'Dr. Laura' to end radio show over racial controversy

Talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger says she plans to end her radio show when her contract expires at the end of this year. Schlessinger recently apologized for repeatedly using a racial epithet on the air.
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Laura Schlessinger, the blunt-spoken, sometimes controversial radio talk-show host whose racially charged comments drew widespread condemnation last week, said Tuesday that she will end her radio career at the end of the year.

The announcement by the host of the "Dr. Laura" program was a stunning denouement after a week in which Schlessinger was widely criticized for describing an African American caller to her program as "hypersensitive" for taking offense at a neighbor's racial taunting. To illustrate her claim of a racial double standard, she said that black comedians often use the N-word on TV without criticism, but the word is forbidden for white people. She used the racial epithet, unexpurgated, 11 times in five minutes, despite her caller's protests.

Schlessinger later apologized for the remarks, saying she said "the wrong thing" on the air. On Tuesday she went further: During an interview on "Larry King Live" on CNN, Schlessinger said, "My contract is up for my radio show at the end of the year, and I've made the decision not to do radio anymore."

She added: "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."

(More: Audio and analysis of what Dr. Laura Schlessinger said)

Schlessinger's advice program has been a fixture on talk radio for years and is heard on almost 200 stations around the country. (The weekday program was dropped by WMAL-AM in Washington several years ago.) In 2000, Schlessinger drew protests from a coalition of gay organizations after deeming gays "deviants" and "biological errors." She later apologized for those remarks.

During Tuesday's interview, she told King: "I'm not retiring, I'm not quitting, I feel energized, actually. Stronger and freer to say the things that I believe need to be said for people in this country."

Schlessinger didn't say what she intended to do after leaving her program.

The controversy over "Dr. Laura" is similar to one in 2007 involving veteran morning radio host Don Imus, who was roundly criticized for calling the players on the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" during his show. Despite Imus's apology, sponsors walked away during the controversy. He was let go by MSNBC, which televised his show, and his radio syndicator, but returned months later with a new cable TV deal and another radio show.

Although she said her sponsors and affiliates have backed her, Schlessinger, 63 -- who holds a PhD in physiology from Columbia University -- told King that she lived in "constant fear" that critics would attack them for her remarks.

"I never called anybody a bad word. I was trying to bring -- and obviously it has become a national discussion now -- I was trying to make a philosophical point," she said. "And I made it wrong, but I wasn't dissing anybody. I was trying to make a point, and for that to say that I should be silenced is the reason why I'm saying to you that I'm obviously losing First Amendment rights."

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