(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—Last week Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a formerly relevant and influential radio talk show host, announced her retirement after 30 years on the air on “Larry King Live,” a formerly relevant night time cable talk show.
Dr. Laura, whose star power had faded so much that the only place she could book for her retirement announcement was the soon-to-be-cancelled “Larry King Live,” claimed that she was leaving her show due to the controversy and criticism surrounding her after using the N-word 11 times in talking to a caller the previous week. But don’t be fooled, Dr. Laura was leaving radio on her own terms—she tried to pull a “Rush Limbaugh,” it just didn’t work out the way she planned.
In case you had forgotten Dr. Laura Schlessinger was one of the most powerful voices in radio in the ’90s, only topped in ratings by Rush. Her tough Simon-Cowell-esque advice to her mostly female audience about raising kids and marriage was lapped up by audiences, and her books with titles like “10 stupid things women do to mess up their lives” were best-sellers.
She eventually fell from grace when it was revealed that she had cheated on her first husband, broke up her second husband’s marriage, intentionally had a kid out of wedlock and slept her way to the top in radio. The coup de grace was when a former boss and lover released naked photos of her online for the world to see.
Having been exposed as an unrepentant hypocrite by the late ’90s, Laura had fallen off the talk show map, overtaken by Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and others. She’s been desperately trying to claw her way back into the spotlight for years and her recent racial “controversy” and subsequent retirement were as phony and transparent as much of her latter career.
Two weeks ago an alleged African-American woman in an interracial marriage called in seeking advice from Dr. Laura. The woman said that her husband’s friends and family used racial slurs around her all the time, that this hurt her feelings and that her husband didn’t seem to care or do anything about it. Dr. Laura, seizing the opportunity told the woman she was being too sensitive, and then proceeded to say “nigger” 11 times while arguing that since some Black comedians and rappers use the word this woman should just accept it, too.
I bet Dr. Laura thought this would catapult her into the public narrative again, but guess what? Nothing happened. The NAACP didn’t call for her firing, Jesse Jackson didn’t give a speech, and nobody said much of anything about it on cable news. Dr. Laura tried a racial publicity stunt and nobody cared. Then she announced five days later that she was leaving radio after 30 years because she refused to be silenced by her critics. Did she mean critics or crickets? No one was trying to silence her because nobody cared what Dr. Laura said anymore.
The whole scenario seemed choreographed and it’s not like we haven’t seen right-wing pundits do this before. When Rush Limbaugh was going to be suspended from ESPN for impending drug charges what did he do? He created a firestorm by saying racist things about quarterback Donovan McNabb so he could walk off on his own terms pretending to be a conservative martyr, when really he was just covering his own butt. Dr. Laura’s show was on its last legs, she wanted to draw some attention so she created a fake scandal. Do you really believe a Black woman having racial issues with her White husband would call Dr. Laura for help? Not to mention the fact that Dr. Laura didn’t answer the woman’s question at all, she just went on a racist rant that she had been planning all along and used the “caller” as an excuse to do it.
However unlike Rush, Dr. Laura wasn’t important enough to generate the kind of controversy that she wanted to jumpstart her career or go out in a blaze of glory. Instead she goes out with a whimper, like a child threatening to hold their breath and nobody at the dinner table really cares. Hopefully a lesson has been learned in all of this, that when right pundits play the race card you have to actually be important enough to warrant interest, otherwise you’re just another bigot who had a megaphone to tell everyone you’re retiring.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)