|TOO HOT FOR TV?|
Does radio host "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger propagate hate? Should she be able to take her views to television?
Keven Bellows, vice president and general manager of Premiere Radio Networks, Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, and Joan Garry, executive director of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, respond to your questions.
from Charlottesville, VA asks:
I'm not a fan of Dr. Laura, but the GLAAD representative effectively equated criticism with defamation. If this is the mindset we're working with, how can we ever hope to have serious debate on moral issues?
That's precisely why Dr. Laura decided to say yes to one of several television offers. She hopes that her popularity will translate to TV, so that she can bring her preaching, teaching and nagging on moral issues to the viewing audience.
I'm not sure how to answer that question other than to give you the legal definition of what constitutes defamation. Defamation is a "false statement of fact" communicated to others that caused actual injury in the form of out-of-pocket losses, impairment of reputation or mental anguish or suffering. The statement must be reasonably understood by people who knew the plaintiff as referring to him or her. Courts seldom allow claims of defamation to be brought by a "group" of more than 25 people. One of the defenses to a libel claim is that the statement was an opinion rather than a statement of fact. With many radio talk show hosts, I guess you have to start by sorting out whether the complained about statement was a statement of fact or whether it was a statement of opinion.
If it was a false statement of fact made about an individual person, we assume that free speech is not being served and we allow the person who's reputation was damaged to sue. If it was merely an opinion, the American system encourages more speech about the issue in the hopes that other contrary opinions will also be heard. If the opinion relates to an issue of morality, I think the debate will always be robust.
We consider this to be more than criticism: it is defamation.
"The debate over gay rights -- Rights. RIGHTS! RIGHTS? For sexual deviant, sexual behavior there are now rights? That's what I'm worried about with the pedophilia and the bestiality and the sadomasochism and the cross-dressing. Is this all going to be "rights" too, to deviant sexual behavior? It's deviant sexual behavior. Why does deviant sexual behavior get rights?" ("The Dr. Laura Program" - June 9, 1999)
And this is just one example.
GLAAD's work regarding "Dr. Laura" has created the kind of serious public debate that Schlessinger has attempted to silence. Schlessinger's radio show, books, columns and other media enterprises only ever show one side of the debate: hers. She prescreens her callers accordingly. The occasional gay caller allowed on the show consistently represents a very unhappy or unfulfilled life. When we asked well-adjusted, positively oriented gays and lesbians to write her, we know she received more than a 1,000 such letters -- yet not one was ever read on her show.
To Schlessinger's audience, it's her way or the highway. Because she has credibility in many other areas, people accept what she says about our community as indisputable fact as well. It is not fact; it is opinion.
It's unlikely that the current discussion about lesbian and gay media images would have happened had GLAAD not worked to expose Schlessinger's credentials, discredited science and defamatory rhetoric. Because of Schlessinger's anti-gay advocacy, we've been able to hold up a pure illustration of defamation, expose it as divisive, abusive and prejudicial, and show the world that the lesbian and gay community will not be an easy target for such attacks. If anything, our challenge to her words has allowed more people, such as yourself, to consider the merits of what is said and done regarding sexual orientation.