I’m sure that if you care, you’ve already heard about the extremely strange racial tirade that has apparently ended (for now) Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s radio career. This article by Mary Elizabeth Williams sums up Schlessinger’s angry outburst at a caller in which she screamed the N-word eleven times. Joan Walsh at Salon writes that last night on Larry King, she announced that she’ll leave the airwaves when her contract ends at the end of this year because she wants to “regain [her] First Amendment rights. (Check out those links–they include both audio and video richness for your full and complete understanding. Go listen to the audio link in the Williams story–don’t miss the part where she says that it’s ironic that there are so many people complaining about racial discrimination when we have a black President! Priceless.)
Walsh focuses on Schlessinger’s curious victimology and her willful misunderstanding of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and rightly so. She writes,
Like a lot of right-wingers lately (see the so-called “ground zero mosque” demonizers), Schlessinger shows a poor grasp of what the First Amendment does. It protects us from government abridging our speech rights; it doesn’t protect us from other Americans deciding we’re racially divisive idiots when we use the word “n!&&er” 11 times in a a single exchange with one caller. . . .
Then there’s the claim [on King's show that] she can’t be “helpful and useful” under the current circumstances, which seems to indicate she can only be “helpful and useful” if she can use the word “nigger” 11 times in one of her rants without being criticized. Schlessinger has gotten away with being “helpful and useful” in all her homophobic, sexist, right-wing glory for almost three decades. It’s amazing this single run-in with American decency has finally made her retreat.
But this wasn’t Schlessinger’s first major on-air meltdown that p!$$ed people off–her first meltdown was back in 1999-2000, when she claimed that homosexuality was a “biological error.” This led to a major consumer boycott and resulted in the cancellation of Schlessinger’s then-fledgling TV show. All of this is important context for understanding her resentment of “interest groups” who might “attack affiliates and attack sponsors” (as she said on King’s show last night.) It’s happened before–and she’s probably correct that it may well happen again. Something else that’s happening again is that Schlessinger is claiming that her First Amendment rights are being violated. Excuse me–I missed the clause in the First Amendment that says no one could say that you’re an idiot. Hey–the First Amendment protects their speech too, dammit!
Comments like this are so dumb, they burn. And speaking of burning: they’re like the letter to the editor I read in the Dayton Daily News a decade ago commenting on a case in which some people had torn down and burned someone else’s gay-rights rainbow flag. The reader complained that since liberals like (U.S.) flag burning, how dare they complain about anyone else burning a flag? (Here’s a hint, numbskull: you can do anything you want but it has to be your flippin’ flag!)
Why do I know about Dr. Laura Schlessinger? I’ve listened to her for fourteen years even though she doesn’t go a day without attacking feminism, blaming it for all social ills, or saying something spectacularly nasty about feminists. (Call it opposition research, plus my longstanding loyalty to the “agony aunt” columns in the newspaper. If you want to feel like you’ve really got it together, just listen in on Laura’s show–you’ll see that you’re not so bad off.) Her schtick is that she decides what the caller’s problem is without hearing too many details, and without expressing much compassion. She’s right that people’s problems aren’t that unique, but her cruelty can be breathtaking to hear sometimes. Her treatment of the caller in the “N-word” incident isn’t special–she talks over other callers and gets very, very angry when they don’t immediately agree with her or (worse) try to engage in a conversation with her instead of meekly listening. These people don’t understand Laura’s performance: it’s all about her being right, all of the time, so no wonder she not only got the “N-word” call wrong, she got angry and screamed it eleven times. Classic Laura!
Schlessinger is nothing if not a chamelon who aims to reflect her times, not to lead them (or “teach, preach, and nag” us, as she used to say.) Longtime listeners from her early days in L.A. remember that she was once the only talk show host to give relationship advice to gay callers. I’ve been with her from the days in which she was reasonably gay-friendly (ca. mid-1990s), to her rightward turn during the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the (s)election of George W. Bush in 2000 (and the anti-gay imbroglio), through her militantly religious turn after 9/11, to her current incarnation in which she’s still vicious about working mothers but she has started taking gay callers and gay relationship questions. (A few years back, she must have gotten some consumer research indicating that she had become too nasty. The years 2002-06 were the high point of her anger and aggression, I think.)
Over the years, she’s converted to Orthodox Judaism (and she’s insisted that her husband do the same), then she’s converted to Christianity, and now (I think) she doesn’t espouse any particular beliefs on the air. She changes her ideas more often than most people change the batteries in their smoke alarms–kind of like how old Hollywood stars used to get married again just to keep their names in the papers.
Schlessinger will survive this latest setback, and she’ll reinvent herself again as she always has. Sadly, I’m sure there’s a large audence for racial ressentiment these days. (Now wasn’t that fair’n'balanced? I got through a whole post about the self-appointed Family Values guru without remarking on her adulterous nudie photos! Talk about a chameleon.)