Bigotry and hate fill the air:
  Here's (phony) Dr. Laura
   By Rick Kushman  Sacramento Bee TV Columnist
  (Published Sept. 12, 2000)

 The first thing to know about Dr. Laura's new TV show is that it's awful.
 Seen it before. A waste of time.

 And you hope -- for Paramount TV, which produces the show, and for all the stations
 that bought it -- that it's a waste of money, too. No one should profit from prejudice.

 Laura Schlessinger, who misleadingly calls herself Dr. Laura, is the nation's most popular
 self-help radio host, a self-defined moral arbiter and radio's queen of intolerance. On Monday,
 she started a syndicated TV talk show (at 3 p.m. weekdays on Channel 10) that had a battle
 for supremacy between its blandness and its shallowness.

 Schlessinger is best known for her allow-no-uncertainty style of "counseling" -- and
 never mind that she has a doctorate in physiology, not psychology, psychiatry or
 anything related to what she pretends to be, or that her "advice" usually has all the
 depth of a fortune cookie. What's drawing the most criticism for her TV appearance is
 her anti-gay bigotry.

 That particular brand of nastiness was not evident on Schlessinger's first show Monday,
 but neither was much understanding of human emotion.

 Instead, her approach seems to be that any problem, big or small, and any emotional
 entanglement, no matter how complicated, can be handled with a few seconds of scolding.

 Monday, she took on the risky subject of teens and drugs, and her show had all the
 usual complexity and substance you've come to expect from daytime talk.

 "I'm sick of it. I'm worried, and I want it to stop," she said.
 Well, that should handle the problem.

 Schlessinger to a San Diego cop: "Where are kids getting drugs?"

 Cop: "From drug dealers."

 Schlessinger: "Where do they come from?"

 Cop: "The woodwork."

 Who couldn't learn valuable lessons from this?
 Schlessinger, who stresses taking responsibility, went on to praise a mother who sent her
 daughter away to boarding school for a drug cure, then laughed with a father who said if
 his daughter used drugs, he'd "go upside her head."

 All of it had that stale talk-TV feel of inarticulate people, worn-out subjects and a trained
 audience that clapped on cue until it got its fish.

 Coming later this week are topics such as "When Is an Affair an Affair?,"
 "Are You Your Kid's Parent?" and, really, "Lewd Libraries."

 OK, so we know she can be bad television. Welcome to daytime talk. But there is a
 larger principle at issue here.

 Schlessinger's radio popularity comes in spite of her own hypocrisy, which (oh, the irony)
 is precisely the kind of thing she rails against.

 She pretends to have counseling expertise when she has none. She praises family
 values, but has not talked to her own mother in years. She tells mothers to stay
 home, yet she's a mother who works long hours. Most importantly, she preaches
 God-fearing decency, but to many people calling her for help, she has all the
 compassion of a hangman.

 Schlessinger appears to relish battering the softer souls who call her, although to be
 fair, she was far nicer on her TV show than she has been on radio. Still, if people
 want to call in to get abused by an unqualified shrew, enjoy.

 But prejudice and TV exposure are different, and that's what's made Schlessinger's
 blatant hate for gays and lesbians an issue.

 In case you've missed her radio act (on KSTE, 650 AM), count yourself lucky.
 Schlessinger calls homosexuality "deviant behavior" and a "biological error" and uses
 words such as "pedophilia," "bestiality" and "sadomasochism" to describe gays and
 lesbians, then says her attacks aren't personal.

 And now she has a TV show. That is different from radio in so many ways, starting
 with the subliminal power of TV -- it validates whoever appears on the screen in a
 way radio or print do not.

 Sam Rosenwasser, the general manager of Channel 10, said he bought Schlessinger's
 TV show a year ago before he knew about her prejudice.

 "At the time, I had no idea about the controversy," he said Monday. "It wouldn't make
 sense for us to alienate our audience."

 Channel 10 is bound by its contract with Paramount not just to pay for Schlessinger's
 show for two years, but also to air it.

 "I've had conversations with Paramount," Rosenwasser said. "If we see any of that
 (bigotry) on the air, we won't air that episode."

 Paramount, which has largely remained quiet about all this, has mumbled meek
 defenses like "freedom of speech."

 First off, no one, not even the groups who want her show canceled, argues that
 Schlessinger doesn't have a right to speak her bigotry. But no one has a First
 Amendment right to a television show; that's both a privilege and a responsibility.

 And it's not like she would be silenced if she weren't on TV. She has a magazine, a
 Web site, books in print and a daily radio show. Her spewing is plenty free.

 But just as Nazis should not have a TV show, neither should Schlessinger's intolerance
 be permitted on the limited and public airwaves. It does not matter if she's keeping
 her prejudice hidden on TV -- you wouldn't give a cooking show to a member of the
 Ku Klux Klan.

 And because of the limited airwaves, and because of TV's power, every show and
 every station has a social responsibility, an obligation to the community to at least try
 not to do harm and maybe to make the world a little better, kinder, more tolerant and
 wise. Bigotry of any kind does not belong on TV. There are not two sides to hate, and
 Schlessinger's prejudice should not be treated as a justifiable point of view.

 The problem is, Channel 10 made a bad mistake and Paramount simply sold out.
 Welcome to Hollywood. Schlessinger, frighteningly, has a following. In this era of
 lowered standards, Paramount, Channel 10 and everyone else involved figured
 Schlessinger would get good ratings, pump up the local news, make them money.

 Opponents have protested to Paramount and some stations. Though Channel 10 has
 seen no organized opposition, Rosenwassser said he's tried to answer every call and

 On a national level, some advertisers such as Procter & Gamble and Xerox have pulled
 their support from the show.

 Local viewers can write to Channel 10, or better, the people who sponsor
 Schlessinger's show. Or we can all just wait for Dorothy's house to drop on her.

 RICK KUSHMAN is The Bee's TV columnist. Write to him at P.O. Box 15779,
 Sacramento, CA 95852, send e-mail to or call (916)

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