Commentary: Heed your own advice, Dr. Laura
SAN DIEGO -- So now Dr. Laura is playing the victim?
Radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger built an empire and made a fortune telling folks to stop complaining, make better choices and take responsibility.
Now, after choosing the wrong words, she refuses to take responsibility and complains that her "First Amendment rights have been usurped by angry, hateful groups." Schlessinger recently told CNN's Larry King that rather than sacrifice her right to free speech, she'll end her show later this year so she can speak her mind without suffering consequences.
Several groups, including Media Matters for America, had called for her removal and launched a campaign to contact affiliates and sponsors and urge them to dump the program.
Critics have long called Dr. Laura preachy for telling callers to "go do the right thing."
I don't mind preachy. People on the brink of making bad and harmful decisions -- having affairs, abandoning children, skirting obligations, etc. -- need to be told what they ought to hear as opposed to what they want to hear. But how about practicing what you preach?
It all began with Schlessinger's Aug. 10 dissertation on a subject she obviously knows little about: race. It was in phenomenally bad taste that she angrily and defiantly used the "N-word" 11 times in five minutes while addressing a black female married to a white man who had, ironically, called for advice about how to handle racism. The caller was upset about what she considered racist comments by her husband's white friends. She called Dr. Laura for help.
It's a testament to just how awful the N-word is that it has the power to override a controversy like this and obscure what was really offensive about Schlessinger's tirade. Demonstrating that her doctorate isn't in social skills, the host went out of bounds several times during the brief interaction: lecturing the caller that she was being "hypersensitive" about race; declaring, as a white person, what is or isn't racist to black people; admonishing the caller not to "NAACP" her when the woman complained about the host's free-flowing use of the N-word; and, finally, telling the woman that if she didn't have "a sense of humor," she shouldn't "marry out of (her) race."
Schlessinger apologized the next day for doing "the wrong thing" and assured listeners that "it just won't happen again." That was classy. She should have quit there.
Instead, showing that she's the hypersensitive one, she went on television and painted herself as a victim of pressure groups that would just as soon "eliminate" you as debate you.
What's the debate? I thought Dr. Laura said she was sorry for what she had said. Now she wants to defend her position and take on her critics?
It's hard to believe this is a professional communicator we're talking about, since she isn't communicating very effectively. An apology for something you did wrong -- without understanding what you did wrong -- is meaningless.
And, as little as Dr. Laura knows about race, she knows even less about the Constitution. The First Amendment protects individuals from attempts to silence them that emanate from government -- not pressure groups. Whatever else Schlessinger may be, she's no martyr for free speech.
Besides, as she and other conservatives are fond of reminding us -- rightfully so -- with rights come responsibilities. Among them: the responsibility to own up to our mistakes and not walk back our apologies just because we don't want to give our critics the satisfaction of running us off.
Unfortunately, we haven't heard the last word from Schlessinger. She says she'll continue to write on the Web, author books and accept speaking engagements. And don't be surprised if, one day, she signs an extremely lucrative deal to host another talk show -- on satellite radio, where she'll have more freedom to say whatever she wants and offend whomever she wants.
Get over yourself, Dr. Laura. Try to learn something from this episode. Treat people better and don't be so arrogant as to presume that you understand life experiences you haven't had. And when you make a mistake, as we all do, make sure you're humble and repentant -- and stay that way.
Now, go do the right thing.
Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.