Bush's "era of personal responsibility" nothing new. . .
just ask that maven of morality, Dr. Laura!
Donna J. Wade (August 2000)
In accepting his party's presidential nomination, George W. Bush
proclaimed that he would usher in a new age of personal responsibility. Sorry to
steal your thunder, Duh!bya, but Dr. Laura Schlessinger beat you to the punch.
Ask any of her 20 million weekly listeners, and they'll tell you that Dr. Laura was chanting the
personal responsibility mantra long before
George W. began his pursuit of the Oval Office.
Second in the ratings only to the reigning king of talk radio,
Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura has built a lucrative career out of her sometimes borderline-rude
style of getting callers to accept responsibility for their actions. The syndication deal
for her radio program garnered Dr. Laura a reported $70 million. Add to that the proceeds
from her best-sellingbooks, sold-out speaking engagements, and syndicated newspaper
column, and it's clear that being the maven of morality is no mere vocation, it's the
foundation for a broadcasting & publishing empire.
Nearly 50,000 people phone in daily to speak with the good
doctor. Call screeners ask "What is your question of right and wrong?" or
"What is your moral dilemma?" If the caller's problem doesn't fall into either
of those categories, they don't get on the air.
A convert to orthodox Judaism, Dr. Laura's tremendous popularity
among even fundamentalist Christians bodes well for Joe Lieberman's Vice Presidential bid,
demonstrating that Americans care more about the moral character of the person than the
particular faith they practice. Her hyper-traditional ideas on family have struck such a
chord in her listeners that they are willing to ignore the fact that her faith rejects the
cornerstone of theirs, Christ as the Messiah.
Dr. Laura is keenly aware that with her popularity and celebrity also
comes the power to mobilize legions of kindred spirits toward a common goal. What she is
apparently unaware of, however, is that with this power also comes a responsibility to get
her facts straight before any call to action, or risk being seen as yet another tabloid
journalist. Then again, maybe she is cognizant of this responsibility, and it's more a
simple case of "do as I say, not as I do."
It appears the good doctor likes to play fast and loose with the
truth. She doesn't flat out lie, but often chooses to impart to her listeners only the
half-truths which support her views, conveniently omitting evidence to the contrary. This
was evident when she urged listeners to complain to the American Library Association (ALA)
because their internet website provided a link to a site for young adults (those aged
12-18) "Go Ask Alice".
The original objection to the site was voiced in a press release
from a group called the Minnesota Family Council, from which Dr. Laura quoted on her radio
show. The press release focused exclusively on teens' graphic questions about sexuality,
to the exclusion of the other information contained at the site, which is produced by Dr.
Laura's alma mater, Columbia University.
Rather than investigate the site herself before condemning it, or
complaining to Columbia about the content, Dr. Laura
chose to accuse the ALA of being part of a conspiracy of moral
degradation and aiding in the sexualization of children, making them prime targets of
pedophiles. After Dr. Laura's excoriation (which made no mention of the other 100+
websites that also carry a link to "Go Ask Alice") the ALA was bombarded with
letters, phone calls and emails condemning them for including a link to the site, even
though many admitted they had not even seen it.
The unfortunate side of this battle with the ALA is that Dr.
Laura's condemnation resulted in Toys 'R Us breaking off
negotiations with the ALA to donate $250,000 for building
children's reading rooms in public libraries. While Dr. Laura extolled this as a victory
in her war with the ALA, the decision of Toys 'R Us to withdraw funding did not negatively
impact the ALA, but the scores of children who might have benefitted.
In many ways, Dr. Laura's public appeal is like her moral code --
there is no gray area. People see her either as the vanguard of virtue or a throwback to a
significantly less tolerant chapter in our nation's history.
The movers and shakers at Paramount Domestic Television know a
gold mine when they see it, so they're bringing Dr. Laura to national television this
fall. In an interview with Time Magazine, Schlessinger stated that the show will
ultimately be a call to action, which has civil rights activists circling the wagons.
This is particularly true in the gay and lesbian community, whom
Schlessinger has declared "biological errors" and equated with pedophilia and
bestiality, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.
As an open lesbian, I share our community's concerns about giving
Dr. Laura a nationally televised forum from whichto spread such misinformation, knowing
that many will accept it as truth simply because she says so. Paramount would never supply
such a high-profile venue to someone proffering racist or anti-Semitic beliefs, but
anti-gay is okay. Sounds like a double standard to me.
StopDrLaura.com details continuing efforts to derail the project.
Since the primary motivation for both Paramount and potential advertisers is profit, gays
and lesbians are exercising their economic clout, successfully convincing some
sponsors that support for this endeavor is bad for business.
Among those who have withdrawn their advertising are Proctor & Gamble, AT&T,
United Airlines, American Express, Kraft, and General Foods.Supporters of Dr. Laura claim
that these efforts attack her right to free speech. But Dr. Laura exercises that right
quite liberally, three hours a day, five days a week, on nearly 500 radio stations
worldwide. And she uses her religion as the justification for her moral condemnation of
not only gays, but of anyone who transgresses the narrow boundariesof her personal
definition of right and wrong.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees Dr. Laura
the right to think and say what she wants, and I'll defend that right to my death, no
matter how much I personally wish she would just shut up. Because if she is denied that
right (or Fred Phelps, or David Duke), it's only a matter of time before it's taken from
The scariest aspect of the Dr. Laura phenomenon is not the heated
debate she sparks, but some of folks who crawl out from under their rocks when she exhorts
people to action. After her on-air repudiation of the StopDrLaura.com website, the site
received a barrage of frightening, vitriolic correspondence.
Jason in Columbus, OH wrote: "Society needs to stop being
apathetic to fags and queers. We support Dr. Laura in her effort to enlighten listeners
everywhere. If only she would talk about the detrimental effects niggers have on this
earth, I would have a poster of her on my wall."
Granted, the majority of her followers probably aren't such
bigots. But I believe it is irresponsible of both Paramount and Dr. Laura to participate
in the mass-marketing of misinformation which perpetuates such ignorance, and potentially
So, practice what you preach, Dr. Laura. Assume some personal
responsibility for the climate of intolerance that results when media personalities play
to people's fears for ratings. Recognize that your words have not only the power to heal,
but to wound, especially when used flippantly to demean an entire segment of the human