THE CONTROVERSY over radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger's new TV program has reached Seattle and promises to come to a head Saturday, May 20. Organizers of the local chapter of Stop Dr. Laura are vowing to protest at KING 5 and boycott the station's advertisers unless KING 5 agrees not to air the show when it debuts in September.
At issue are a number of comments Schlessinger has made on her talk radio show and in interviews about gays and lesbians. Since 1997, she has called gays and lesbians "a biological faux pas," claimed that gay and lesbian parents are inferior to their heterosexual counterparts, dubbed homosexual practices "deviant," accused gay men of being "predatory on young boys," and advocated that gays and lesbians get themselves cured through "reparative therapy." The Dr. Laura Schlessinger Show is syndicated to over 400 radio stations across the United States and Canada, including Seattle's own KOMO, 1000AM. Schlessinger is a best-selling author and a public speaker, and has appeared on a number of television shows, including two PBS specials.
In May 1999, Paramount signed Schlessinger to host a daytime, hour-long television program and began selling the show to television stations across the country.
"We have a relationship with Paramount and have been assured that this program will meet our high broadcasting standards," said Jay Cascio, director of programming for KING 5.
Paramount stands to make $78 million off of the deal and has been aggressively marketing the show.
"Most of the station managers had not ever heard Schlessinger's radio show, and they're appalled when they hear the audio tape," said Joan Garry, Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. So far, however, none of the stations have agreed to drop the show. Those stations who have already bought in are under contract with Paramount to air the show.
"We are very much aware of comments made on Dr. Laura's radio show," said Cascio. "We can understand why groups would be upset and concerned, but we have very high standards about what we put out on the air."
Cascio is bewildered by the attention KING 5 is getting. "We have not seen the broadcast; it's a little premature to say this is the program it might be." He has been told by Paramount that the television show is going to be different than the radio broadcast; "The television show will be balanced with guests and a studio audience."
KING 5 is prepared to pull the show if it does not meet broadcasting standards. "If Dr. Laura came on our air and used our airways as a platform to promote hatred and intolerance, we would pull it because that does not meet our standards," pledges Cascio.
Protest organizer Pete Gregson disagrees with KING 5's position. "This is not about monitoring Dr. Laura when the show is on the air. It's about taking someone and giving her a national, televised platform. That is an endorsement of hate," he said. Gregson decided to organize a local campaign after stumbling on the StopDrLaura.com Web site one night. "I read an article about the protest of Paramount Studios in Los Angeles and saw that there were protests in other cities, but none in Seattle. I decided to step up and organize one here."
Gregson feels the issue at hand is corporate responsibility. "Dr. Laura represents the biggest mouthpiece of hate in America right now. There is a problem when studios buy into hate speech and pass it on to their affiliates for distribution."
Other groups agree. Gregson has built a coalition to support the protest. Sponsors include StopDrLaura.com, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and the Seattle chapters of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Human Rights Campaign, Hate Watch, the Freedom Socialist Party, and Radical Women.
In addition to representatives from the protest sponsors, Reverend Gwen Hall of Sojourner Truth Unity Fellowship Church and Retired Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer will speak at the protest.
Gregson and other protest sponsors will be meeting with Cascio and KING 5 station manager Glenn Wright the day before the protest. At the meeting, Gregson hopes "to present information on Dr. Laura to the station manager and open a dialogue."
Gregson is hopeful about the outcome; "KING5 has been great to the gay community. They sponsored AIDSWalk and provide fair coverage of our community and issues." Gregson hopes KING 5 will do the right thing and pull the plug on Dr. Laura.