Laura Schlessinger has been in radio since I was a teenager, doing a late-night advice show on KWIZ, has published a string of books, and turned into a force in the social-commentary industry. Now Dr. Laura plans to give up her radio show after a controversial incident in which she used the N-word repeatedly while arguing that a woman in an interracial relationship was too sensitive about insults from family. Schlessinger apologized completely for her actions, but now says she wants to leave radio “to regain my First Amendment rights”:
The announcement by the host of the “Dr. Laura” program was a stunning denouement after a week in which Schlessinger was widely criticized for describing an African American caller to her program as “hypersensitive” for taking offense at a neighbor’s racial taunting. To illustrate her claim of a racial double standard, she said that black comedians often use the N-word on TV without criticism, but the word is forbidden for white people. She used the racial epithet, unexpurgated, 11 times in five minutes, despite her caller’s protests.
Schlessinger later apologized for the remarks, saying she said “the wrong thing” on the air. On Tuesday she went further: During an interview on “Larry King Live” on CNN, Schlessinger said, “My contract is up for my radio show at the end of the year, and I’ve made the decision not to do radio anymore.”
She added: “The reason is, I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special-interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I’m sort of done with that.”
Schlessinger’s advice program has been a fixture on talk radio for years and is heard on almost 200 stations around the country. (The weekday program was dropped by WMAL-AM in Washington several years ago.) In 2000, Schlessinger drew protests from a coalition of gay organizations after deeming gays “deviants” and “biological errors.” She later apologized for those remarks.
I like Dr. Laura and agree with her often, but this is just silly. Few people in America have been more blessed by the First Amendment than Laura Schlessinger. She has had a career of over thirty years by speaking her mind in public fora around the nation. When not broadcasting, Schlessinger tours the lecture circuit, writes books, and makes a very good living at exercising her rights to free speech.
If Schlessinger feels that getting paid to talk puts too much restriction on her broadcast content, that may well be a legitimate point, but as noted above, broadcasting is only one of several means available to her in commercializing her speech. Besides, the First Amendment doesn’t confer the right to profit from speech, only the right to speak. It isn’t an entitlement to publication. It also means that people can speak out and disagree with what Schlessinger says, even if she sees that speech as an “attack” on her, her sponsors, and her affiliates. It’s a little late in the game to suddenly get sensitive about criticism, and just a little hypocritical to cast it as an “attack” while demanding the supposed return of her First Amendment rights.
Schlessinger offered a full apology for her remarks, calling them “wrong.” She didn’t evade responsibility for them, nor did she offer the “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” non-apology apology. Schlessinger should have stopped there, instead of making herself into a First Amendment martyr when she has never had an issue of being “silenced” or having those rights taken from her. Even those of us who work daily in the First Amendment space seem to need reminders that the Constitution does not give people the right to be free from criticism after their own exercise of free speech.