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Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a conservative radio host whose Dr. Laura show combines political commentary with medical and personal “life” advice, claims she will leave the airwaves after engaging in a lengthy on-air “rant” where she uses a racial slur multiple times. Schlessinger begins by welcoming an African-American woman, “Jade,” as a caller. Jade says she is resentful of her husband, who is white, using racial slurs and derogatory language with his family members, “who start making racist comments as if I’m not there or if I’m not black.” Schlessinger says that Jade may be “hypersensitive,” and after a brief exchange, says: “I think that’s—well, listen, without giving much thought, a lot of blacks voted for [President] Obama simply ‘cause he was half-black. Didn’t matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that. That’s not a surprise. Not everything that somebody says [is racist].” Jade asks, “How about the n-word?” Schlessinger responds: “Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is ‘n_gger, n_gger, n_gger.‘… I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.” Schlessinger takes a commercial break after asking Jade to stay on the line, and upon her return, Jade says: “I was a little caught back by the n-word that you spewed out, I have to be honest with you. But my point is, race relations—” Schlessinger interjects, “Oh, then I guess you don’t watch HBO or listen to any black comedians.” Jade replies: “But that doesn’t make it right.… [R]acism has come to another level that’s unacceptable.” Schlessinger again overrides Jade’s comments, saying: “Yeah. We’ve got a black man as president and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that’s hilarious.” Jade says, “But I think, honestly, because there’s more white people afraid of a black man taking over the nation.” Schlessinger notes that those people are “afraid,” and after another exchange concerning Obama’s election, she accuses Jade of having a “[c]hip on your shoulder. I can’t do much about that.… Yeah. I think you have too much sensitivity… and not enough sense of humor.” It is all right to use racial slurs, Schlessinger says: “It’s—it depends how it’s said. Black guys talking to each other seem to think it’s okay.… So, a word is restricted to race. Got it. Can’t do much about that.” Jade, by this point clearly offended by the conversation, says, “I can’t believe someone like you is on the radio spewing out the ‘n_gger’ word, and I hope everybody heard it.” Schlessinger retorts, “I didn’t spew out the ‘n_gger’ word.” Jade responds, “You said, ‘N_gger, n_gger, n_gger.’” Schlessinger responds: “Right, I said that’s what you hear.… I’ll say it again… n_gger, n_gger, n_gger is what you hear on” black comedy broadcasts, and accuses Jade of trying to take her words “out of context. Don’t double N—NAACP me.… Leave them in context.” After concluding the call, Schlessinger tells her listeners: “Can’t have this argument. You know what? If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race. If you’re going to marry out of your race, people are going to say: ‘Okay, what do blacks think? What do whites think? What do Jews think? What do Catholics think?’ Of course there isn’t a one-think per se. But in general there’s ‘think.’ And what I just heard from Jade is a lot of what I hear from black-think—and it’s really distressting [sic] and disturbing. And to put it in its context, she said the n-word, and I said, on HBO, listening to black comics, you hear ‘n_gger, n_gger, n_gger.’ I didn’t call anybody a n_gger. Nice try, Jade. Actually, sucky try.… Ah—hypersensitivity, okay, which is being bred by black activists. I really thought that once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop, but it seems to have grown, and I don’t get it. Yes, I do. It’s all about power. I do get it. It’s all about power and that’s sad because what should be in power is not power or righteousness to do good—that should be the greatest power.” (Media Matters 8/12/2010; RTT News 8/18/2010) The audio of the exchange between Schlessinger and Jade, and Schlessinger’s concluding remarks, is apparently deleted from the audio recording which is later posted on Schlessinger’s Web site. (Media Matters 8/12/2010)
Apology - The next day, Schlessinger begins her show with an apology, saying in part: “I talk every day about doing the right thing. And yesterday, I did the wrong thing. I didn’t intend to hurt people, but I did. And that makes it the wrong thing to have done. I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the n-word all the way out—more than one time. And that was wrong. I’ll say it again—that was wrong. I ended up, I’m sure, with many of you losing the point I was trying to make, because you were shocked by the fact that I said the word. I, myself, realized I had made a horrible mistake, and was so upset I could not finish the show. I pulled myself off the air at the end of the hour. I had to finish the hour, because 20 minutes of dead air doesn’t work. I am very sorry. And it just won’t happen again.… The caller in question… called for help from me, and didn’t get it, because we got embroiled in the n-word, and I’m really sorry about that, because I’m here for only one reason and that’s to be helpful, so I hope Jade or somebody who knows her is listening, and hope she will call me back and I will try my best to be helpful, which is what she wanted from me in the first place and what she did not get.” (Media Matters 8/12/2010) “Jade,” the nickname of Nita Hanson, tells a CNN interviewer that she never intends to speak with Schlessinger again, saying, “There’s nothing she can do for me.” She says the entire episode was “still very hurtful,” and says she was confused by Schlessinger’s rant. “I thought I had said something wrong.” She has her own ideas as to why Schlessinger apologized: “I think she apologized because she got caught.” The racial epithet Schlessinger is “never okay” to use, Hanson says. “It’s a very hateful word.” (Boedeker 8/19/2010) Civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton refuses to accept Schlessinger’s apology. During a CNN interview about the incident, Sharpton says that Schlessinger’s comment that people should consider not marrying outside of their race “despicable,” and adds, “She said the word over and over, and in a very animated way, I might add, but that she actually, if you listen carefully to the logic of what she was saying was that the n-word was not offensive.” (CNN 8/13/2010)
Calls for Resignation - On August 13, the National Urban League, a politically moderate civil rights organization, issues a statement asking Talk Radio Network to drop Schlessinger from its syndicated broadcast schedule, and asks her to educate herself about racism. NUL president Marc H. Morial says: “The problem is not simply that Dr. Schlessinger used the n-word repeatedly, though that is offensive enough. Her comments to the caller showed a breathtaking insensitivity and ignorance about racial dynamics in the United States.” Morial notes that in her rant, an African-American caller complained that her white husband’s friends use racial slurs and racially demeaning comments, to which Schlessinger responded that the caller was “hypersensitive”; Morial says that Schlessinger’s most revealing comment was: “I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing, but when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.” Morial says: “As she said, she doesn’t get it, and she is very confused about what constitutes racism. It’s beyond comprehension that Dr. Schlessinger would consider [the caller] ‘hypersensitive’ for being offended by the use of the n-word. We should be long past the point in this country where anyone should be advised to laugh off or ignore racist comments. I hope the Talk Radio Network agrees that we’ve had enough of negative racial attitudes, and drops the Dr. Laura show from syndication.” (National Urban League 8/13/2010)
Defending Schlessinger - One of the few public figures to openly defend Schlessinger is former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), who issues a number of Facebook and Twitter posts in Schlessinger’s defense. “Does anyone seriously believe that Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a racist?” she asks on Facebook. “Anyone, I mean, who isn’t already accusing all conservatives, Republicans, tea party Americans, etc., etc., etc. of being racists?” A Twitter post reads, “Dr. Laura: don’t retreat… reload!” and says the “activists” seeking Schlessinger’s resignation are not “American” and “not fair.” (Jason Easley 8/18/2010; Penrice 8/20/2011)
Resignation, Claim that Her First Amendment Rights are under Attack by 'Special Interest Groups' - Eight days after her on-air rant, Schlessinger announces that she will conclude her radio show at the end of 2010. She explains: “I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the n-word all the way out—more than one time. And that was wrong. I’ll say it again—that was wrong.” She tells CNN talk show host Larry King: “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.… I decided it was time to move on to other venues where I could say my piece and not have to live in fear anymore.” Schlessinger claims that her First Amendment right to free speech is being constrained: “My contract is up at the end of the year, and I have made the decision not to do radio anymore. The reason is, I want to regain my First Amendment rights. 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, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I’m sort of done with that.” (Washington Post 8/17/2010; RTT News 8/18/2010; O'Connor 8/27/2010) Political commentator John Ridley calls Schlessinger’s claims that her “First Amendment” rights are being “trampled” “absurd.” On CNN, Ridley says: “The First Amendment, and a lot of people say this all the time, it pertains to the government impeding freedom of religion, freedom of speech.… No one’s impeding her First Amendment rights. If she wants to retire, that’s fine, but to say that for some reason someone disagrees with her, that she’s being maligned or in some way shoved off the airwaves, to me is absurd. You know, that’s her idea of an apology, to victimize herself.” (Media Matters 8/17/2010) The president of Media Matters for America, the progressive media watchdog organization, Eric Burns, applauds Schlessinger’s decision. Burns says: “Dr. Laura’s radio career ended in disgrace tonight because of the bigoted, ugly, and hateful remarks made on her show. Americans have had enough. Listeners are now holding hosts, affiliates, and sponsors accountable for the offensive and inexcusable content on the airwaves.” The New York Times notes that Schlessinger has repeatedly weathered criticism for her anti-homosexual comments and false claims that “huge” numbers of male homosexuals are “predatory on young boys.” (O'Connor 8/27/2010)
No Departure - Instead of leaving the airwaves as she claims she will do, Schlessinger will move her show from broadcast radio to satellite radio’s Sirius XM (see November 26, 2010).
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