On Monday of this week, satellite talk show host Laura Schlessinger outraged dog lovers when she talked about going to a local dog shelter. Schlessinger said that she was shocked that there were so many Pit Bulls in the shelter and that she considered them a “waste of space” who should be put down.
To anyone who's paid even cursory attention to her career, the fact that Laura Schlessinger said something stupid and hateful shouldn't be surprising. It's kind of what she does. Her entire career has essentially been built on selling hackneyed stereotypes as straightforward common sense. In 2000, gay rights activists campaigned against Schlessinger's new television show because over the years, she had repeatedly referred to gay men and lesbians as "biological errors," as well as saying that gay men were predators and pedophiles. The show went on the air but was cancelled after only a year.
In 2010, Schlessinger was forced to make the move from broadcast radio to satellite after she used the n-word 11 times while talking to a black woman who had called her show. The woman, who was married to a white man, asked for advice because she felt her husband let friends and family make racist comments around her without speaking up. Schlessinger told the woman, "If you're that hypersensitive about color and don't have a sense of humor, don't marry out of your race."
A week after the call, Schlessinger announced that she had "decided" to stop doing radio and move to satellite broadcasting.
"I want to regain my First Amendment rights," she told Larry King in an interview. "I want to be able to say what's on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I'm sort of done with that."
Compared to using the n-word eleven times or calling gay men pedophiles, her comments about Pit Bulls might be considered relatively mild. They come from the same place, however; they exploit commonly held fears and ignorance, and they parade these as courage. Schlessinger would be nowhere if she weren't able to persuade an awful lot of people that her bigotry is actually an act of resistance.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who would be quite happy to kill Pit Bulls en masse, just as there are many people who cling to the idea that LGBT people are out to rape their children or that racism would go away if only black people would stop being so "sensitive" about it. Just last month, a 9-year-old girl and her family had to fight to keep their town from taking her pet and euthanizing it for no other reason than that he was a Pit Bull. Despite what her PR hacks might want us to think, Schlessinger hasn't said anything new or courageous. Schlessinger has never in her career gone after anyone who had more power than her. She invariably targets those who are already marginalized by the prejudices of others and then pretends that she's speaking truth to power.
Fortunately, dog lovers have been pushing back and trying to make Schlessinger accountable. Writer Janet Goree has been especially prominent, using her column and her Twitter feed to promote Schlessinger's critics. Goree says that when she called Schlessinger's office for a comment, the person on the phone hung up on her; a request for comment via Twitter was ignored.
As of this writing, an online petition condemning Schlessinger has gotten 10,000 signatures. (Organizers are trying for 20,000.) The petition reads in part:
Such speeches are completely unacceptable. The reputation that Pit Bulls have is totally misleading -- since the 1980, the media has begun to portray Pit Bulls as dangerous dogs. This couldn't be any more false! There is no such thing as a 'bad' dog, but rather a 'bad' owner! In addition, because of their good temperaments -- friendly nature, loyalty and stability -- Pit Bulls are considered the perfect 'nanny dogs' for children. They make excellent family and their love for children is well known.
Dog lovers have also started a hashtag campaign on Twitter. Pit owners have been asked to tweet pictures of their dogs with the (incredibly long) tag #Drlaurawhydoyouwantmedead.
Schlessinger herself has ignored all criticism. Just as Goree's requests for comment were ignored, Schlessinger's Twitter feed and Facebook page haven't even acknowledged the controversy. The posts simply continue to churn past like they would any other week, summarizing her "call of the day" and dispensing trite pieces of "wisdom."
What do you think? Is there a way to make Schlessinger sit up and notice, or does the controversy just serve her public relations strategy by giving her attention?
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