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Laura Catherine Schlessinger (born January 16, 1947) is an American cultural and conservative commentator, best known as host of the popular Dr. Laura radio advice call-in show. The show is nationally syndicated, and runs three hours a day on weekdays.
Schlessinger is an outspoken critic of practices that she feels are immoral and have become too prevalent in contemporary American culture. These include sex outside of marriage, premarital cohabitation, intentional single parenthood, day care in lieu of a parent staying home to raise their children, the viewing of pornography, marrying too quickly or out of desperation, permissive parenting (also known as laissez-faire parenting), abortion, easy or no-fault divorce, and same-sex marriage. Her radio program often features short editorial monologues on these and other social and political topics, followed by her characteristically direct responses to callers' questions and moral dilemmas. Certain aspects of feminism are often discussed on her show (Dr. Laura was a self-claimed feminist in the 1970s).
She has also authored numerous self-help books, including the best-selling Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives, and several religious books. The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands has been her most successful book thus far. Her books are both controversial and popular.
Additional recommended knowledge
Laura Schlessinger was born in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York, to Monroe (Monty) Schlessinger and Yolanda Ceccovini Schlessinger. She was the only child in the family during the eleven years prior to the birth of her younger sister, Cindy. Schlessinger grew up first in Brooklyn, then in Long Island, New York. She has described her childhood in a dysfunctional family as unpleasant, due to extended family rejection of her mixed-marriage parents (her father was a non-practicing Jew, while her mother was an Italian non-practicing Roman Catholic), and due to what she has described as an unloving environment.
Schlessinger received a Bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and a Ph.D. in Physiology from Columbia University. A brief marriage in her early twenties ended in divorce, and she moved to Los Angeles, where her parents had resettled.
Schlessinger received her certification in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from the University of Southern California (USC) and lectured at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of California, Irvine, and Pepperdine University. While working at USC, she met Dr. Lewis G. Bishop, who was married with dependent children. According to divorce filings, Schlessinger and Bishop began an affair. Bishop left his wife after more than 20 years of marriage, and moved in with Schlessinger. They lived together as an unmarried couple, and Schlessinger tried to get pregnant after reversing an earlier tubal ligation and suffering an ectopic pregnancy. They married in early 1985, eight years after beginning their relationship, and Bishop became Schlessinger's business manager. Schlessinger bore their only child, Deryk Schlessinger, in November 1985, when she was 38.
Schlessinger began practicing Judaism in 1996, and she and her son Deryk became followers of Conservative Judaism. Although Schlessinger's father was Jewish, she was not a Jew under Jewish law, which dictates that the children are the ethnicity of the mother only. In 1998, Schlessinger, Bishop, and their son converted to Orthodox Judaism under Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka of Ottawa, Ontario. Schlessinger sometimes used Jewish law and examples to resolve the moral dilemmas of her callers, whether or not they were Jewish. She occasionally clarified ethical and moral issues with her local Orthodox Rabbi, Moshe D. Bryski, before mentioning them on the air. She was embraced by many in the politically conservative segment of Orthodox Judaism for bringing more awareness of Orthodoxy to her radio show. Schlessinger received a National Heritage award from the National Council of Young Israel in early 2001. Some of her expressed views were explicitly religious, and found their way into her 1999 book The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God's Laws in Everyday Life. While her other books stressed the importance of morality, they were secular in nature.
She has received awards from both media and conservative organizations, including the Marconi Award for Network/Syndicated Personality of the year, American Women in Radio & Television's Genii Award and National Heritage Award, and the National Religious Broadcasters' Chairman's Award. She also lectures on the national conservative circuit, and was the commencement speaker at Hillsdale College in June, 2002. Her son matriculated there the following fall; he subsequently left college and joined the United States Army under its 18x Special Forces contract program.
In July 2003, Schlessinger announced on her show that she was no longer an Orthodox Jew. In a series of monologues over the next month, she explained that she did not feel a connection with God, and felt frustrated by the effort she had put into following the religion. Her religious approach on the show lessened substantially after this announcement. She emphasized on the air how her Christian callers always reached out to her as a respected and valued friend, unlike her Jewish contacts, who were inclined to be indifferent or insulting.
Schlessinger's first time on radio was not as a host, but as a caller to the Bill Ballance show in 1974, under the pseudonym of "Cathy." Impressed by her quick wit and sense of humor, Ballance began featuring Schlessinger in a weekly segment. She and Ballance also began a romantic relationship, which came to light many years later (see "Nude photos," below). Her stint on Ballance's show led to her own shows on a series of small radio stations.
Her big break came in the late 1980s, when she started filling in for Barbara De Angelis's nighttime relationship-oriented talk show in Los Angeles on KFI, considered by many to be a powerful and prestigious radio station. When De Angelis replaced noontime talk show host Toni Grant, Schlessinger got De Angelis's former nighttime time slot. A few years later, De Angelis left the station, landing Schlessinger the coveted noontime time slot. Her show became very popular, leading to its national syndication.
Maurice Tunick, former Vice-President of Talk Programming for the ABC Radio Networks, comments: "Toni Grant was not on KFI, and was not replaced by Barbara De Angelis. Toni Grant was on KABC, and was replaced by Dr. Sonja Friedman in 1995 on both KABC and the ABC Talkradio network, which distributed the show nationally. KABC was the market leader back then, with KFI way back in the pack. While Laura did fill the De Angelis time period at noon, she was also holding down [the] fort on weekends at KGIL San Fernando. When Sally Jessy Raphael moved from NBC Talknet to ABC Radio, I was in search of a regular sub, because Sally had numerous TV commitments, and would require a dependable fill-in. Dr. Laura, who was little-known outside of Southern California, became the regular sub for Sally, filling in on her personal advice show in the evening."
The Dr. Laura Show was nationally syndicated in 1994. Schlessinger has characterized her show as a "moral health program" rather than an "advice program." Her responses to callers usually display a trademark frankness and bluntness; she gets to the core of a caller's issue quickly, rather than letting them talk for a long time. (Her approach has been likened to that of the highly popular Judge Judy, as she has many of the same qualities.)
Schlessinger now broadcasts from her home in Santa Barbara, California, and as of 2005, was added to the lineup of satellite broadcaster XM Radio. In that same year, Schlessinger was nominated for induction into the Radio Hall of Fame, but was not selected for induction. Podcasts and live streams of the show are available on her website. Her show is also carried on a one-day delay at 9 a.m. EST on some East-coast stations.
The Dr. Laura Show is tied for fourth highest-rated talk radio show in the United States, but its listenership has been in decline in recent years. At its peak, it was the second-highest-rated radio show after The Rush Limbaugh Show, and was heard on 471 radio stations. In September 2002, the industry magazine Talkers named Laura Schlessinger as the seventh greatest radio talk show host of all time. However, by November 2003, the number of Dr. Laura affiliate stations had dropped to 275.
The dropoff in listenership to Schlessinger's show has been attributed to multiple factors. Over time, she became more conservative, and her stance on homosexuality and gay rights was offensive to many (see "Views on homosexuality," below). Additionally, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, talk radio became less relationship-oriented, and decidedly more political. Many stations replaced Dr. Laura with political hosts like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Hannity's show debuted nationwide in 2001 in the same time slot as Dr. Laura (3 p.m. EST, 12 p.m. PST).
Schlessinger sold her ownership of the show to Jacor Communications, Inc., for $71 million. Jacor was then sold to Clear Channel Communications.
In 2000, Schlessinger signed a deal with Paramount Television to produce a TV talk show, with Schlessinger as the host. The deal came after years of Schlessinger stating she would not work with the company, due to its association with Howard Stern. She stated in an appearance on CNN's Larry King Live that she had wanted her show to be called "Schlessinger," in the tradition of Phil Donahue's successful talk show that was titled with his last name. But producers refused, and the show was called Dr. Laura. With the television show, producers hoped to extend the enormous success of Schlessinger's radio show to daytime television. However, the show was fraught with controversy before it ever aired, and it proved to be very short-lived.
Dr. Laura's views on homosexuality were a major factor in the show's undoing. Prior to 1997, Schlessinger was very supportive to gay callers during her radio show. In those years, she took issue with Christian religious leaders who were opposed to gay relationships, and said that it was cruel to deny love and happiness to gay couples. She renounced this view in 1997, however, and said she had been misinformed in her earlier views. Soon, her monologues approvingly mentioned ex-gay groups who claimed they could help homosexuals become heterosexual, and she attacked the American Psychological Association for condemning the position of ex-gay groups. Schlessinger cited Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, a Harvard-, MIT- and UT-educated psychiatrist, as support for her revised views on homosexuality.
In the months leading up to the premiere of her TV talk show, Schlessinger called homosexuality a "biological error." She expressed the view that it was okay to be a homosexual, but not for homosexuals to practice homosexuality, or to adopt children. On May 8, 2000, GLBT activists protested Dr. Laura’s TV show at Paramount Television in New York, and stated that her views were bigoted and offensive. Similar protests in other U.S. cities followed, and a website was launched with the purpose of getting Paramount to cancel the show prior to its premiere.
Not long before her own show was set to premiere, Dr. Laura appeared as a guest on the daytime talk show The View. The appearance was tense at best, as protests outside the studio continued, and she was confronted by audience members. She appeared visibly shaken, and her trademark no-holds-barred critique of callers suddenly vanished as she went face-to-face with her detractors. Host Joy Behar took issue with some of her comments, and host Barbara Walters raised the issue of Schlessinger's nude photos, in response to criticisms Schlessinger had made about a photo of Walters in a robe.
Amid growing concerns at Paramount, the first episode of Schlessinger’s television show aired September 11, 2000. Many critics and viewers found it dull in format, and it failed to generate the energy and interest of her radio show. The biting rhetoric that worked so well on radio for Dr. Laura seemed overly harsh for face-to-face discourse, and the radical change in Schlessinger's demeanor from her radio persona left viewers cold.
She was also still fighting an uphill battle with public opinion. In October 2000, she took out a full-page ad in Variety magazine, apologizing for some of her "poorly chosen" words about homosexuality. She stopped short of apologizing for the overall message of the comment, however, and repeated it (albeit more carefully-worded) on later radio broadcasts. On October 25, 2000, the television show The West Wing used a storyline with a character clearly meant to be Dr. Laura, who was thinly disguised as "Dr. Jacobs," a conservative radio talk show host, whose views on homosexuality were savaged by the heroic protagonist, portrayed by Martin Sheen.
The credibility of Schlessinger's TV show also suffered during its first month. The New York Post and other media reported that Schlessinger had used a member of her staff more than once to falsely pose as a guest on the show. A September 25, 2000, episode named "Readin', Writin', and Cheatin' " featured a so-called college student who specialized in professional note-taking. On the next day’s show, "Getting to the Altar," the same guest appeared in different hair and makeup, and said she was a woman living with her boyfriend. In fact, the woman was San-D Duchas, a researcher for the Dr. Laura TV show. Her name even appeared in the closing credits of the shows on which she posed as a guest.
By November 2000, Schlessinger’s TV show had lost many of the advertisers that had originally committed to it, and its ratings were in freefall. CBS directed its stations to move the show to a late-night slot, or replace it altogether. As a result, Philadelphia’s KYW-TV dropped the show entirely. Other stations outside of CBS did the same thing, while others moved it to weaker sister stations. The television show was canceled on March 30, 2001, and last aired on September 7, 2001.
On July 29, 2006, it was announced that Schlessinger would join the Santa Barbara News-Press, replacing notable former columnist Barney Brantingham. This news came weeks after an incident at the News-Press led to the resignation of many top editors and columnists (See Santa Barbara News-Press controversy). Her columns, which appear on Thursdays and Sundays, deal with Santa Barbara news, as well as general news and cultural issues discussed on her radio show.
Schlessinger has published a number of books. Several follow the mold of her successful Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives, with similarly-named books giving advice for men, couples, and parents, while others are more religious or moral in orientation. The later advice books emphasize religion more than the earlier works, until her announced departure from Orthodox Judaism in July 2003.
Her 2004 book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, sold well despite poor reviews by critics. It was a departure from her previous books, which tended to focus on premarital relationships and children. Proper Care asserts that men need direct communication, respect, appreciation, food, and good loving, rather than tearing down the husband's sense of strength and importance. Schlessinger's thesis is that wives have the power to change their husbands' attitudes by seeing to these needs, and then their husbands will "swim across shark-infested waters to bring you lemonade." The book proposes that wives have the power to prompt devotion, compassion, and love from their husbands.
Children's books, with Martha Lewis Lambert, illustrated by Dan McFeely:
For several years, Schlessinger published a full-color 16-page monthly magazine, The Dr. Laura Perspective, but it has ceased publication.
She wrote a syndicated weekly column that was carried in many newspapers, as well as Jewish World Review, where archives are still available. She currently writes a monthly column for World Net Daily.
In 1998, Schlessinger created The Dr. Laura Foundation to help abused and neglected children. Schlessinger regularly asked her on-air audience to donate items for "My Stuff" bags, which go to children in need (often children who must leave their home with no possessions). All other donations came from other people or groups, usually in the form of donated items for the bags. Per the foundation's reports, money not used for operations was directed toward pro-life organizations, such as crisis pregnancy centers.
In September 2004, Schlessinger announced that she was closing down the foundation by the end of the year. Her reason for ending the foundation's work, as given on her website and in an announcement to listeners, was to support adoption and abstinence.
Schlessinger's Ph.D. is in physiology and not psychology; critics have characterized the show's name as deceptive.
Although she has mentioned on her website and during her show that her degree is in physiology, and that she was a licensed marriage therapist, critics contend that she rarely mentions these facts on her show. However, Schlessinger never makes psychiatric diagnoses, and commonly will recommend that callers or their loved ones undergo psychological or psychiatric assessment, in order to make informed decisions as they relate to issues of mental health. She has referred to her marriage and family therapy training on the air, but has never referred to herself as a psychologist.
She has received additional criticism because her California Marriage Family and Child Counseling (MFCC) license has been inactive for several years. Further criticism arises because she often refers to herself as "a licensed therapist."
In 1998, allegedly upset that he was snubbed by Schlessinger at an event, former radio mentor Bill Ballance sold to a media outlet nude photos of Schlessinger, for which she had posed when she and Ballance had an affair in the 1970s. Internet Entertainment Group (IEG), which had purchased the photos, subsequently posted them on its website. IEG was already known at the time for making available to subscribers a sex tape of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. The Schlessinger photos were originally available only to subscribers to the IEG website, but predictably, the photos later appeared on different free sites in varying forms.
Schlessinger initially said the photos were not of her, but then claimed a copyright interest in them in court. Eventually, she admitted that the photos were authentic, and read a statement on her radio show addressing the issue. Schlessinger tried to get the photos off the Internet, but ultimately was unsuccessful in doing so, as a court ruled IEG had legally acquired the rights to the material.
In the statement she read on her radio show about the scandal, Schlessinger called Ballance a "mentor and friend," and said she was "mystified as to why this 80-year-old man would do such a morally reprehensible thing." She said the photos were taken when she was 28 years old, going through a divorce, and had "no moral authority." She added that she had undergone "profound changes over the course of my life from atheist to observant Jew."
Despite the apology, many faithful listeners to the Dr. Laura show felt betrayed. Once the nude photo scandal came to light, accusations surfaced that Schlessinger cheated on her first husband, broke up the marriage of the man who became her second husband, lived with him while unmarried, and intentionally bore a child with him out of wedlock––all things she railed against on her show, but never mentioned were part of her personal life experience. Schlessinger's response to these criticisms was that "A hypocrite says, 'Do what I say, not what I do,' rather than, 'Do what I say, not what I did'," meaning that a hypocrite is not a person who makes a mistake and then changes, but is instead a person who sets up a double standard.
On December 16, 2002, Schlessinger's mother Yolanda was found dead in her Beverly Hills, California condominium by the Beverly Hills Police Department, her body possibly having been there for more than two months.
Views on homosexuality
Prior to 1997, Schlessinger was very supportive to gay callers to her show. During that time, she took issue with Christian religious leaders who were opposed to gay relationships, and said that it was cruel to deny love and happiness to gay couples. She renounced this view in 1997. Soon, her monologues approvingly mentioned ex-gays that claimed they could help homosexuals "turn" heterosexual, and she attacked the American Psychological Association for condemning their stance. Schlessinger also began citing Harvard, MIT, and psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover in support of her new views.
Afterward, Schlessinger was frequently criticized in the gay community for her view of homosexuality as a "biological error," and for her opposition to adoption by same-sex couples. The GLBT rights group GLAAD began monitoring Schlessinger's on-air comments about homosexuality, posting weekly transcripts of relevant shows on its website.
On May 10, 2000, The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) ruled that Schlessinger's "consistent characterization of the sexual behavior of gays and lesbians as 'abnormal,' 'aberrant,' 'deviant,' 'disordered,' 'dysfunctional,' and 'an error' constituted abusive discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and as such, were in violation of the human rights provision of its Code of Ethics. The CBSC found similar fault with her generalized statements that pedophilia is more prevalent among members of the gay community.
In response to her comments about homosexuality, a rhetorical and sarcastic "letter to Dr. Laura" was circulated circa 2000 on the Internet that attempted to illustrate disagreements with her literal interpretation of the Bible, especially with regard to homosexuality. This letter was the inspiration for the character Jenna Jacobs in a Season 2 episode of The West Wing called "The Midterms." In that episode, President Bartlet criticizes Jacobs for using the Bible to call homosexuality "evil."
Schlessinger attempted to repair her relationship with the gay community without success. Her March 2000 public apology on her radio show was withdrawn two weeks later when it was not wholeheartedly accepted. In October 2000, Schlessinger paid for a full-page ad in the "Gay Hollywood" issue of Variety as a Yom Kippur apology for previous negative remarks.
In her book, The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds (Prima, 2001), lesbian author Tammy Bruce discussed Dr. Laura's relationship with the gay community at length, and criticized some gay activists' treatment of Dr. Laura. Bruce said Dr. Laura has not only unfairly been accused of hate speech, but also has had her freedom of speech suppressed. Schlessinger wrote the foreword to Bruce's book.
Comments on Wives of Iraq-Deployed US Soldiers
In a story first reported in late May 2007 in The Salt Lake Tribune by Matthew D. LaPlante, Schlessinger appeared at Fort Douglas before an audience for a live broadcast of her daily radio show. She said she was annoyed with military wives who complain to their deployed spouses, and admonished the wives, "You're not dodging bullets, so I don't want to hear any whining," adding that "warriors need warrior wives," and that they should share their complaints with friends or family members, not the deployed: "He could come back without arms, legs, or eyeballs, and you're bitching?" Schlessinger's own son, Deryk, was deployed in Afghanistan.
The controversy sparked an interview on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News television program. O'Reilly blasted the original newspaper article as an incomplete, one-sided editorial, which Schlessinger contested. Schlessinger repeatedly mentioned that her son was serving in "the Middle East," and that she knows as well as any, what it's like being a military family and support system for her only child, a soldier serving abroad on a life-threatening situation.
In popular culture
In the sixth season of the TV show Frasier, Dr. Laura was parodied in an episode called "Dr. Nora." The Dr. Nora character (played by Christine Baranski), with biographical details similar to that of Schlessinger, is hired by Frasier to follow up his show on the radio. However, Dr. Nora has a very biting tone, telling a woman who was sleeping with a man before marriage to "keep your knees together." Dr. Laura had originally sponsored Frasier, but publicly pulled her support from the show because she disagreed with the series' tacit endorsement of unmarried sex.
In a second-season episode of the television show The West Wing entitled "The Midterms," Dr. Laura is parodied as the fictional character Dr. Jenna Jacobs, in a conversation with President Bartlet revolving around her academic qualifications, and the consequences of a literal interpretation of Leviticus regarding homosexuality — referring to Dr. Laura's characterization of homosexuality as a "biological error."
The character Dr. Lorna in the webcomic Sluggy Freelance (now revealed to be the mother of Riff, one of the main characters) is an obvious parody of Dr. Schlessinger.
According to DVD commentary for an episode of Futurama, the final choice of character for Mom was based on Dr. Laura.Which episode?
Dr. Laura is also the primary nemesis in the animated series Queer Duck.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Laura_Schlessinger". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|