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Is freedom paramount?

National | Dr. Laura's TV syndicate under fire from gay activists, who demand the talk host tone down her rhetoric

Issue: "Cuban conundrum," Feb. 5, 2000

In 1995, German officials investigating alleged child pornography violations searched computer disks at the offices of the online service CompuServe. While police would not say what they found, CompuServe immediately blocked its customers' access to 200 sexually explicit Internet newsgroups, including several claiming to champion homosexual rights. Stateside, the move infuriated members of the media watchdog group GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Then-GLAAD director William Waybourn excoriated CompuServe in a letter to CEO Robert Massey: "Americans should be greatly alarmed by the speed at which your company zapped freedom of speech on the Internet."

Now it seems GLAAD would just as soon zap Dr. Laura's freedom of speech on television.

The activist group will meet on Valentine's Day with Paramount TV co-president Frank Kelly. The goal: to demand that Dr. Laura, talk radio's conservative morality maven, be required to refrain from using certain language to refer to homosexuality on her new television program scheduled to debut this fall. On her nationally broadcast radio show, Dr. Laura has described homosexual behavior as "deviant" and as a "biological error." According to GLAAD spokesman Steve Spurgeon, the group will ask Paramount to require Dr. Laura to avoid using such terms and "to be more respectful in her terminology."

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Dr. Laura says that sounds to her a lot like censorship. "I think it's quite fascinating that a group that's talking about civil rights wants to curtail my right to make a living, speak my point of view, and to have my religious convictions," she told WORLD.

Paramount TV would not comment on the controversy, but Dr. Laura says, "Paramount is not intimidated by GLAAD. They're used to GLAAD bugging them, and demanding things, and trying to control what goes out on the air. It's offensive, but they're used to it."

Joan Garry, GLAAD's current executive director, considers Dr. Laura's views of homosexuality "dangerous." Ms. Garry is concerned about the radio host's influence over what she calls "the swing middle"-that is, people who haven't yet formed solid opinions about homosexuality. "Our goal here," said Ms. Garry, "is to do whatever we can to ensure that Dr. Laura's words are tamed when she goes to TV." Spokesman Spurgeon says GLAAD believes in freedom of speech, but calls Dr. Laura's speech an "area where we have trouble."

Dr. Laura says the language she uses to describe homosexual behavior is scientifically accurate. "Physically speaking, this is deviant sexual behavior ... the norm is heterosexual. I am using scientifically accurate words. I don't talk about anything but compassion for the individual [homosexual], but what I'm concerned about is a society allowing a deviant sexual activity to have status on the level of heterosexuality in terms of marriage and adopting children. Children need a mommy and a daddy. There's nothing new in that concept."

What is new is GLAAD's increasing pull in media circles. The group scored a coup in 1998 when it met with editors of Time magazine to tutor them on the politically correct way to cover homosexuals in their publication. Time editors followed up obligingly with a flurry of pro-gay coverage, prompting GLAAD to trumpet the magazine's "truly remarkable turnaround." But GLAAD wasn't finished. After the brutal murder of homosexual college student Matthew Shepard, the group sent staff to Wyoming to "help manage media coverage." The result: The group successfully linked Shepard's murder to conservative Christian activism, a storyline regurgitated repeatedly in the mainstream press. GLAAD now lists this campaign on its website under "Accomplishments."

GLAAD's accomplishments, though, may prove no match for Dr. Laura. She already reaches nearly 20 million radio listeners on 450 stations in the United States and Canada. And Paramount has already signed up 85 percent of U.S. television markets to air her hour-long talk-format television show. Operating in the shadow of such gargantuan reach, GLAAD has lately issued a volley of editorials, press interviews, and talking-head TV utterances-all carefully laced with words like discrimination and untruths and dangerous impact. There's even a Dr. Laura surveillance icon on GLAAD's website.

Is GLAAD is afraid of Dr. Laura?

Mr. Spurgeon says no: "What we're afraid of-and I don't even think I'd use that word-what we're concerned about is someone who makes it a kind of cause celebre to go after a particular group."

Dr. Laura says yes: "I think that's the main problem, or why would they spend so much time, effort, and money to fight me? They must think I'm dangerous, and that's simply because I am reiterating what God said. To them, that makes me 'hateful.' I'm sorry-talk to God about it."

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