Picture if you will, a troubled young mother facing a difficult ethical crossroads. She wants to take her children to visit their grandmother for Thanksgiving, but she is troubled by the idea that her pregnant 16 year old niece is staying at that same residence with her sleep-over boyfriend. Not wanting to place her children in a situation that might muddle their understanding of right and wrong, this confused adult-child calls up America's Mother, Dr. Laura Schlessinger to ask advice. The mother presents the option of staying in another residence, but Dr. Laura vetoes that idea by explaining any support of that deviant lifestyle is morally damaging to their ethical balance. She did not feel that discussing the matter with the children and explaining right and wrong was good enough. The only solution was not to have Thanksgiving there. She recommended keeping the family at home and not showing any support for a grandmother who lets her grandchildren live in sin.
And this was the first 5 minutes I had ever heard of Dr. Laura's talk radio show. Further listening showed no respite from right-wing righteousness. Situations are boiled down to the lowest common denominator, held up to an ethical ruler, and strictly judged. Often, the callers are berated and accused of lying. If Dr. Laura can't get an accurate grasp on an easy solution to the problem, she sometimes responds with apathy and dismisses the situation out of hand. Her opinions are always quickly delivered, and the first perception is never discarded when new information in provided. If Dr. Laura decides your husband has a gay lover, the perfume on the collar is proof that his gay lover is a cross dresser. But despite these rash and abusive opinions flung across America's airwaves, Dr. Laura Schlessinger has the number 1 syndicated talk radio show in the United States, surpassing even Rush Limbaugh.
So why is this woman so popular? Well, it's in what she preaches. She tells her listeners to take responsibility for what they do and accept the consequences of their mistakes. She preaches fidelity, honesty, and chastity. She proclaims herself, "My kid's Mom", and denounces Childcare as an unnecessary evil that forever distances a child from his parents. In preaching the gospel of self-reliance, acceptance of responsibility and adherence to ethical standards, she has to hit the mark occasionally. Additionally, after two dozen years of radio counseling, she has to have gained a rudimentary understanding of what her callers are looking for. The caller who seeks understanding about a sibling estranged by their father agreed that her frustration actually revolved around how little her father was involved in any of their lives. Times like these give Dr. Laura a credibility to her listener, and the listener is exactly why her radio show is so popular. But I'll get to that point later.
I subjected myself to this aural torture after starting the newly released biography of Dr. Laura by Vicki Bane. Her book is an unauthorized biography, so automatically I gave it a bit more attention than I typically allow. I had a vague impression of what kind of person I would be reading about, and Mrs. Bane was kind enough to reaffirm my faith that know-it-alls are typically frightened hypocrites. Starting in Chapter One she paints the picture of an obsessive-compulsive egotist who actually cares little about those around her, unless it's beneficial for her own well-being. In 1997, Schlessinger flew into Dallas-Fort Worth airport, leaving her child and husband behind to do two speeches at 30 grand per gig. After complaining about the smells of cars and hotel rooms, she jacks the hosting costs through the roof and then proceeds to give depreciative speeches at her engagements. Guests were outraged and a few even left. Keep in mind that she is preaching her spiel on being an at-home Mom, while traveling half-way across the country. Her hypocrisies get deeper as the read continues.
Coming from the confused marriage of an immigrant Russian Jew and a Catholic Italian, her life was jinxed from the start. Her father had relinquished his faith years before, and her mother got no acceptance from her father's family. Frequent fights between her parents led her to resentment and rejection of her upbringing. Her early school life consisted of cocky and outspoken classroom behavior while maintaining a relatively distant social life with no boyfriends and very few close friends. In college she met dentist, Dr. Michael Rudolph and began a relationship with him that would end in her first marriage. Two and a half years later, Laura would distance herself from her husband, initiate her divorce and move to Los Angeles to start her life over again.
There she called in to radio talk show host, Bill Balance, on his show Feminine Forum. Discussing the topic of whether women would rather be widows or a divorcees, Laura chimed in with confidence and charm that being a widow left no room for guilt or regret over decisions. Plus, everyone came over and cooked for you. Balance quickly recognized her communicative skills and asked her to join him once per week as a guest speaker. She accepted and succeeded, eventually becoming one of his most popular guests. Balance's interests were romantic as well as professional, and the two began a relationship that lasted quite a while, but that Laura denied until photo evidence arose of their sexual escapades. Balance commented that she should have been called Ku Klux, since she was "a wizard in the sheets".
While dating Balance, Laura was taking classes at USC to get her Doctorate in Physiology. One of her teachers was Lew Bishop, and his interest in her ended up being quite strong. Attracted to her for her mind and her strong interest in science, he eventually started spending his spare time with her. And while Laura stated in recent interviews that she dated Lew while he was separated from his wife, Jeanne, friends and family state that Lew's divorce was based solely around the time he spent with Laura Schlessinger. Bishop had three children at the time. That's right, friends and family, Dr. Laura was a home wrecker. Additionally, when Lew and Jeanne got their divorce, he didn't pay his child support and alimony payments and prescribed in the divorce decree. Dr. Laura's future husband was a deadbeat dad! Jeanne Bishop had to go to court to get him to pay his allocated sum, and it should be pointed out that his relationship with his children effectively ended with his marriage to Laura in 1984. She had no interest in his past family.
At this point, Laura had become Dr. Laura, and had attained a certificate in marriage, family, and child counseling, but her degree was still in Physiology. She set up a practice as a family therapist in 1981, and continued her stints on various radio and television talk shows for quite a while. Her parents had been divorced, her relationship with her sister strained the point of collapse, and her desire for a child got her to reverse her tubal ligation performed years before. After the birth of her son, she kept her practice going two days a week, and even had a close friendship with one of her patients that got her a personal baby-sitter at times. She would get her patients to become active in her other ventures, like her knitting classes and karate classes, failing to maintain a professional distance from those she was aspiring to help. All this from the woman who now denounces other mothers who work with young children.
Getting back into radio when her son was three, Laura tried interviewing for the noon to three talk slot on KFI in Los Angeles. When she lost the position to Barbara De Angeles, she settled for the evening shift and settled in to a promising stint on the radio. But Dr. Laura had her eyes set elsewhere and proceeded to manipulate and backstab her way to the top. One former patient related that Laura told her she was having her husband look in to De Angelis' background because laura was 'going to do whatever it took to discredit Barbara.' Out of a queasy sense of fear, the patient who had babysitted her child and assisted her in her ventures stood up to her and tried to question why Laura couldn't succeed on her own merit. To which Laura became hostile, yelled, hung up the phone, and never spoke to her former patient again.
Coworkers related Laura's efforts to discredit Barbara De Angelis. She distributed the information she had gathered by placing a list of background data on everyone at the station's desk. And while De Angelis happily helped Laura by giving advice on how to get her book published, Laura secretly made anonymous phone calls to any company who interacted with De Angelis, alerting them that Barbara could not be called Doctor with either a medical degree or a license to practice Psychology in the state of California. And while De Angelis had a doctorate in psychology, she did not have either of these credentials. Keep in mind that Laura had a degree in physiology, and while that made her legally able to use Doctor in front of her name, it seems silly that she should point fingers at someone with a doctorate in the field they practice. This conflict continued, even years after Barbara had left KFI. And while Dr. Laura had gotten the shift she wanted on afternoon radio, she continued to dog her "adversary" and discredit her at every turn.
Vickie Bane continues to relate the various misadventures of Dr. Laura Schlessinger with clinical precision for a total of 232 pages, leaving no rock unturned and no quote unsupported. She clearly and objectively reports temper tantrums and periods of dominating self-reightousness. Digging into Laura's religious conversion to orthodox judaism, she exposes how even Schlessinger's religious mores are flexible in her own eyes, and how her own husband can't quite come to grips with her zealotry and fervor. This is a well-told tale of a child trying to come to grips with her own life. By placing herself on a pedestal of power, she effectively relinquishes the guilt of her own transgressions by demanding perfection from those around her, then using their confusion to her own advantage. Her husband is little more than a yes-man, making her business deals and making excuses for her failures. Her tirades on family unity is hopelessly discredited by her own inability to maintain any stable relationships with immediate family members, and her strong sense of bonding with her husband and son seems a crutch to distract her from the path of tornadic destruction she left behind her. This woman is a wreck, held together solely by her determination to preach to those around her and fix their lives in ways she would never fix her own.
So why is her show so successful? Someone HAS to
see through all this self-reightous crap, don't they? Vickie Bane
did, but none of Dr. Laura's fans will ever see her message. Because
all of her fan's are LISTENERS, and listeners will always drive her to
the top. Everyone wants to dream that someone out there has the answers.
Everyone out there wants to hope that problems are capable of being reduced
into a clear right and wrong. And as long as you aren't the one on
the line, making that phone call with your own problems, it is easy to
side with Laura and take her simplistic and judgmental decree as gospel.
I figure the lot of you who pick up this street rag are smarter than the
average bear, and know that compassion and understanding are a large part
of any moral stance. But America would rather hear that some other
person is wrong than imagine themselves in that situation. They would
rather have "America's Mom" point a finger at the transgressor on national
radio than judge for themselves, and by listening they allow Dr. Laura
Schlessinger to be the mother she never had... the one that could make
everything all right.