Issue 78, Summer 2000

Dr. Laura, the radio talk-show host, dishes out advice and vitriol. She’s particularly acerbic in her condemnation of homosexuality, and her views are offensive to many regardless of their sexual orientation. So it’s no surprise that she’s the target of protests and a high-profile campaign to keep her off TV.

Of course the people who hate Dr. Laura have a right to say so, and to organize a boycott. At the same time, the tactic raises questions about who decides what can be seen and heard, and how we deal with offensive and controversial ideas.

About the same time the “stopdrlaura” campaign made news, a newspaper in California announced that it would no longer run stories “promoting the gay lifestyle or abortion.” Recently, New York’s Brooklyn Museum was attacked over an exhibit containing “offensive” artwork; the Catholic League protested a Terrence McNally play featuring a gay Christ-like character; civil rights activists protested The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, about a black English butler in the Lincoln White House; feminists protested The People vs. Larry Flynt; Arab-American groups protested the film The Siege; and the Anti-Defamation League protested an exhibit at the Whitney Museum because of its use of Holocaust imagery.

The point is obvious. The list of potentially touchy subjects is too long to recount. Once you eliminate the “offensive,” little is left.

What should be troublesome to those who protest Dr. Laura is how many listeners she attracts, and the fact that many appear to agree with her. But silencing her isn’t as likely to change their views as engaging in the admittedly hard work of countering statements that are offensive or inaccurate with facts and reasoned argument. In contrast, the effort to force her off the air only mimics her own intolerance for dissenting viewpoints and pits one orthodoxy against another. (Even a successful boycott may demonstrate only the media’s aversion to controversy, and do little to promote tolerance and dialogue.)

Ironically, if the campaign to stop Dr. Laura succeeds, gay rights advocates may have the most to lose, since their speakers and ideas are so often attacked as “offensive.” This point has not been lost on many in the gay rights movement. A recent editorial opposing the campaign against Dr. Laura, published in The Guide, a gay-themed magazine, concluded, “Silence, however enforced, is not our ally, because truth is on our side.”