Many people have wondered how Laura Schlessinger, better known as Dr. Laura, remained on the radio after demonstrating incredible racial insensitivity punctuated by a n-word rant last week during an exchange with a black caller. But Dr. Laura, during her appearance on Larry King Live last night, finally brought some closure to the issue, announcing her decision to leave radio. Although her departure is the outcome many desired, Dr. Laura still managed to turn the tables, somehow making herself the victim.
“The reason is I want to regain my first amendment rights,” she told King as she explained why she decided not to renew her expiring contract. “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 and attack sponsors,” she continued. “I’m sort of done with that.”
As Dr. Laura spoke to King, it was clear that she did not feel remorseful, despite her apology for last week’s debacle before announcing her departure from radio. After all, Dr. Laura is no stranger to controversy. Prior to this incident, she had come under fire for anti-gay sentiments, which included her opposition to gay marriage, on her short-lived television show in 2000. She so angered gay activists and others that they successfully launched StopDrLaura.com, contributing greatly to the demise of her television show.
Such success didn’t stop Dr. Laura, whose radio listenership is estimated at over 10 million, and she vows that she will not be stopped now. “I’m not retiring, I’m not quitting,” she told King. “I feel energized actually. Stronger and freer to say the things that I believe need to be said for people in this country.”
When King pointed out that she was “giving up the one area of your fame” by leaving radio, Dr. Laura countered, sharing her many endeavors, which include books, speaking engagements and the Internet. According to Dr. Laura, those other mediums are freer from scrutiny. “I decided it was time to move on to other venues where I could say my peace and not have to live in fear anymore,” she told King.
Clearly these are different times and the Internet, in particular, is a powerful resource. To borrow from Jay-Z, it’s both “the gift and the curse,” depending on which side you stand. Newsweek recognized this with its list of “http://www.newsweek.com/2010/08/17/the-most-notorious-bloggers.html”>“The Most Notorious Bloggers,” which posted yesterday on Newsweek.com. Interestingly, Andrew Breitbart, the blogger at the center of the Shirley Sherrod scandal, topped the list. So the worry is not that Dr. Laura, like Don Imus before her, will be back on the radio but, rather, that she will find even greater success in a medium that is not as heavily policed.
How exactly does one counter the Internet? Had Andrew Breitbart been on radio or television, for example, his action with the edited Sherrod video would have ended his career. With the Internet, the consequences are much harder to gauge. Apparently a clear lack of journalistic integrity hasn’t slowed Breitbart.com.
So this is the arena that Dr. Laura has chosen to emphasize. In some ways, she has pointed to a new frontier for those battling hate speech and other forms of insensitivity. At one time, digital media may have been an uncertain endeavor but, today, its power is more assured that ever. For those seeking a platform for their views, even destructive ones, the Internet is unrivaled and unchecked.
This may be Dr. Laura’s last year on the radio but it’s clearly not the last time she will be able to rally others who share her beliefs. With this aspect of the Internet serving as the monster that cannot be seen, Dr. Laura leads the pack once again, proving that she and others like her are always one step ahead of the game and more than willing to change the rules.