by Bill Berkowitz
There'strouble brewing in Dr. Laura Schlessinger's neighborhood. Talk-radio's most listened-to personality recently had her $1 million slander suit against Tom Moore, a Costa Mesa, California surf shop owner, dismissed.
Several months ago Dr. Laura was visiting Moore's shop with her son. She came across a copy of the Larry Flynt-published Big Brother Skateboarding, and discovered sexually explicit photos. The next day she viscously attacked Moore on her radio program, accusing him of purposefully carrying "stealth pornography." Moore defended himself, denying that his store ordered or bought the magazine, "effectively calling the pop psychiatrist a liar," reports E Online. She responded with a $1 million suit.
According to E Online, Orange County Superior Court Judge John Watson dismissed the lawsuit "under a state law designed to protect individuals from frivolous suits." Meanwhile, Moore countersued and his defamation suit, filed in October against Dr. Laura, has been allowed to proceed.
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 shtick -- 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."
Arrogant and mean-spirited talk-radio host? Censorship maven? Internet pin-up? Her kid' s mom? Diminutive doyen of diatribes? Poster girl for the Religious Right?
Dr. Laura Schlessinger is all that...and more.
At 52, and barely five-foot-three and 110 pounds, 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.
InAugust, 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 even 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 Bennett 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."
Last year Dr. Laura single-handedly fueled an Internet explosion in pornography, becoming an overnight cyber-phenomenon when pictures of her as a naked twenty-something went up on the net. She was Clintonesque in her immediate response, denying that it was her in the photos.
Hooten writes that "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. L. in the buff (and were linked to one of the thousands of pornographic sites on the net), 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."
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 tee-shirts and mugs, to a mouse pad and a computer screen saver that "features Dr. Laura inspirational messages for every day of the year."
In the not too distant future, she will be appearing on a television station near you. She recently signed a $3 million agreement with Paramount Domestic TV to develop a syndicated daytime talk show, which will probably begin airing in the fall of 2000, and is tentatively being called My Kid's Mom.
Overthe 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 homophobia, anti-feminism, anti-abortion 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, a Sacramento, Calif.-based affiliate of Focus on the Family; and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which advocates "reparative therapy" to "treat" homosexuality.
The American Library Association is a favorite current target. In April, Dr. Laura went off on the ALA, reports Patrizia Dilucchio in Salon.com (May 27, 1999). She told her audience that, "The ALA is boldly, brashly contributing to sexualizing our children. And now the pedophiles know where to go."
She was extremely upset that the ALA web site recommends "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 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."
Schlessinger,who in the past "tolerated" homosexuality, even making overtures to Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays at one point, now 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 says, "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 calls 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 spokesman 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 the radio, she could barely control herself: "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."
Dr. Laura has injected herself into several of the Christian Right's ongoing political campaigns. She relied heavily on the Capitol Resource Institute, for material opposing California state Assemblywoman Sheila James Kuehl's "Dignity for All Students" bill (AB 222), which failed to win passage in June. After its defeat (the bill was rewritten as AB 537 and in late summer was passed by both state houses and signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis), Schlessinger said that the bill "'would have resulted in schools being forced to hire openly homosexual schoolteachers and school personnel and having openly'-and I'm reading again from the United States Justice Foundation paper here-'having openly homosexual, bisexual and cross-dressing teachers could have a substantially negative impact on impressionable elementary and/or junior high school children.'"
By video, Dr. Laura recently 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 are supporters of blocking Internet access in schools and libraries.
Currently, she is actively supporting the Knight initiative, the anti same-sex marriage bill appearing on California's March 2000 ballot. In the "Fun Faxes & Letters" section of her web site she promotes a "Call to Action: California Protection of Marriage Initiative," urging her followers to "get involved by volunteering or donating" to the campaign.
In order to combat Schlessinger's hate rhetoric, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) met with producers of her upcoming TV show. GLAAD has also monitored and transcribed some of her more outrageous shows dealing with LGBT people, and made those transcripts available to the media. They are spearheading an all-out campaign to educate Schlessinger by asking that LGBT people write or fax the talk show host to share their life stories. But there is a caveat.
Recently, when GLAAD Executive Director Joan M. Garry met with Schlessinger, she bluntly told Garry that attacks on her only serve to make her more popular. In a letter to the community Garry wrote: "Clearly, Schlessinger needs to hear the truth about our lives and about how her comments incite hate. But remember, Schlessinger believes public attacks against her actually benefit her. Therefore, GLAAD is making an appeal to you. Obviously, she is expecting (perhaps even hoping for) angry letters with attacks as personal as those she directs, fodder to use against us on the air. So we are requesting that you write to her and register your opinions as clearly and strongly as possible without rising to her 'bait.' ..."
GLAAD Communications Director Stephen Spurgeon laid out the organization's problems with Dr. Laura: "It's really three points: One is her vocabulary and the terminology that she uses; secondly, she only cites conservative sources, like the Family Research Council; and third, she just has a lack of respect for any view unlike her own."
December 19, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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