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Now back to her regular programming

National | Talk radio's Dr. Laura, hounded off her television show after a yearlong gay activist "search and destroy" campaign, says she's happy to have her life back

Issue: "Abolition of C.S. Lewis?," June 16, 2001

Dr. Laura doesn't want to talk about the past. After a year of almost constant controversy over her recently canceled television talk show, she's ready to put it behind her. Her three-page resumé lists her eight books, four academic degrees, seven national awards, and more than a dozen guest TV appearances-but nothing on her own short-lived show or the furor that surrounded it.

Ask a couple of questions about that tumultuous time, and her PR assistant breaks in: "Moooving on."

Try to sneak in another question, and the publicist gets blunt. "The whole homosexuality issue-I think she's pretty much addressed it. There are so many other things to talk about …"

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The luxury suite at the Four Seasons goes quiet. Dr. Laura perches on the edge of a deeply upholstered chair, saying nothing, waiting for a new line of questioning. In a tailored pink jacket and gray slacks, she looks like the sort of well-bred society wife who spends her time doing lunch and getting her hair done. But her body language signals that there's much more to her than that. The set to her jaw, the creases around her eyes, the way her wide smile fades quickly into a grim horizontal line-clearly this is a woman who has endured a lot and emerged on the other side.

No wonder she wants to move on.

Laura Schlessinger, as she's officially known, is still the maven of conservative talk radio, with some 18 million listeners tuning in on 440 stations. She says her ratings have actually increased 15 percent despite the TV imbroglio, and she believes her listeners are more loyal than ever. "I think the good news is, people got to see the mettle of my character," she says, somewhat wistfully. "If there were ever a question of my character, there isn't anymore. I guess in every pile of poop, there is a flower that grows."

With liberals attacking almost daily from the moment her show was announced, that pile got plenty deep. Under pressure from gay-rights groups, Proctor & Gamble withdrew as a sponsor before the show even hit the airwaves. "It was a preemptive strike," she says of the "Stop Dr. Laura" campaign that spawned a website, rallies in 31 cities, boycott threats, and hundreds of negative articles in the mainstream press. "I have the largest family audience of any talk show host in America, and I guess there was concern that having yet another venue to talk about traditional values was too threatening. So they attacked."

Once the cameras finally began rolling, Dr. Laura tried hard to avoid confirming her public caricature. In 130 outings, each covering an average of seven different topics, her television show never once dealt with homosexuality, the subject for which she had taken the most heat. But the critics, she says, refused to judge the show on its merits. "Typically speaking, you would attack a show for its content. They attacked the show for its host. This was an attempt to search and destroy and censor a point of view, which is what the Left does. They don't debate; they destroy."

Stung by the criticism and wary of low ratings, station managers in many markets relegated Dr. Laura to the dismal, post-midnight time slots once reserved for test patterns. Yet despite her fading blip on TV's radar screen, liberals continued their personal campaign against her. One website called the petite blonde crusader "public enemy number one to the gay community, the women's community, and their many allies." A San Francisco city supervisor accused her of "ignorance, heartlessness, and inhumanity." Slate magazine said she was a hypocrite, "full of the weakness and venality she condemns in her callers." And former Rep. Pat Schroeder weighed in by asking: "The pledge of allegiance says, 'With liberty and justice for all.' What part of 'all' is unclear?"

What was unclear to Dr. Laura was the substance of the accusations against her. "It was all lies, taking little soundbites and dramatizing them, re-labeling anything I said as 'hate.' The most horrible part was realizing the media was complicit. That's what gives these fringe groups their power. The media is the megaphone for the Left, so their small point of view became a big issue."

Such a big issue, in fact, that Paramount, the distributor of the Dr. Laura show, announced on March 30 it was pulling the plug after a seven-month run. "On the one hand I'm relieved, because taping a one-hour show for television and then doing three live hours of radio every day was exhausting," she said in a statement at the time. "On the other hand I'm very proud of the show and sad we won't continue."

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