 | LINK

I agree with the above commenter who said “it’s not about the n word but the attitude of the comments.”

You can debate all day about the power of words and who uses them and why. But “Dr.” Laura could have left the n-word out and still have come off racist. What does Obama have anything to do with the caller’s question? her in-laws are making racist comments and Schlessinger’s solution is to “grow a sense of humor?” Huh, too bad Dr. King (a man worthy of the title “Dr.”) didn’t think of that one. Maybe civil rights would’ve come to Blacks a lot sooner. And “Black-think”? Seriously?? I request that she write a dictionary translating this special language/thoughtpattern.

mikeksf
August 18th, 2010 | LINK

Since the poor, pitiful, put upon “DR” is being so besieged by her use of language and this attack on her 1st Amendment rights she should take the bold and principled stand and say “F*ck this sh!t” 2 or 3 times on her radio program. HBO and black and white comedians say it all the time. By golly, so should she. Then she doesn’t have to play the victim, she could be the new George Carlin

Rob
August 18th, 2010 | LINK

mikeksf, don’t you dare compare trash to the late George Carlin. Show some respect.

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