Home > Race > Dr. Laura Schlessinger: Free Speech or Common Sense?

Dr. Laura Schlessinger: Free Speech or Common Sense?

There has been heated debate over race and free speech following comments by Dr. Laura Schlessinger in which she used the N-word—all the way out—11 times on her popular talk show. In response to public backlash, Dr. Laura announced on CNN’s Larry King that she is stepping down from her show to regain her First Amendment right. Her reason being:  “I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry or some special-interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent.”

For starters, this has nothing to do with the suppression of Dr. Laura’s free speech. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. Dr. Laura can use the N-word as often as she likes without fear the Obama Administration or any government agency will take action against her. She won’t be prosecuted and sentenced to prison by a court of law for saying the N-word. Persecution by a court of public opinion is another matter.  It’s also free speech for audiences to protest Dr. Laura’s remarks or for advertisers to boycott her radio show. Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, said it best when he wrote: “Speech is free; airtime is not.”

Also, wasn’t there a litmus test growing up as kids; an old adage about shouting fire? Someone falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theater and causing a stampede won’t be viewed as free speech by the property owner compared to someone yelling the “roof, the roof, the roof  is on fire” at a night club as everyone waves their hands in the air like they just don’t care. My point: isn’t there some kind of common sense about context, what and when we can say something. Why is there so much confusion about the use of the N-word?

After listening to the controversial radio show that aired on August 10th, I was not so much upset by Dr. Laura’s repeated use of the N-word. I was more offended by the fact that her advice was neither helpful nor useful. It was hurtful to the caller, escalating to a personal attack regarding African-Americans, the NAACP, and US race relations.

Dr. Laura received a call from a black woman asking how to handle hurtful racist comments from her white husband’s friends and family. She was starting to resent him for not saying anything. When the caller sites an example, Dr. Laura suggests that the remarks are not racist. For example, Dr. Laura recounts a group of her friends going to play basketball and how she told her black bodyguard and dear friend: “’White men can’t jump; I want you on my team.’ That was racist? That was funny,” she quips.

Then when the caller asks about use of the N-word (not spoken all the way out),  Dr. Laura talks about how black guys use it all the time; “turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is n***er, n***er, n***er.” The caller makes it known she is offended by the use of the N-word, but Dr. Laura rants on about how come black comedians get to say n***er.  So, she’s confused.

Prince recorded a song “sexy motherfucker.” Toss the M-word around the office at co-workers, be they white or black, without getting fired… But I digress as did Dr. Laura’s conversation. She never gets back to the woman as to what her husband’s relatives might have said. Instead, she spouts on about how the caller is hypersensitive and doesn’t have a sense of humor. She suggests people shouldn’t marry outside of their race or religion if they can’t handle what people have to say. She then continues her philosophical point (as she later refers to it) about how black activists are breeding hypersensitivity and how she thought with a black president in office the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop but it has grown. Her words: “We’ve got a black man as president, and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that’s hilarious.” At one point, she tells the caller not to “NAACP her.” I guess that’s slang for when blacks wrongly try to make whites appear as a racist. Like if someone were to say “don’t you dare NAACP Mel Gibson.”

The caller who is rightly upset is dismissed by Dr. Laura. Next caller please…Audience listeners react. Activists rage. Advertisers retreat. Dr. Laura renders an apology as she jumps on her free speech high horse. Gal pal Sarah Palin comes to her defense tweeting about 1st Amendment rights ceasing to exist, activists trying to silence someone is un-American, and how more powerful Dr. Laura will be “without the shackles.”

Beyond the imagery of Dr. Laura in shackles, my first reaction was how Palin would feel, as the mother of son with Down Syndrome, about someone using the word “retard.”  But it seems earlier this year when conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh used “retards” several times on his show, Palin took it as satire; after all he was referring to the White House and President Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who called liberals “retarded”, to which Palin took great offense and wanted Emanuel fired. I guess free speech does boil down to whose using it and whose side you are on.

Dr. Laura is quite capable of rendering advice and not attacks. During the same day’s radio show, she responds to a caller who hates his alcoholic father and hasn’t spoken to him in years. But upon learning  his father is dying he wants to know what to do since other relatives weren’t harboring the same resentment.  Dr. Laura advises him to move past the hate; to show respect and compassion.  But the caller doesn’t want to seem like he isn’t being true to himself.

Dr. Laura’s words: “To act accordingly and appropriately when one doesn’t feel it, takes a lot of character. You show people respect. There is appropriate behavior and inappropriate behavior and it has nothing to do with lying, it has to do with being appropriate to the mood, the moment and other people’s sensitivities”

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? Not sure why when it comes to matters about race relations Dr. Laura doesn’t espouse that same kind of sensitive advice. Now I’m confused.

–Carolyn M. Brown

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Categories: Race
  1. Montana
    August 25, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    I am so happy that the ugly (inside and out) crazy old gym teacher reaped what she had sowed. She could have gotten her argument across by saying “N word” and not using the word and by not saying “don’t NAACP me” but like Michael Richards AKA “Cosmo Kramer”, she ends up the trash heap of history, a history of her own making. I am so happy that the free market AKA sponsors started to pull their ads (I guess they were exercising their free speech) and she finally realized that she was just another “run of the mill gabby” and her days were numbered. She realized that she was not as smart as she thought she was, finally! The first three times she used the word might not have been in anger but the last eight she was filled with hate, so good riddance.

    Palin was the one who got bent over the use of the word “Retard” (she wanted some fired?), Palin also said that the people have the right to build the Mosque in NY, but out of respect for the 9/11 families they shouldn’t, but I guess this same standard is not applicable to Laura Schlessinger. Do you see the hypocrisy? The problem with Palin is the same when she mistakenly referred to Ronald Reagan Eureka College, being in California and we all know its in Illinois, same thing, she does not fact check anything she is going to say. She is soooo Palin!

    http://vodpod.com/watch/3933949-keith-olbermann-mocks-sarah-palins-imbecility-stupidity-video

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-august-24-2010/the-hurt-talker

  2. August 26, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Well said! Further, not so long ago I heard Laura take a call from a woman who said she was made uncomfortable by her inlaws’ disrespectful attitude towards her (sound familiar??), only there was no racial component. Laura’s answer: the woman’s husband needed to “be a man” and “protect his woman”. He needed to go over there and tell his family that if his wife was not treated like a queen, he and his wife would not visit again. Funny how a little racial component added to the situation could turn Laura into a ranting loon.

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