Know Your Right Wingers
Dr. Laura Schlessinger
SOURCE: August Pollak
[Editors note: An earlier version of this story ran in 2005. The story has been updated to reflect Dr. Laura's more recent activities.]
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, by her account, “teaches, preaches, and nags about morals, values, and ethics” and has been doing so for 30 years. She condemns everything from homosexuality to racial sensitivity to public education. In one of her more vitriolic columns, she wrote that her purpose is “to deal in truths and values about life, love, death, responsibilities, character, religion and general, everyday behavior.” In another, she praised "therapies which have been successful in helping a reasonable number of people become heterosexual.”
Like a number of right-wing mouthpieces, Dr. Laura’s popularity seems more the result of her willingness to say things no one else will than any kind of real expertise in the subjects on which she moralizes. Though Dr. Laura's announcement on Aug. 17 that she was giving up her radio show after using the n-word 11 times in five minutes may have come as a surprise to some, she has a history of using bigotry to further her agenda.
Schlessinger was raised in a family that she described as dysfunctional, unhappy, and “difficult.” Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., she received her bachelor's degree in Biological Sciences from the State University of New York–Stony Brook and, eventually, her Ph.D. in physiology from Columbia University. She married a dentist at the age of 25.
Dr. Laura, who preaches on premarital sex and fidelity to the importance of being a stay-at-home mom and the immorality of homosexuality, had an unlikely entrée into radio. Schlessinger tuned into Bill Ballance’s radio show in 1975, shortly after moving to Los Angeles. She placed a call to the show and talked to Ballance for 20 minutes on the air, before he invited her to meet him. He told her he was certain she was destined for radio greatness. It didn’t take long for Ballance, an early shock jockwho was known for exploiting and harassing women’s rights activists on his original show, the “Feminine Forum,” to strike up an intimate relationship with Schlessinger, who was purportedly still married. Within a few short years, “The Dr. Laura Show” was bornon KFI in Los Angeles.
Dr. Laura relocated to Los Angeles, where she became a licensed marriage, family, and child counselor in 1980 at the University of Southern California. After divorcing her husband, Dr. Laura apparently began a nine-year affairwith Lewis G. Bishop, a professor of neuro-physiology. At the time they began their affair, Bishop was still married to the mother of his three children. Schlessinger and Bishop finally married in 1985.
In 1994, her radio show became nationally syndicated. At its peak, her show was syndicated on 430 stations; her show was the second-highest rated radio show after Rush Limbaugh’s. She rose to the top by criticizing practices that she felt had become too prevalent in contemporary American culture, including sex outside of marriage, living together before marriage, single parenthood, day care, mothers working outside the home, marrying quickly or at a young age, permissive parenting, abortion, euthanasia, easy or no-fault divorce, and same-sex marriage. She has also written several self-help books, including Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Livesand her bestseller, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.
On October 19, 1998, Dr. Laura’s affair with Bill Ballance came back to haunt her when a dozen nude photos appeared on Internet Entertainment Group’s website, ClubLove. The photos, which Ballance soldto IEG, were equipped with "Live Picture Technology," to enable users to zoom in on specific body parts. Dr. Laura filed a lawsuit against Ballance, which she eventually droppedwhen she was unable to get an injunction to keep the pictures off the Internet.
Today, Dr. Laura continues to spend her time crusading for what she sees as a more morally sound America. Targets of her venomhave included the American Library Association, which she claims is “boldly, brashly contributing to sexualizing our children.” She also attacked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which she asserts “knowsas well as I do that condoms do not prevent the spread of many sexually transmitted diseases.” In fact, the CDC states that "consistent and correct use of male latex condoms can reduce (though not eliminate) the risk of STD transmission."
Dr. Laura’s vocally opposes both comprehensive sex education and abortion. Feminism, she argues, is endangering the sacred rite of motherhood, “brainwashingwomen that money replaces husbands, fathers and marriage.” She frequently reminds her female callers that their first duty is to their husbands, their homes, and their children. She even said a caller “was resentful that her husband did not come home and do housework. I asked herwhen she did his paperwork, made his phone-calls, drove in his rush hour traffic and dealt with his boss.” Since Dr. Laura believes a woman's place is at home, she didn't consider that women may also have to deal with rush-hour traffic and difficult bosses, especially now that women make up the majority of the workforce.
In Dr. Laura’s mind, feminism is not only responsible for the deterioration of the family, but also for the disintegration of intimacy between men and women, and has caused “everything heterosexual, feminine, masculine, motherly, womanly and longed for in a committed relationship [to come] under vicious attack” and that this is the fault of “the National Organization of (I don’t know what kind of) Women-types.” Dr. Laura also argues that feminism is in effect turning women into murderers, claiming, “The feminist’s ‘pro-choice’ message is that women should tear their babies from their bodies to die—so that they are serving the sisterhood by being more available for workplace accomplishments or sexual promiscuity without being hampered by diaper hampers.”
Dr. Laura takes a firm stance against living together before marriage. Despite her history of pre-marital escapades, she now refers to women “who shack up with guys rather than dignify themselves and sexual intimacy with a marital commitment” as “unpaid whores.” In a recent blog post, she argued that “women cannot run away from our true nature (apart from any psychological problems), and our true nature is to nurture and nest.” Meanwhile, her take on organizations designed to promote sexual health is equally acerbic. She’s accused Planned Parenthood of “[making] money by having girls and women kill the babies in their bodies as a form of 'after-the-fact' birth control.”
In a column titled “How Low Can Women Go?” “The ultimate baseness and immorality of a culture depends on what women will themselves do and tolerate from their men," she wrote. "Since the 1960s, the so-called liberation of women has proven itself to be a liberation from just about everything that could possibly be of value for a women and for the society she influences by her choice in a man and her commitment to raising the next generation of citizens.”
To clarify, though, she says feminism “isn’t all about hatingmen—it’s largely about disdaining and dismissing them.” Despite fighting for abstinence-only education, when discussing a married caller proposing abstinence in marriage, Laura disdainfully dismissedher, saying, “You’re right, men are difficult.”
She’s extended her opposition of comprehensive sex ed to voice her disdain for homosexuality, basically arguing that AIDS is a “gay” problem and that organizations like the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) use AIDS education“as an opportunity to deliver propaganda, primarily about gender, homosexuality, bisexuality and masturbation. How ironic that prevention education about a fatal disease primarily transmitted by unprotected anal intercourse offers, at the very least, a benign presentation about the ‘lifestyle’ that promotes that sexual practice.”
Schlessinger is an outspoken critic of homosexuality, claiming, “Of course a society should discriminate. Of course it should. It should discriminate against certain behaviors. And man-on-man and woman-on-woman sexual activity is a deviant sexual orientation.”
Moreover, she arguesthat HIV/AIDS prevention agencies must rely heavily on homosexual guidance since “HIV-AIDS does affect homosexuals so disproportionately…” and that this must explain “why so much of the worldwide prevention education is so morally neutral on the issue and so vague about the disease-lifestyle relationship.”
Despite such a blatantly hateful M.O., Schlessinger has, more recently, denied charges that she’s a homophobe. The way she sees it (or claims to see it) gay people are worthy of the same love and attention as everyone else. They just can’t marry. Or participate in any sexual acts. Or raise children together. Schlessinger offers this bizarre, seemingly incomprehensible analogy: “Save hate for those who … like the Taliban, hang to their necks until dead seven year old children in order to scare a village and take control. That’s where hate ought to go.”
Dr. Laura’s success has not been without criticism. Her extreme positions on homosexuality and women’s rights have spurred anti-Dr. Laura campaigns, such as StopDrLaura.com, supported by NOW and other women’s rights organizations, with the goal of putting an end to her television career in 2001. They succeeded.
Critics also won a major victory in August of 2010, when Schlessinger didn’t renew her contract for her radio show after delivering a series of noxious, racially charged comments on the air. In addition to spouting the “n-word” 11 times in five minutes, she repeatedly told her caller, an African-American woman named Jade that only “hypersensitive” people get offended about racial issues. “We've got a black man as president, and we have more complaining about racism than ever,” she said. “I mean, I think that's hilarious.”
When the caller said that she was taken aback by some of the remarks, things got even uglier. Schlessinger first insisted that Jade was carrying a racial “chip on [her] shoulder;” then, in what seemed like an increasingly panicked state, demanded, “Don’t take things out of context. Don’t double N – NAACP me.” She concluded with a remark so offensive it would have been right at home in the antebellum South: “If you’re hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry outside of your race.”
In the days following the incident, Schlessinger, perhaps sensing her radio career’s impending doom, fluctuated manically between repentant and defiant. Initially, she posted an apology on her blog, in which she claimed “I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the "n" word all the way out - more than one time. And that was wrong. I'll say it again - that was wrong.” But a week later, while announcing her retirement from radio on Larry King Live, she defended her actions with a renewed vigor.
"I want my 1st Amendment rights back, which I can't have on radio without the threat of attack on my advertisers and stations," she said. "I will be stronger and freer to say my mind through my books, my YouTube Channel, my blog and my website."
Later, on her blog, she criticized George Stephanopoulos for suggesting that she had been “fired,” when in fact she had retired. The reason for her departure—she was, in a way, fired by American court of public opinion for a series of inexcusable comments—was not mentioned. Instead, Schlessinger chose to fling a couple of ad hominem attacks at Stephanopoulos, accusing him of having “no ratings.”
All the while, responses to Schlessinger’s rant highlighted just how divisive an issue race continues to be in the U.S. While civil rights advocates like Al Sharpton called her remarks “indefensible.” Conservatives like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told her “Don’t retreat … reload!” According to Palin, the only people who “seriously think Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a racist" are those “already accusing all conservatives, Republicans, tea party Americans, etc., etc., etc. of being racists?”
In Her Own Words:
We have to be able to discuss these things. We're people—goodness gracious me. Ah—hypersensitivity, OK, which is being bred by black activists. I really thought that once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop, but it seems to have grown, and I don't get it. Yes, I do. It's all about power. I do get it. It's all about power and that's sad because what should be in power is not power or righteousness to do good—that should be the greatest power.
On a person-by-person basis, wearing a condom does, of course, offer some protection against contracting various venereal diseases and (of course) unwanted pregnancy. It is also true that condoms sometimes break, slip, or are put on incorrectly (taut to the very end). Everything has its limitations … except abstinence … Yes, in any one instance, a condom could protect, but in the overall scheme of humanity, why do so many people wish to push away the enormous protective power of moral values?
Of course a man should feel and be morally responsible and obligated to the children of his loins. However, women’s bodies are the place where the creation and gestation of new life occurs—which gives them the greater obligation to be circumspect about when and with whom they have sexual intercourse. Many women, lesbian or heterosexual, are having babies without the participation of a father in the child’s life … on purpose! Many women have abortions against the wishes of the man who would be “father.” The situation is therefore quite complicated.
There are biological and psychological imperatives in females for nesting/child care, and in males for conquering/protecting. When these are turned inside out, there is usually (but not always) a reaction in the female to feel less respectful and sexual toward her mate. Women don’t stare at skinny guys with spectacles when they walk by, but they do stare at Bowflex-toned commercial male actors with huge pecs and biceps. Why? It’s the animal attraction of a male who, potentially, is sexually healthy enough to produce offspring and then provide and protect.
Byard Duncan is a staff writer for Campus Progress and a contributing writer and editor at AlterNet.