Weekly Feature

2010-08-26 / Editorial

Talk show host’s choice of words isn’t about free speech

The issue has nothing to do with free speech. I’m speaking about the controversy involving radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger after the nationally syndicated broadcaster said the N-word 11 times during a recent program.


DAN MEYER Political Columnist DAN MEYER Political Columnist To tell you the truth, I’m still trying to figure out what actually was more offensive: the actual sound bite in which she so casually spewed the N-word as she ridiculed a black woman who had called in to her “advice” show to talk about her interracial marriage, or the misguided arguments that “Dr. Laura” and her supporters are putting forth to defend her actions.

Leading the way in her defense is Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and 2008 candidate for vice president, whose support may actually be adding fuel to the fire.

Schlessinger said last week that after the contract for her daily talk show expires at the end of this year that she will retire, a promise that some don’t think is enough of an effort by her to address her offensive actions.

In her defense, Schlessinger has apologized for her obvious error, but I found her effort to address her lack in judgment misguided and think that she was extremely slow to realize that most reasonably thinking people strongly oppose any type of casual conversational use of ethnic slurs in public, especially the N-word, which I think is safe to say is one the most, if not the most, offensive slurs in the English language.

I still can’t believe that Schlessinger believes that she should be able to say the N-word “the way we hear black comedians do it all the time.” Her mindset and approach to the entire aftermath of what she said that day is so antiquated and out of touch that it is actually surprising to me that something like this had not happened to her earlier in her career.

As an avid listener of a wide variety of radio talk shows, I cannot deny that Schlessinger has been an influential force in the commercial radio industry, especially how it relates to other females hosting their own talk shows thanks in large part to the success of the “Dr. Laura” program.

At its peak, Schlessinger’s call-in show was wildly successful, with more than 450 radio stations across the country carrying the program, making it the second-highest-rated radio show behind only Rush Limbaugh’s daily gabfest about politics.

A socially conservative commentator and very successful author, Schlessinger responds on her show to callers’ requests for personal advice. To say that she could at times be abrupt and cruel — anyone who has heard even one segment of her show probably knows all about her “shacking up” references to unmarried couples living together — is accurate, but what she said to that African-American woman with a white husband was just plain ugly.

While her personal website talks about how she “preaches, teaches and nags about morals, values and ethics,” what she said that day was reprehensible and had no business being heard on the public airwaves.

Besides the actual 11 times the N-word was mentioned, Schlessinger said to the caller, “If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.”

Seriously? For whatever reason, Schlessinger cannot comprehend her own offensive behavior. I don’t know if she is really that out of touch, maybe partially because supporters like Palin are walking around with their heads in the clouds and therefore are so misguided about why Schlessinger’s statements were wrong on so many levels. It is the reaction of people — people who, by the way, listen to radio stations and own companies who advertise on talk shows — who are sick and tired of offensive speech that has prevailed in this situation.

Our country still has a long way to go when you talk about race relations, but progress has been made and will continue to evolve as public figures who refuse to change with the times are phased out of our lives.

Schlessinger spoke last week about her constitutional right to make any type of statement, including her infamous N-word rant. She’s right about that, but people like myself and the sponsors who are pulling their advertising from her radio show have the same right to challenge those statements and take a stand.

(Opinions expressed here are those of the author.)

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