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COUNTERPUNCH

Nothing Is Gained in Silencing Dr. Laura

September 18, 2000|TAMMY BRUCE | Tammy Bruce is a former talk show host at KFI-AM (640) and a former president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women. She currently is writing a book and attending USC

In what undoubtedly will come as a surprise to many, this feminist gay activist supports Laura Schlessinger. It's not her opinion about gays and lesbians I support, but rather her absolute right to state that opinion.

As an activist and former radio talk show host, I know what it's like to be attacked for speaking my mind when it hasn't conformed with the currently "acceptable" point of view. I've also noticed a disturbing trend that has gripped almost every American: the fear of offending by forming and expressing an opinion. Every day, individuals are bombarded with messages from media, political interest groups and the power elite that speaking your mind will get you into trouble. It's for this reason I grew uncomfortable with the ongoing campaign by gay activists to silence Dr. Laura.

Fortunately, Paramount did not bow to pressure and launched the "Dr. Laura" show last week.

I have tremendous respect for the gay activist community, and there is a place for protest--but not one for silencing.

In my own work I've employed some creative tactics to protest the publishing of a book, the airing of television shows and even the broadcast of a cozy television interview with a certain wife batterer-killer, all without calling for the pulling or canceling of the book or show at issue. It's a fine line, but one that can, and should, be walked.

Actions such as sexual harassment and rape obviously do not fall under the rubric of freedom of expression. But when we call for the silencing of someone because we're offended by their opinion, we've gone too far.

The demand by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for Paramount to preemptorily pull the plug on the syndicated "Dr. Laura" show was reminiscent of the tactic by the Southern Baptists (appropriately decried by gay activist groups and others) to punish ABC and Disney for the airing of the "Ellen" television show after she came out as a lesbian. We were appalled then by the heavy-handed, fascist-like strategy, and we should be appalled now.

I'm also troubled by the selectivity of this search-and-destroy mission. GLAAD sent a letter to Interscope Records, a division of Universal Music Group, and picketed the MTV Video Music Awards, chastising them for producing and promoting rapper Eminem. Why do lyrics like "Kill you, you faggots keep egging me on/Till I have you at knifepoint then you beg me to stop" deserve such a measured response compared to the slash-and-burn strategy launched against Schlessinger? Why is there no stopeminem.com Web site? Why no "consumer education" effort targeted at MTV, its advertisers or Seagram's, the parent of Universal?

Ironically, it is progressives who, while seemingly committed to freedom of expression, attempt to exact severe social punishments on anyone who espouses an idea or opinion that challenges their status quo. That approach may work for them while they have the cultural organizing power, but if (when!) the table ever turns, those who find the gay community to be "offensive" or "unfair" will use the same arguments and tactics to eliminate the voicing of our opinions.

Ultimately, we can silence everyone, ban certain speech and products into oblivion--and people will still be sexist and homophobic, and women and gays will still be at risk. After all, a silenced world is not a changed one. Perhaps it's time for all of us to re-read George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and "1984."

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