There’s no doubt that many of you have heard about Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s unfortunate rant in which she repeatedly used racial epithets while interacting with a caller. Dr. Laura, the infamous talk-radio personality, subsequently issued an apology for using the word. Her apology, which was viewed suspiciously by many, was followed by a defiant touting of her First Amendment right to free speech and an announcement that she would be ending her longstanding radio show—well, at least in its current format. Barring the fact that the First Amendment has nothing to do with this case (i.e., since the government did nothing to silence the radio host), and that Dr. Laura seemed to have her own agenda with the N-word, and that her PhD is in Physiology, I don’t really have a problem with her. Wait, wait… let me explain why.
Dr. Laura is a shock-jock. Similar to Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh, she is an entertainer. It is reckless and irresponsible the amount of moral authority we ascribe to entertainers simply because they are commonplace on the airwaves. Do you really think these characters really believe most of the things they say? C’monnnn. Theirs is a business, first and foremost. Controversy, as long as it isn’t too extreme, rules the day in the world of a shock-jock. I’ll say it again…I don’t really have a problem with her.
In fact, I would rather her use the word in my presence, than behind my back. Hey, she believed she was making an intelligent, well-informed argument that would somehow bring the caller to some cathartic realization of her own over-reaction in the presence of the word. I get it. Problem was, it obviously wasn’t all that well-informed or poignant an argument to begin with. But, I digress. I don’t really have a problem with her…remember?
And what about the millions of callers who believe that having a physiologist berate them over the phone will somehow make them feel better—more empowered even—what about them? They aren’t to blame for wanting help. Misguided…misinformed…mistaken…maybe…but, certainly not to blame for yearning for someone to help them. We are constantly inundated with information about treatments offering a quick fix. If you truly could take a pill or make a 5-minute phone call to end all of your ailments, you would try it too. Well, most of you would. So, in that sense, I don’t have a problem with her for trying to capitalize on the insecurities of people. These are primarily adult callers we’re referring to (i.e., I’ve heard children call in over the years as well). She’s just trying to make a buck. I’m not disrespecting her “hustle.” Remember, I don’t really have a problem with HER.
No, my problem is with YOU. Where are you mental health professionals in this discussion? You do realize that Dr. Laura, Dr. Phil, Mr. Mackey from South Park, and Dr. Katz (i.e., the cartoon therapist) all represent you in the eyes of the public. To the uninformed, they do what you do. Therefore, when they do something that reflects poorly on your profession (I was being facetious with Mr. Mackey and Dr. Katz), it also reflects poorly on you. Where is your voice in all of this? I hate to break it to you counselors, but silence and inaction won’t make these things go away. For example, do these shows have disclaimers (i.e., warnings that the show is for entertainment purposes only and not meant to treat, diagnose, etc.)? I don’t know… maybe I just need to stick to doing my Mr. Mackey impressions.
Kenneth Oliver is a counselor in Missouri and an assistant professor at Quincy University in Illinois.