The Magazine

Censoring Dr. Laura

Hollywood believes in free speech, until a social conservative gets a TV show

May 8, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 32 • By JAY NORDLINGER
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The gay lobby is seeking a trophy, and the target is Dr. Laura Schlessinger. "Dr. Laura," as she is known, is a radio therapist, dispensing advice to 18 million listeners. For sheer radio popularity, she has only one rival -- Rush Limbaugh. An Orthodox Jew, Dr. Laura takes a traditional view of things, including homosexuality. For her troubles, gay groups have made her their Public Enemy Number One. They are campaigning tirelessly to get her off the radio and keep her off television. Conservative groups, more feebly, have risen to her defense. There is no fiercer battle in the culture war today.

Dr. Laura does not consider herself a gay-hater. She reminds people that she was one of the first radio hosts to take calls from open gays, about gay problems. She stresses compassion toward gays. But she is uncompromising in her opposition to homosexuality and the idea of gay rights. She has called homosexuality "a terrible sadness," "deviant sexual behavior," and, most controversially, "a biological error." She is a firm defender of the traditional family and inveighs freely against the gay political agenda: marriage, adoption, and so on. Worst of all from a gay-activist perspective, she has supported "reparative therapy," the treatment that seeks to help homosexuals change their sexual ways. She likes to say that radical, politicized gays always try to bully and silence other gays -- the ones from whom she enjoys great and grateful support.

The campaign against Dr. Laura began in May 1999, when Paramount inked her to do a syndicated television show, to begin airing in September 2000. A prominent gay group, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, raised an alarm. In search of a mutual understanding, Dr. Laura invited the group's leader, Joan Garry, to have an on-the-record conversation with her. They did. The transcript was published in Dr. Laura's newsletter, with Garry having editorial control. The header read, "Their views on homosexuality are diametrically opposed, yet Dr. Laura and Joan Garry prove that philosophical differences can co-exist with mutual respect." This cordiality soon died. A spokesman for Dr. Laura guesses that Garry came under increasing pressure from the militants around her. They were in a mood for war, not dialogue. So, for GLAAD, Dr. Laura became the Great Satan, or at least, as Garry said, the present-day Anita Bryant. In August, GLAAD asked for a meeting with Paramount and vented its concerns.

In January, Brian Lowry of the Los Angeles Times published a column reporting the anger of gay employees at Paramount over their company's signing of Dr. Laura. David Lee, creator and producer of the popular sitcom Frasier, said, "I think it's outrageous that Paramount chooses to be in business with a woman who is, I think, literally dangerous to the gay community." The campaign heated up. Demonization set in. On February 14, GLAAD was granted another meeting with Paramount. Campaigning for president, Bill Bradley endorsed the move to bar Dr. Laura from the airwaves. A few days later, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors introduced a resolution tarring Dr. Laura as an inciter of "violence and hate."

Then, on March 10, there seemed to be an entente of sorts. Dr. Laura issued what GLAAD calls an apology and what she calls something less. She said, "I never intended to hurt anyone or contribute in any way to an atmosphere of hate or intolerance. Regrettably, some of the words I've used have hurt some people, and I am sorry for that. . . . I regularly remind my listeners that we are all made in Gd's image and, therefore, we should treat one another with love and kindness . . . " Paramount, for its part, seemed relieved. It pledged that Dr. Laura's TV show would include "multiple points of view, derived from a variety of sources." It went on to say, "We have a long history of support for the civil and human rights of all people. We have been equally strong in our support and respect for the free exchange of speech and ideas." All very neat and American.