Feature

Dr. Laura: The end of a serial offender

Dr. Laura announced that she was ending her 30-year radio career after a “bizarre, N-word–laden rant” created an uproar. 

Goodbye to Dr. Laura, said Jesse Singal in The New Republic, and good riddance. The 8 million, mostly middle-aged female listeners who tune in weekly to hear conservative radio host Laura Schlessinger’s “retrograde” wisdom on cheating husbands and hostile in-laws are used to hearing her routinely berate callers as “weak” and “stupid.” But Dr. Laura finally went too far when she recently unleashed, on the air, a “bizarre, N-word–laden rant” at a hapless black woman who sought advice on dealing with racist comments. “Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger,” snapped Dr. Laura, who proceeded to repeat the word eight more times. The uproar that followed prompted Schlessinger to announce that she was ending her 30-year radio career, in order to “regain my First Amendment rights.” In fact, Dr. Laura’s free-speech guarantees are “just fine,” said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. Schlessinger “exercised her right to use a racial slur,” and disgusted listeners “exercised their right to criticize her for it. That’s America.”

“Dr. Laura deserves a little slack,” said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. With her insistence that troubled callers “stop whining and take responsibility,” she was like a “tough-love parent,” albeit one who made frequent mistakes. One of Schlessinger’s biggest cost her a TV show in 2000, after she called homosexuality “a biological error.” But while Dr. Laura could be “unfeeling and callous” in how she dealt with callers, she was often right. In this case, she “went way over the top” in using an offensive term to make a point, but she was right about black comics and the N-word, and right that people like her, who speak politically incorrect truths, are too often silenced.

I’m no fan of Dr. Laura, said Earl Ofari Hutchinson in HuffingtonPost.com, but I have to agree. Black comics and rappers claim they use the N-word “endearingly or affectionately,” or to cleanse it of its racist sting, but the word has a long, ugly history in demeaning and dehumanizing black people, and it “can’t or shouldn’t be made acceptable.” Good luck getting black folks to stop using it, said John McWhorter in The Root. But there’s a difference between hurling the word as a slur and quoting it. “Don’t we have more important things to do” than to condemn white radio hosts for violating a taboo that our own cultural heroes routinely ignore?

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