CAMPtalk: Dr. Laura Rants as Area Station Signs Off on Responsibility
|by Bill Sievert|
"Doctor" Laura has a lot on her mind of late. She is ever so worried about the conspiracy of gay activists against her. They are "out to destroy me," she often whines when her nationally syndicated radio show receives a letter from someone who disagrees with her simple "truths" about homosexuality. Its not easy to be a dedicated "doctor" of detraction.
Day in and day out, she must tirelessly devote large amounts of airtime to warning her listeners about the dangers gay men and lesbians present to society. Oh so many of us are pornographers and pedophiles. The National Association of Man-Boy Love is a major voice in the gay political movement. (Laura loves to talk about pedophilia, but she can barely utter the word "pedophile" without including the word "homosexual" in the same breath.) Gay and lesbian teachers are automatically suspect, as are librarians who protect our literature. Of course, all gay love isby its very naturesickness.
The gentle "doctors" distaste for us applies equally to such professional organizations as the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations, which we infiltrated decades ago, forcing them to remove homosexuality from the lists of mental disorders. While we are truly ill, we can be cured through therapy, proclaims the broadcaster who believes her truths to be self-evident because she is "DOCTOR Laura."
So where did Laura Schlesinger get her medical degree? Well, no, she doesnt have one. And no, shes not a licensed psychologist or psychotherapist. Her credentials are more akin to those of Dr. Demento, radios rock n roll history expert. (I recall that one of the first lessons I learned in journalism school was to beware of people who like to use the title of doctor simply because they completed a post-graduate thesis in a subject ranging from art history to zoology. Most publications refuse to identify such people as doctors. But radio is much more lenient on credentials.)
"Doctor" Laura has a lot to say about the law, too. She hates "hate crime" legislation, designed to protect us against gay bashers. "Why is it any more hateful to kill a gay person than it would be to murder my son?" Although she is Jewish, she clearly has chosen to miss the point about the special nature of hate when it is applied to an entire group of human beings. Instead, she has taunted us with her manipulative question about her son ever since Matthew Shepherd was brutally murdered for the sole reason that he was gay. Since Shepherds death, Lauras occasional barbs in our direction have turned into an almost daily centerpiece of her program. (For those of you who havent heard any of her tirades and doubt that her attacks could be so bitter, order a transcript of the first half hour of the broadcast which aired in major cities on April 19.)
On top of all her other woes, "Doctor" Laura often sounds worried about her son. She has tried so hard to shelter him from the evil she perceives everywhere around her. But now her lone offspring is reaching the age of puberty, a time when the gay recruiters will be working overtime to tempt him to join the club. It has made me wonder how this doting mother would react if, one day in the not too distant future, the young man walked through her door and said, "Mom, Ive got something to tell you"
I have wondered also why radio stations, such as Rehoboth Beachs WGMD, have been willing to give her so many hours of airtime to wage a steadfast campaign against gay people without offering any other viewpoint to balance her attacks. WGMD likes to call itself a community station, and it is our primary radio source for local news, weather and chitchat. But much of its daytime programming is syndicated, and those programs areto put it mildlyvery conservative. After Lauras three hours a day comes three hours of Rush Limbaugh, and throughout the day the station broadcasts Paul Harveys commentary.
I decided to send an email to the stations program director, asking why. I noted that the Rehoboth area includes a large and growing number of lesbians and gay men, many of whom live here year round. We would like to be considered a part of the stations community, I suggested. But all we usually hear about our lives is Lauras harangues.
Program Director Dan Gaffney sent me a swift response, called mine "a great letter" and said he was forwarding it to station ownership. Gee, I thought, writing a letter can have an impact. Dan, who also hosts a morning talk show, said he had a "20-year track record of supporting gay rights when brought up on my program." He also said he did not believe that Laura was anti-gay, but noted that "I just listen occasionally for funand a different perspective."
A different perspective from what? What is fun about daily attacks on the dignity of any group of peopleattacks that are particularly insidious in that many listeners believe they are coming from a doctor (despite her occasional on-air admissions to the contrary), I doubted that Dan had gotten the point. Maybe he doesnt listen enough to the show he puts on his station.
Station owner David Schoumacher was next to check in, saying that he agreed with my contention that "this is about ratings and business," but "not at all costs." He said he "would not broadcast either Rush or Laura if I personally felt they were bigoted and promoted hate toward any group. It is my feeling at the momentthat their remarks are inside the bounds of fair comment."
I responded that it was quite arguable as to whether Lauras attacks were within the bounds of fair comment. Her tirades frequently are tantamount to yelling "Fire!" (when there is none) in a crowded theater. She is sending a message calculated to create panic against homosexuals, a message that contributes to a mentality of hate against us.
Besides, I noted, I was not even asking his station to stifle Lauras strident voice. I was merely suggesting some balance, a Shana Alexander for every James J. Kilpatrick. (Remember their Point/Counterpoint segment from early "Sixty Minutes" days?) A radio station, particularly in a smaller market, has a duty to offer balanced programmingand to label its programming for what it is.
Schoumacher reminded me that for a short while WGMD aired a syndicated gay-talk show on Saturday nights and had to face a lot of heat for it. Truth is that the station only supported the show for as long as a gay bookstore was willing to pay to put it on the air, and even then it was assigned a time slot when few gay people (or those who are influenced by Laura Schlesinger) were tuned in. The station also recently declined to provide live coverage of a local World AIDS Day event unless those involved agreed to pay for it.
Yes, a commercial radio station is a business intent on making money. But it is also a public trust. Fairness requires the balance of controversial viewpoints and that means similar kinds of programming in similar time slots.
Schoumacher first offered to meet with me to discuss the stations programming and how it might achieve a better balance. I agreed to a meeting. A few days later, he emailed me again to say that he was not very "good" at such meetings and that he would have Dan Gaffney call me to meet with him. Weeks have passed, and Dan has not called.
Dan did excerpt my letters on the air one recent morning, and he seemed to be surprised at the response of the callers. In the few minutes allotted to listener feedback, a half dozen persons (some identifying themselves as heterosexual) called in to say that Laura is "insulting" toward gays and that her attacks are "filled with venom" (versus three who cited Bible passages or described Lauras as a religious program). As the calls opposing Dr. Laura mounted, Dan cut off one woman, saying, "I dont want this to become bash Dr. Laura Day." A few moments later, he muttered that he was becoming so annoyed that he didnt even want to finish the show. He cut to commercials and Paul Harveys commentary, then Lauras show took to the air.
Dan left a big question hanging? When its okay for Laura to bash gays almost every day of the week, what is so wrong with having one ten-minute segment of one program that allows the public to bash Dr. Laura? Of course, the program director had pretty much addressed the question a few minutes earlier when he told a caller, "Shes a great broadcaster The point is that we dont put her or Rush (Limbaugh) on the air because of their ideological viewpoints but because of their popularity."
The day will come when enough people tire of tuning in to Laura Schlesingers tirades and that is when stations like WGMD will choose to delete her from the air. How much hate she will provoke against us in the meantime is a frightening thought.
While it can be difficult to persuade a local radio station of its responsibility to the public good and safety, we can vote with our radio dials and our choice of where to spend our dollars as consumers and as advertisers. (I know of at least two gay-owned businesses that already have cancelled their ads with the station because of its unbalanced programming.) We can also let the Federal Communications Commission know our concerns about program balance, particularly when a stations license to use the airwaves comes up for renewal.
My "moral dilemma," as "Doctor" Laura instructs her listeners to pose their questions, is whether it is better to listen to her show frequently enough to know my enemy (so that I can knowledgeably refute her) or to tune her out entirely. Radio stations love my dilemma, for they care more about how many are listening than how many may be harmed as a result of their race for ratings.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 4, May 7, 1999