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Dr. Laura’s New TV Show: Con

Those who advocate hate, prejudice should not be rewarded by society

Published in “Dallas Morning News,” September 9, 2000

Laura Schlessinger’s television show debuts Monday on KTVT-TV, Channel 11. Its launch climaxes more than two years of concern within the gay community.

Ms. Schlessinger has called homosexuality a “biological error,” a “deviancy” and claimed that “a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys.”

She claims to base her views on her Orthodox Jewish beliefs. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith have expressed concern that Ms. Schlessinger’s comments could contribute to an environment of discrimination and even hate crimes against gays.

Ms. Schlessinger’s supporters claim that gays are interfering with her First Amendment rights, that the viewing public should decide her show’s fate. Peter Eliasberg of the American Civil Liberties Union told ABC News that calling stations to task for carrying the Schlessinger show didn’t infringe on the First Amendment.

Production companies, networks and stations regularly make programming decisions. No other TV host targets minority groups with untruths and slander. The religious right regularly forces shows off the air. In March they helped killNBC’s God, The Devil and Bob after only three episodes. While everyone can find shows they don’t like, Laura Schlessinger’s TV show brings up a deeper concern.

Should a personality, who has dehumanized an entire group of Americans, be rewarded with a TV contract? Is the far right really suggesting that studios, stations and advertisers shouldn’t apply ethical standards? Should all programming decisions be left to ratings?

Clearly, viewers have a role in the fate of programs. However, the question at hand is the judgment of where Paramount and KTVT-TV draw the line. By accepting Ms. Schlessinger as a talk show host, Paramount and local stations ignored ethical standards. No talk show host would be given a show having made similar statements against any other group. Regardless of how well-behaved David Duke, John Rocker or Lee Alcorn promised to be, a TV show featuring any of them wouldn’t be produced, aired or advertised on.

StopDrLaura.com has received more than 40 million hits since its launch March 1 and has generated hundreds of thousands of e-mails and phone calls to Paramount, local stations and advertisers. Gays fear that Ms. Schlessinger’s unscientific claims about us, delivered with the imprimatur of “Dr.,” will contribute to an environment resulting in discrimination, dehumanization and possibly even hate crimes. Many national and Dallas-Fort Worth sponsors (among the largest in the land) have realized that such rhetoric is bad for business and have dropped Ms. Schlessinger.

Now that the show is airing on KTVT-TV and around the country, the gay community will monitor Ms. Schlessinger’s TV advertisers. Regardless of content, sponsors will be called to task for sponsoring a show whose host has defamed an entire community. Good conduct on TV won’t atone for defamation on radio. Ms. Schlessinger has repeatedly refused to apologize for her unscientific and harmful claims.

During the 1996 presidential campaign, exit polls estimated that 5 percent of American voters were gay. Gays also vote with our wallets. In June a New Harris Interactive/Witeck-Combs Internet Survey showed that three out of four gays and even two out of five heterosexuals were less likely to buy products advertised on shows with negative portrayals of gay men and lesbians. A May 29 editorial about Ms. Schlessinger in Advertising Age, advertising’s trade journal, advised that, “There are, indeed, better program options” than Ms. Schlessinger.

Gays will no longer tolerate being marginalized, slandered or berated. Ms. Schlessinger’s attacks against gays, or any other minority, have no place in the 21st century. Gays may not be understood, accepted or approved of by all, but we demand the same respect, civility and human dignity as all other Americans.

John R. Selig, a free-lance writer and photographer who lives in Dallas, is a national spokesperson and organizer with StopDrLaura.com.