After getting in trouble for repeatedly saying the “N-word” on the air when talking about how much black comedians use the word on HBO and issuing an apology later, popular talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger has told CNN’s Larry King that she intends to quit her show when her contract runs out at the end of the year — citing a desire to get her First Amendment rights back:
“My contract is up at the end of the year, and I have made the decision not to do radio anymore,” Schlessinger said. “The reason is, I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what is on my mind.”
Dr. Laura has been under fire for repeatedly using the N-word on a recent segment of her show.
“I am not retiring,” she said. “I am not quitting. I feel energized.”
Here’s the segment:
Prediction (not said with “snark”): She’ll get an offer from Fox News to be a frequent guest, or paid commentator or for her own cable show where the company owned by a corporation that just donated $1 million to the Republican Governor’s Association will give her more leeway to say what she wants on virtually any issue, particularly those involving the debate over social and cultural values.
Talking on radio stations owned by a variety of owners in different markets can be trickier than talking on a cable station owned by a single corporation that has openly declared its political preferences and is even officially backing on specific party in political races.
Is Dr. Laura a victim? Baltimore Sun critic David Zurawik says don’t believe that for a minute:
The media climate today is indeed contentious, rude and even often even ugly, but don’t buy Schlessinger’s “poor me” nonsense for one second. She is the mainstream media, and she embodied some of its worst impulses for decades — and made piles of money off it. For her to try and paint herself as a victim of today’s media and political climate is outrageous.
The end of her radio career (in January when her contract concludes) is the result of her own ugliness on-air with a caller last week who asked “Dr. Laura” about the use of racially charged language. Schlessinger used the N-word 11 repeatedly in her answer, and listening to the tape, I was shocked by the aggression that I could hear building in Schlessinger’s voice. She was using the word as a weapon.
Some of my colleagues have used the glib phrase “she lost it” to describe Schlessinger’s comments in that exchange, but I think it was almost the opposite: I think perhaps she was letting her speech connect to some deep seated feelings she had, and that is what made her words all the more troubling to me.
Schlessinger is spinning a mile a minute as her career in the mainstream media ends and she moves into a more marginalized terrain. And she is good at constructing phony narratives after all her years as a talk radio star.
A PERSONAL NOTE: I was a huge fan of Dr. Laura when she was on KFI in Los Angels. Her radio persona gradually evolved. She was funnier and friendlier on KFI but still capable of being almost dogmatic when she gave advice to callers. The station used to run its slogan and Dr. Laura said it in a taped hourly teaser in such a sexy, funny way that some other hosts chuckled at it. “This is KFI, More…stimulating…talk radio…” I listened the day that she came on the air elated saying things such as “oh, this is very nice” after signing her multi-million dollar contract that made her a national media powerhouse for years.
At one point on KFI, she did a show with her then young son and I wrote her a note about how good it was and she wrote a very nice, humorous note back to me. I didn’t always agree with her advice, but Dr. Laura was fun to listen to and seemed to love her listeners and her job.
But once she went syndicated, her air personality seemed to change –becoming more brittle, less fun and becoming less patient and more disdainful of caller. This is not unusual for talk show hosts who start out sounding like people who are talk show hosts and morph into caricatures of a talk show host (Rush Limbaugh was screamingly funny when he first went national, not lecturing). She had a syndicated daytime TV show in 2000 but it was short lived, partially due to controversial statements she made about gays, which led to a website and a boycott that cost her advertisers.
In an important sense, when Schlessinger repeated the “n-word” repeatedly to make a point about how blacks comedians can use it on HBO but others get in trouble for using it, she illustrated a key point:
Once upon the time the real “shock jocks” were people such as Howard Stern, who used language and pushed the envelope on what was accepted speech dealing with sex.
Schlessinger’s show only seldom dove into politics (she was generally on the same wavelength as Fox) and she dealt with social issues as seen from a socially conservative perspective. But in repeating the n-word she joined the ranks of the political talker “shock jocks” who have become so popular since the success of Rush Limbaugh — talkers on the right and left who use a form of “shock jock” political talk to push the envelope, push hot-buttons with their like-minded readers, accenatuate resentments, gather an audience and deliver that demograpic to advertisers.
Schlessinger — as she notes — will not vanish from the scene. She’ll be on the air and probably will be more outspoken.
She will likely be very easy to find on a cable channel…
And — boy, oh boy — will she get a book deal out of this controversy with guest appearances on Sean’s, Bill’s, Rush’s and Glenn’s shows that’ll help it sell millions.
NOTE: Some reports say she is quitting at the end of the year and an earlier one said in January. We’ve changed our headline and that fact in our story to the end of the year since most reports now say at the end of the year.
UPDATE: Ann Althouse thinks its part of a ploy to a)get media attention and b)get an even better new contract because her fans will clamor for her to stay on the air. Here’s part of what she says:
But I don’t! I accused Dr. Laura of doing a media stunt — saying the n-word over and over on the radio — to get attention, and — lo and behold! — she gets right onto the Larry King show. So far, so good, with this stunt….
….She’s not quitting right away. That’s a key clue. She’s just “made a decision not to renew her contract when it expires at the end of the year.” She’s fighting back, lighting a fire under her supporters, betting — I think — that her audience will increase as a result of the new attention….
…..Think about it: Rush Limbaugh is still on the air, with plenty of advertisers. If the Media Matters strategy for destroying radio careers worked, he’d have been gone long ago….
….So the time for end-of-the-year contract negotiations will come up for Dr. Laura, and we’ll see what happens. I predict she’ll be offered good money, and she’ll announce a change of plans, along with heaps of self-praise for her bravery standing up for her First Amendment rights. Remember, she “feels energized,” and she wants”to say what’s on [her] mind and in [her] heart,” and she won’t tolerate “some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent.”
(If so, Fox may have to wait a bit longer..)
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.