Laura Schlessinger (better known as Dr. Laura) for Richmond.com, I got a lesson I've kept in mind since. The title of that column was "Queen of Claptrap."
Shortly after the piece went online I began receiving an avalanche of nasty threatening emails from an organized national group that apparently did that sort of thing to any writer who criticized their queen. I was being Freeped by people who were affiliated with a group known as Free Republic.
Hey, if you've never had some 500 hate-driven emails land on you in a couple of days, let me tell you it can be scary. At first I attempted to answer some of the angry emails but soon enough I realized that was a waste of time. I asked a veteran journalist who was a colleague just what the hell to make of it all. He just chuckled and said, "It means you're doing your job."
Here's the 18-year-old piece:
Anybody who thinks the job of an opinion writer is easy should think again. Yes, everybody has opinions. That part is easy. What I'm referring to here - aside from the small task of gathering an opinion and converting it into an essay - is research. In order to put this piece together, I had to watch and listen to Laura Schlessinger.There you have it. That's what it took to set off a bunch of creeps who were hoping to make me back off. What I didn't understand then was that I was seeing the future.
Yes, the same Laura Schlessinger who is better known as talk-radio's Dr. Laura, the acerbic, self-styled adviser to the forlorn who has ridden a wave of controversy to a new syndicated television show.
To be fair with the reader, I have to admit that I have no patience with the entire confession-driven genre of programming to which Dr. Laura's television show belongs. I'm talking about the likes of Jerry Springer, Montel Williams, Ricki Lake, and so forth.
However, Schlessinger has been deliberately pushing buttons to move the stories about the views she voices on her broadcasts from the entertainment section to the news and editorial sections.
Thus, Dr. Laura has become a topic for OpEd columnists to consider. After a sampling of her product I have to say a little bit of the supercilious Dr. Laura goes a long way. For my money, she may well be the most obnoxious of the daytime talk-show hosts.
From what I can tell, her formula combines the hard-edge political and cultural outlook of the typical right-wing AM radio windbag - Rush Limbaugh being the most obvious example - with the lonely hearts advice of an Ann Landers.
Dr. Laura's frequently expressed judgments on homosexuality - notions that some would call antediluvian, while others plainly see as hateful - have provoked an anti-Dr. Laura movement that is making news as well. For more about that, check out stopdrlaura.com.
Dr. Laura, in spite of her startling throwback opinions, is a modern gal when it comes to making money; so she's got a Web site, too: drlaura.com.
"Do the right thing" is Dr. Laura's oft-stated slogan. Well, I can't argue with that. Who can? But the rub is who's defining what "right" is?
Dr. Laura's tonic is basically a dose of Pat Buchanan's political and social agenda, served up with Bobby Knight's bedside manner. The sad part of it - maybe even the scary part - is that some pitiful soul might take her mean-spirited blather to heart, because it sounds bitter and medicinal.
The burgeoning movement to protest her bashing of gays and other people she sees as immoral is gaining momentum. With quotes such as, "a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys," being attributed to Dr. Laura, it's easy to see why.
While I can't say I'm prepared to endorse everything that's being said and done to "Stop Dr. Laura," I can say with enthusiasm that I'm a great believer in the time-honored tactic of boycott.
Apparently Procter & Gamble got the message. It, like a string of other would-be national sponsors of her TV program, such as Verizon, RadioShack Corp., Kraft Foods, and Kimberly-Clark, have decided to back off.
It won't surprise me if the television show - aired locally at 4 p.m. weekdays by WRIC TV 8 (Ch. 8 broadcast and AT&T Ch. 10 Comcast) - runs into trouble in the Richmond market. Virginia's particular brand of conservatism is baffling to people from other states.
Yes, Virginians are happy with right-of-center politics on many issues. Yet, they aren't comfortable with extremes in any direction; especially those extremes that are blatantly tacky.
Ask Ollie North: In spite of his far-right beliefs, his 1994 $25 million cakewalk to a Senate seat turned out to be a fall from grace. Ollie, with that checkered blue shirt and his self-serving lies to Congress, was just too gauche for Virginians to stomach.
By the same token, Howard Stern's radio show didn't last long in Richmond, either. Although it had plenty of listeners, the big local advertisers weren't comfortable being associated with it. What some of Stern's fans failed to grasp was it wasn't so much his lefty politics that got Howard in trouble in this market; it was his style.
It will be interesting to see whether WRIC will be able to run the commercials of major local advertisers such as Ukrop's Super Markets or any of the big banks in or adjacent to the Dr. Laura show.
With the anti-Dr. Laura movement picking up speed, I wonder how many Richmond companies are going to be willing to write off the entire gay and lesbian market for the sake of riding Laura Schlessinger's publicity wave. Beyond the organized alternative-lifestyle groups, the controversy that is swelling up around this talk show has bad vibes.
In ad jargon, it's going to be too easy for local agencies to buy around the Dr. Laura telecast. That simply means that roughly the same audience is readily available to an advertiser through other vehicles, so Dr. Laura and her hefty baggage can easily be avoided.
Bottom line: My hope is Dr. Laura will get canceled before I have to write any more about her. Just the thought of having to watch her on television again gives me the willies.