Dr. Laura Schlessinger is quitting the over-the-air radio business. She has been forced into a corner with no apparent way out. Her resigning was demanded in the wake of her comments to a caller in which she used racial slurs to illustrate a point.
I am not defending Dr. Laura’s use of insensitive language, however I do not think she should quit or be asked / forced to quit.
Here is exactly what happened: (Source)
A black woman called the show and told Dr. Laura that
her husband is white and his relatives frequently use hurtful racial language around her, including the “N-word.” In response, Schlessinger said “Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is n*****, n*****, n*****.” Schlessinger also told her that “If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.”
Predictably, there was a lot of backlash and Dr. Laura was forced to quit.
The Dr. Laura flap reminded me of the Helen Thomas fiasco. Thomas was also forced to resign in the wake of her insensitive comments as well.
Thomas said something to effect of:
Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Germany and Poland.
Thomas took the heat for a few days until she quit.
I think these stories are both tragic.
Yes, in both cases, the comments were insensitive. Would they like to take back their words if they could? Sure. So why don’t we let them?
Both of these women speak millions of words over the course of their careers. It is inevitable that they will slip up. Why are we so swift to demand they give up their careers? Have we become so sensitive that there is no longer forgiveness?
It goes to a deeper issue as well.
The distillation of thought and narrowing of acceptable speech severely hampers the ability for Americans to debate and discuss issues. The 1st Amendment protects our right to free speech. This right has been described as providing a marketplace of ideas. If we allow whoever yells loudest to bully the marketplace then the marketplace becomes dominated by that voice.
The proper response to speech that you find offensive is not deprive the speaker from speaking further.* It is by explaining why the speech is offensive and offering counter-speech. Discussion and debate. Not calls for resigning.
By allowing bullies to determine who is permitted in the marketplace if ideas and who is not permitted in the marketplace of ideas curtails the effectiveness of that marketplace.
Dr. Laura and Helen Thomas were important voices. They may be infuriating at times and they may have been insensitive. But that is not a reason for their voices to be lost. The marketplace of ideas has fewer voices and that hurts us.
The real losers in their resignations is us.
*Severe forms of hate speech that are likely to incite violence or compromise the rights of others are not protected by the 1st Amendment.