Ayatollah of the airwaves
I'll try to be a little nicer to Dr. Laura
than she is to her poor listerners
by Walter Crockett
The most appalling national radio talk-show personality on the air today is not
Rush Limbaugh, whose ego-maniacal windbag approach to virtual presidential
assassination has become old-hat, but Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the ayatollah of
the airwaves, who can be heard locally on WTAG.
I will try to be fairer here to Dr. Laura than she is to the numerous callers
she berates and hangs up on every day. But it won't be easy. Her mirthless
laugh, her prissy voice, her astonishing lack of compassion, and her
unquenchable desire to apply the whip to the bared breasts of her worshipful
callers is so dismaying that I often turn off the radio in embarrassment and
disgust only to turn it back on moments later to see if she really could be
She could and she is. This self-styled doctor, whose claim to the title is a
Ph.D. in physiology, has all the vengeance of the God of the Old Testament and
none of His compassion or poetry.
If "Dr." Laura could brand her adulterous callers with a scarlet A she would,
heating the branding iron in the burbling cauldron of her limitless bile. If
she could cut off the offending member of anyone who ever fathered a child out
of wedlock, she would, faster than you could pass the scissors.
But Dr. Laura doesn't stop with the sinners. She's more at home abusing the
victims for being stupid enough to be victimized. The unwitting caller who
expects an open mind and a shoulder to cry on is in for the rudest of
awakenings. Her show invariably brings to mind the Monty Python skit where the
hapless customer looking for argument walks into the room for abuse.
The titles of her three books clue you in right away to Dr. Laura's style:
Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives, How Could You Do
That? and Ten Stupid Things Men Do To Mess Up Their Lives. The
emphasis is always on stupid, as in "You were stupid for doing that," "You
were stupid to let someone do that to you," and "How could you ask me such a
This is not to imply that Dr. Laura is always wrong. You may turn on the radio
and find her giving good advice. You may hear her speak with compassion about
children. You may hear her listen without interrupting. She may even get
through three or four calls before she starts abusing. After forcing myself to
listen to her and to read her books, I have come away with the
conclusion that she is not quite as nuts as I first thought she was. But she's
still plenty bonkers.
Dr. Laura, a married woman of 50 or so, is a licensed marriage and family
therapist in California who's been on the air for 25 years. She had a son at 38
and stayed home until he was three and a half. Then she went back to work,
showing true maternal instinct by choosing to spare her son the hours of verbal
abuse she inflicts upon her radio fans.
She is not without principles. In fact, she has her principles tied so tight
her eyes must be popping out her head. Many of her stands -- on sex before
marriage, on divorce, on the wages of sin -- would be ridiculed and ignored by
most of the American public if Dr. Laura were a born-again Christian. But
because she is an Orthodox Jew, they are perceived as a refreshing sort of
Her theories are, if not always sound, at least worthy of argument. She
believes that kids are everything -- their happiness comes first and their
welfare supercedes all other considerations. That means that people should
almost never divorce, no matter how much they hate each other. And if they do
get divorced, the father should seek joint custody and should spend time with
the kids every day, even if the mother remarries.
This comes as a breath of fresh air in the age of disposable children and
disposable marriages, but with Dr. Laura it also comes engraved in stone -- no
exceptions, no compassion, no understanding that under some circumstances one
good single-parent beats the hell out of two feuding birth-parents.
"I am my kid's mom," she announces at the beginning of her show, as if to say,
"All my other roles are inconsequential in comparison." This has become sort of
a mantra for her fans -- almost a shield, really, that they hold to ward off
her anger when they call for advice.
"First and foremost," a caller named Veronica tells Dr. Laura, "I am my
daughter's mom." You might think this will win her some bonus points, but it
Veronica had two kids out of wedlock with a guy who left her and who now only
feels fatherly toward the first of them. "How do I get him to be a good father
to the second child?" seems to be the question Veronica wants to ask Dr. Laura.
But the good doctor of physiology sees an opportunity to kick Veronica's sinful
butt, and she isn't going to let it pass by.
"You went and had two kids out of wedlock with a guy you couldn't count on,"
Dr. Laura says. "You created this for her. You knew what he was like."
"No . . . ," begins Veronica.
"Yes, you already told me the story. Don't try to get out of it," says Dr. L.
"My question is . . . ," begins Veronica.
"Now that you've told me this, what's the question?" Dr. Laura interrupts.
Veronica starts to ask the question.
"Veronica, what's the question?" Dr. Laura interrupts again. Finally Dr. Laura
cuts her off. "When you pick a guy like that, this is what happens. You've got
a problem. I don't think there is an easy solution." End of discussion.
Thus we see how Dr. Laura's first principle in theory -- "kids come first" --
runs aground on her first principle of action -- "blame the caller whenever
possible." In her rush to judge the evil sinner woman, Dr. Laura forgets all
about the innocent young daughter who needs her help.
A guy named Charlie calls the show and says his girlfriend of six months is
pregnant. He says it was a mistake, and he isn't sure it would be a good idea
to marry her. Dr. Laura says he must. They go back and forth over the issue,
and she finally hangs up on him. After the next call she comes back to the
"Making a mistake is different from doing something wrong," she says. "A
mistake is unintentional. Doing something wrong is intentional. Then, when it
doesn't work out, we call it a mistake." So far, so good -- invigorating tough
love from the radio jock doc! But then she adds: "All over the world for
thousands of years people have had arranged marriages in which they built
strong loving relationships because it was their personal decision to do so."
Hey, doc, people had slaves for thousands of years too -- must we
emulate them? Just because it's better to have two parents than one doesn't
mean that a hellish marriage beats none at all. But it's this ayatollah streak
that her followers like. There are no shades of gray. And the whip feels so
good when it stings.
"I want to doubly thank you for your moral stances," Dustin tells her. He and
his wife are worried about whether they should leave their kids with alcoholic
relatives. You might think a simple no would suffice, but Dr. Laura is not in
the mood for answers. "You needed me for that?" she asks. "You needed me for
that?" Then she hangs up on him.
"I am my beautiful little girl's daddy," says Steve, waving the verbal shield
in front of him. Steve has an abusive wife who has pulled his hair out of his
head. He's getting a divorce, and he thinks his daughter is better off without
him in the home, because his wife doesn't fly off the handle when he's not
"That's crap! Self-serving garbage!" Dr. Laura says. She keeps interrupting
him, so he never quite gets his question out, and then she hangs up on him.
My 12-year-old daughter, who has been listening to the Dr. Laura show with me,
finds her as appalling as I do. "First she says, `Don't tell me about the
story, just ask the question.' She's rushing them," my daughter observes. "But
then she says, `I can't answer the question, I don't know enough about it.'"
At this point, I realize that I have exposed my daughter to the same bad Dr.
Laura influence that Dr. Laura has gone out of the way to avoid exposing her
own son to.
I've made a big mistake. No, I mean, I've done wrong. I'd better call Dr.
Laura and take my lumps. I know just how to begin: "Hi, Dr. Laura, I'm the
father of my daughter, and I have sinned."
Then how the lash will fall. n