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Talk Radio's Laura Schlessinger
Championing the Christian Rights social agenda
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 schticka no excuses, "tough love" approach which frequently turns into a confrontational bloodletting of her callers. But that doesnt 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 shes 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, its 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 Rights social agenda.
A Multimedia Sensation
In August, her picture appeared on the cover of Dr. James Dobsons Focus on the Family Citizen magazine with a headline that read, "Dr. Laura wants America to behavePornographers and pedophiles beware: You cant 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 mediums 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 ethicsGods decision of whats moral, because God decides whats moraland 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 Gods 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 Kids Mom". In September, the conservative Capital Research Centers 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 Rights 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. Lauras 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, whichas you know from Mother Laurais something way past dumb."
Dilucchio points out that "Go Ask Alice is, in fact, a site produced by Columbia Universitys 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 businesspornography" (Washington Times, August 24, 1999).
In this campaign, she has received support from Rev. Donald Wildmons 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 Associations indefensible stance on childrens 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 youI 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 dont 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 theres 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 groups representatives met with producers of Schlessingers upcoming TV show."
Dr. Laura has injected herself into several of the Christian Rights 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 its 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 Californias 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. Lauras 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 Americas 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 Oaklands DataCenter.