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Schlessinger had characterized her show as a "moral health program" rather than as an "advice program". Her responses to callers usually display a trademark frankness that some people find harsh and others find refreshing. She gets to the core of a caller's issue quickly rather than let them talk for a long time. Her advice has been widely sought and the show is tied for fourth highest-rated talk radio show in the United States. At its peak, it was the second highest-rated radio show after Rush Limbaugh.
Schlessinger is a outspoken critic of sex outside of marriage, working moms, marrying quickly or at a young age, childless marriage, abortion, easy or no-fault divorce, and gay rights. Her radio program often features short editorial monologues on these and other social and political topics. A short-lived Dr. Laura television show was not successful and was quickly cancelled.
She has also authored numerous self-help books, including the best-selling Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives, and several religious books. Her most recent book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands has been her most successful.
3.1 Name of show and qualifications
Born in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York to Monroe (Monty) Schlessinger and Yolanda Ceccovini Schlessinger, Laura Catherine Schlessinger grew up first in Brooklyn, then in Long Island, New York. She has described her childhood in a dysfunctional family as unpleasant, due to extended family rejection of her mixed-marriage parents (Monty was Jewish but an unbeliever, while Yolanda was an Italian Catholic war-bride) and due to what she has described as an unloving environment. She was an only child for eleven years until the birth of her sister, Cindy. An excellent student, Schlessinger received a bachelor degree from SUNY Stony Brook and a Ph.D. in Physiology from Columbia University. A brief marriage in her early twenties ended in divorce, and she moved to Los Angeles where her parents had resettled.
She received her certification in Marriage, Family and Child Counselling from University of Southern California (USC) and taught at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), University of California, Irvine, USC, and Pepperdine University. While working at USC, she met Dr. Lewis G. Bishop, who was married with dependent children. According to the subsequent divorce filings, they began an affair. Schlessinger's contract with USC was not renewed, and Bishop chose to leave his tenured job at the same time. They married eight years later, in early 1985, and he became her business manager. After the reversal of a tubal ligation, and later suffering a tubal pregnancy, Schlessinger bore their only child Deryk in November, 1985 when she was 38.
Schlessinger's first radio engagement was as a guest on the Bill Ballance show in 1974. She did her own shows on a series of small radio stations before landing her current show at KFI in Los Angeles. The Dr. Laura Show was nationally syndicated in 1994. She sold ownership of the show to Jacor Communications, Inc. for $71 million, and at its peak, The Doctor Laura Show was heard on 471 radio stations. Jacor was then sold to Clear Channel Communications. Once the show joined the Clear Channel stable, Schlessinger's opinions appeared to move in a more politically conservative direction. KFI remains her flagship station but Schlessinger now broadcasts from her new home in Santa Barbara.
Schlessinger converted to Judaism in 1996, and she and her son Deryk joined the Conservative branch (it is unclear if her husband Lewis ever converted to Conservative Judaism). Then in 1998 the entire family converted to Orthodox Judaism under Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka of Ottawa, Ontario. Schlessinger often discussed religion on the show, giving examples from Judaism. She would clarify ethical and moral issues with her local Orthodox Rabbi, Moshe D. Bryski, before mentioning them on air. She was embraced by the politically conservative segment of Orthodox Judaism after bringing more awareness of Orthodoxy to her radio show. Schlessinger received a National Heritage award from the National Council of Young Israel in early 2001.
She has won awards from some media and many conservative organizations, including the National Religious Broadcasters' Chairman's Award. She also lectures on the national conservative circuit, and was the commencement speaker at Hillsdale College in June 2003. Her son matriculated there the following fall.
In July 2003, Schlessinger announced on her show that she was no longer an Orthodox Jew. This was a shock to both fans and detractors, given the effort she had put into identifying as an Orthodox Jew both on-air and off. In a series of monologues over the next month, she explained that she did not feel a connection with God and felt frustrated by the effort she had put into following the religion. She also mentioned envying the relationship with God described by her Christian fans. Her religious approach on the show lessened substantially after this announcement.
As of November 2003, her show is syndicated to 275 stations, down from a peak of 470. Stations lost include powerful ones such as WABC in New York.  As of Fall 2004, her audience is estimated at eight million listeners.  Call volume has also declined, as can be observed by the number of callers invited to call back. At the show's peak, with 60,000 attempted calls per day, callers were told they only could appear once.
Schlessinger often gives her opinion on social topics during her radio show. Some are common-sense, others are controversial, especially in how they are phrased. These are some of her opinions that she has stated at least 5 times on her show. If a year is given after an opinion, then it was not addressed on her show before that year:
- Children should only be put in day-care if absolutely no other options exist.
- Most two-paycheck couples do so for luxury goods, not survival.
- "Stay at home" moms are the best parents.
- Dads should work, moms should not (1997). (Earlier in her syndication, in 1996, she advocated either parent staying home.)
- Divorce, when there are children, should not occur unless there is Abuse, Addiction, or Adultery (her "three A's")
- Don't forgive those who wronged you unless there is Remorse, Responsibility, and Repair (her "three R's")
- Live-in arrangements outside marriage ("shack-ups") are immoral.
- Couples who lived together before marrying are more likely to divorce.
- Women who engage in sex outside marriage are "presenting themselves virtually as unpaid whores."
- All contraception is unreliable. Therefore, couples should abstain from sex outside of marriage.
- Teenaged girls who wear croptops and other revealing outfits are "sluts." (1998)
- Dating should not begin until age 17 or 18.
- Couples should not marry until their late 20s.
- Pre-marriage engagements should be lengthy. Couples should not marry unless they have been dating at least 2 years.
- Parents who have divorced should not remarry until all children are over 18.
- Adoption should be only by two-parent heterosexual families, with a stay-at-home mother. (1997 for the heterosexual part)
- Abortion is murder, and should only be done when the mother's life is in danger. (1996) (Unclear if she allows exceptions for "mother's health.")
- The pro-choice movement, especially Planned Parenthood, is "evil" and "deceptive."
- The National Education Association and the American Library Association want to allow children to access explicit materials online.
- The American Psychological Association (APA) promotes pedophilia (See Rind et al.)
Since the publication of her latest (2004) book, The Care and Feeding of Husbands, Schlessinger has advocated wives putting husbands, rather than children, first. This is a reversal of years of advice encouraging callers to always put their children's immediate needs first, no matter how inconvenient.
Criticism and controversies
Name of show and qualifications
Laura Schlessinger is not a licensed medical doctor (she does not have an M.D. degree). Schlessinger's Ph.D. is in physiology, not psychology, and her critics have characterized the show name (Dr. Laura) as deceptive. In her defense, she mentions that her degree is in physiology and that she is a licensed marriage therapist on her web site and during her show. Critics contend that she rarely mentions these facts on her show. While she claims that she does not do "therapy" and often refers people to seek therapy outside the context of her show, she has received additional criticism because her California Marriage Family and Child Counseling (MFCC) license has been inactive for several years. Further criticism arises because she often refers to herself as "a licensed therapist."
Supporters note that "The Dr. Laura Show" is a catchy and informative show name, complete with an 800 number to match (1-800-DRLAURA).
There is a minor criticism over her describing her MFCC studies, a Masters Degree, as "post-doctoral studies." These studies indeed occurred after her Doctorate, but in an unrelated field. Academics typically use the term "post-doctoral" to refer to additional work in the same field.
Relations with the Media
Schlessinger has had several notable incidents with journalists. The most memorable was with Dallas Morning News' Maryln Schwartz, who reported about Schlessinger's actions in Dallas while giving a speech to a Jewish women's group. Schlessinger reacted angrily on-air and made a series of negative comments about reporters. When Schwartz wrote about Schlessinger's behavior, Schlessinger became even more irate. Later, Schlessinger cooperated with Leslie Bennetts and then erupted on air over how Bennetts portrayed her in a Vanity Fair profile. An unauthorized and unflattering biography by Vickie Bane followed, in 1999, without any cooperation from Schlessinger. After these experiences, Schlessinger was reluctant to do interviews, with the exception of Larry King, where she has been a frequent guest. Schlessinger has often stated she will not "debate" during media appearances and has left interviews that challenged her statements. Schlessinger has received some support from conservatives such as radio host Michael Medved.
In 1998, naked pictures of her were posted on the Internet by ex-lover Bill Ballance, who gave Schlessinger her start in the radio business in 1974. At first she denied that she was the woman in the photographs, but two weeks later she sued for copyright infringement. Schlessinger's suit was ultimately dropped after she failed to get an injunction to stop displaying the photos.
This issue generated some controversy. Supporters noted that the pictures were taken 20 years ago and that Schlessinger was clearly a different and wiser person now. Detractors observed that Schlessinger was dishonest about the pictures at first, and then her admission blamed "feminism and the sixties," an excuse she would never tolerate from her radio show callers.
Soon after this incident, Schlessinger added the Internet to her list of improper behaviors by callers. She then told callers there was "nothing useful on the Internet." She backed off this position by 2001 but never repudiated her previous stance.
View of homosexuality
Until 1997, Schlessinger was very supportive to gay callers during the show. She often stated that she took issue with Christian religious leaders who were opposed to gay relationships, and said that it was cruel to deny love and happiness to gay couples. She renounced this view in 1997 and embraced the traditionalist view she had previously rejected. Once she made her statement agreeing with an Episcopal priest, Schlessinger joined the religious conservative opposition to any support for homosexuals. Her monologues soon approvingly mentioned groups who claimed they could help homosexuals "turn" heterosexual, and she attacked the American Psychological Association for condemning their stance.
Afterwards, Schlessinger was frequently criticized in the gay community for her view of homosexuality as a "biological error" and for her opposition to adoption by gay parents. On December 8, 1998 she stated:
- I'm sorry — hear it one more time, perfectly clearly: If you're gay or a lesbian, it's a biological error that inhibits you from relating normally to the opposite sex. The fact that you are intelligent, creative and valuable is all true. The error is in your inability to relate sexually intimately, in a loving way to a member of the opposite sex — it is a biological error.
In 2000, Schlessinger signed a deal with Paramount Television to do a Dr. Laura television program. Thousands of critics, particularly led by gay activist groups such as the Stop Dr. Laura web site, threatened to boycott sponsors in advance of the show. When the television show finally aired in September 2000, many critics and viewers found it dull in format and lacking the energy and interest of her radio show. Schlessinger was also criticized for having an unappealing physical appearance. 
In November 2000, most stations moved the show to a less desirable time slot or replaced it entirely after the show started with low ratings, which then declined. There was also little sponsor interest in the show during its first nine weeks. The show was cancelled in March 2001 due to poor ratings. 
- her consistent characterization (in episodes reviewed) of the sexual behavior of gays and lesbian as "abnormal", "aberrant", "deviant", "disordered", "dysfunctional", "an error" or the like constituted abusively discriminatory of those persons on the basis of their sexual orientation. As a result, Schlessinger's comments were determined to be in violation of the human rights provision of the CAB Code of Ethics.
The CBSC found similar fault with her generalized statements that paedophilia is more prevalent among members of the gay community. However, the CBSC also ruled that,
- in a number of other areas complained of, notably the issues relating to the gay agenda, gay culture, fatherless homes and the issues surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepard, Schlessinger's comments could not reasonably be interpreted on these various episodes as being in violation of either Clause 2 or 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics. 
Over the next year, most Canadian stations carrying the show dropped it.
Schlessinger attempted to repair the breach with the gay community without success. Her March 2000 public apology on her radio show was withdrawn two weeks later when it was not whole-heartedly accepted. In October 2000, Schlessinger paid for a full-page ad in the Gay Hollywood issue of Variety, as a Yom Kippur apology for previous negative remarks. Most in the gay community felt the apology was of the "too little, too late" variety, and did not appreciate her apologizing for "anyone feeling offended" rather than for her previous statements themselves. Schlessinger backed away from any commentary on homosexuality after these incidents but still bars gay callers on the radio show.
Negative reactions to views
Schlessinger's opinions given to live callers sometimes result in criticism. Part of Schlessinger's schtick is her "no-nonsense" attitude. On her show, her manner towards callers is straight to the point, blunt, and quick. Often she will cut off a caller who offers unnecessary information or who keeps repeating the same thing. Fans characterize it as "refreshing," "sharp," and "brilliant." Detractors use terms such as "mean," "shrill," "bitter" or "cruel."
In May 2001, in one well-publicized example, Schlessinger advised a caller not to let a boy with Tourette's Syndrome attend a wedding, angering many with the syndrome or who cared for TS children. Schlessinger defended her advice and referred to a textbook which recommended medication. The National Tourette Syndrome Association (TSA) severely criticized her views and TSA members deluged her show's parent company, Premiere Radio Networks, with calls and faxes. Within a week Schlessinger read an on-air apology that did not satisfy NTSA.
More controversy arises from Schlessinger's criticizing private individuals on her radio show. On one occasion she attacked, by name, a 12 year old girl because Schlessinger disagreed with the girl's award-winning essay for a statewide contest. (The girl never had contacted Schlessinger.) On another show, Schlessinger encouraged her listeners to call a local beachwear store because of an argument she had with the assistant manager the previous weekend. The store owner appeared on the Howard Stern radio show to tell his side, and this led to Schlessinger filing a lawsuit (which she lost), and being countersued (which she also lost).
As noted above, Schlessinger has made disparaging comments on the radio show about groups she takes issue with, and has used language not appreciated by the recipients. Sometimes the group earns her enmity based on reactions to her off-the-cuff remarks, other groups are singled out for making statements antithetical to Schlessinger's beliefs. These groups include working mothers, teen-aged girls, librarians, public schools and public school teachers, Democrats, feminists, atheists, non-Orthodox Jews, Unitarians, Muslims, Hindus, journalists, psychologists, and people who use the Internet. The issue of the gay community is covered above.
Schlessinger has repeatedly denied her show is political, yet often addresses political topics and almost always sides with conservative Republicans. In 1999, she has called Hillary Clinton "the wicked witch of the East," and derided Bill Clinton and his behavior with Monica Lewinsky. During run-ups to national election periods, she has encouraged her audience to support Republican candidates. In September and October 2004 she repeatedly attacked John Kerry and supported George W. Bush in her show-opening monologues.
The fact that Schlessinger is herself divorced has often led to allegations that she does not practice the same high moral standards she preaches. The nude photo controversy certainly did not help this reputation.
In December 2002, Schlessinger's mother Yolanda was found dead in her condominium, her corpse having been there for months. The lurid story stayed in the headlines for some time. Controversy arose because of Schlessinger's previous advice to callers telling them to "honor thy father and mother" was viewed by some as contrasting with her not knowing her own mother had died months ago. Some felt Schlessinger handled the situation poorly, making statements that disrespected her mother after her death. Supporters noted that Schlessinger had explained her not speaking to her mother was her mother's choice, not Schlessinger's.
Schlessinger has often observed that a hypocrite says "Do what I say, not what I do" rather than "Do what I say, not what I did." Critics then found that despite her claims to be an Orthodox Jew, she was entering sailboat races on Saturdays, the Jewish sabbath. When this information was shared on Usenet, Schlessinger soon announced she was leaving Orthodoxy (July, 2003).
Inappropriate Publicity of Family Life
Schlessinger has often discussed her son, Deryk, on the radio show. When he was younger he appeared on the show a few times, and also did radio ads for Hooked on Phonics. Some have questioned her judgment in including cute stories about him on the show and in her books. While some of the stories are of the harmless "Awwww" variety, others could have caused embarrassment for her son. And while she has shared with her listeners that she felt her family was threatened and they needed bodyguards, she repeatedly told her audience where he was going to college (Hillsdale). She broadcast her show from Hillsdale during Parents Weekend in October, 2003 and called attention to her location several times.
Deryk turned 18 in November, 2003. Soon after Thanksgiving, Schlessinger stopped calling herself "my kid's mom," which had been her tagline for many years. She then described him as "out of the house and independent"; then, no more mention of her son at all. In January, her book on caring for husbands was released, and Schlessinger changed the tone of her advice. Following this, there was speculation that her son had dropped out of college when the school was no longer mentioned, and the Spring Parents Weekend passed without any comment. In April 2004, reports circulated that her son had indeed dropped out of college, and was going to be opening a hookah bar in Hillsdale. This appears to have been an April Fool's joke as no hookah bar was ever opened.
In the summer of 2004, Schlessinger described her son as playing tennis and sailing with her. In September, a proud Schlessinger announced to her audience that son Deryk had enlisted in the United States Armed Forces, and would begin Special Forces training in January, 2005. She then changed her self-introduction from "I am my kid's mom" to "I am my army kid's mom." Also in September 2004, Deryk Schlessinger's resemblance to Scott Robinson - a young Republican from the [University of Pennsylvania] who kicked a female protestor at the Republican National Convention in New York City - led to speculation that he was the man involved.
Laura Schlessinger's shift of focus from children to husbands ties in with another common criticism of her work: that her advice is based on her own life, regardless of the caller's needs. When her son was a younger teen, Schlessinger criticized young teen girls who called up boys. When he was an older teen, she criticized callers who described their college-bound children as high achievers, suggesting perhaps she was uneasy about her son's school performance. Schlessinger would tell them that being kind was far more important than being smart, and reserved particular animus toward teens or parents of teens with top-tier college admissions.
Supporters note that her son is old enough to demand his privacy. Detractors observe that Schlessinger is still unwilling to grant it to him.
Rind et al.
Schlessinger was a harsh critic of the Rind et al. meta-analysis of child sexual abuse. Months later the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), whom American Psychological Association under political pressure had asked for an independent review of the article, said:
- The Committee also wishes to express its grave concerns with the politicization of the debate over the article's methods and findings. In reviewing the set of background materials available to us, we found it deeply disconcerting that so many of the comments made by those in the political arena and in the media indicate a lack of understanding of the analysis presented by the authors or misrepresented the article's findings. All citizens, especially those in a position of public trust, have a responsibility to be accurate about the evidence that informs their public statements. We see little indication of that from the most vocal on this matter, behavior that the Committee finds very distressing.
Schlessinger has published a number of books. Several follow the mold of her successful Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives, with similarly named books giving advice for men, couples, and parents, others are more religious or moral in orientation. The later advice books emphasize religion more than the earlier works, until her announced departure from Orthodox Judaism in July, 2003.
Her most recent book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, has done extremely well. Many calls to the radio show discuss the new book and Schlessinger often refers to it. This latest work is a departure from her previous advice books - which tended to focus on pre-marital relationships and children. Her premise departs from her previous advice to always put children first. Instead, Proper Care encourages wives to keep their husbands happy by providing sex and meals cheerfully at all times. Its thesis is that wives have the power to change their husbands' attitudes by seeing to these needs, and then their husbands will do anything they wish. The book proposes that wives have the power to prompt feelings of care and commitment from their husbands, which will create an atmosphere of mutual respect and happiness. Critical reviews have been dismissive, but sales are very strong.
- Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives, February 1994
- Ten Stupid Things Men Do to Mess Up Their Lives, September 1997
- portions repackaged as Damsals, Dragons, and Regular Guys, March 2000
- Parenthood by Proxy: Don't Have Them if You Can't Raise Them, April 2000
- repackaged as Stupid Things Parents Do to Mess Up Their Kids, January 2001
- Ten Stupid Things Couples Do to Mess Up Their Relationships, January 2001
- The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, January 2004
- Woman Power, July 2004 (a workbook to use with Proper Care...)
- How Could You Do That?! The Abdication of Character, Courage, and Conscience, January 1996
- The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God's Law in Our Everydays Lives with Rabbi Stuart Vogel, September 1999
Children's Books, with Martha Lewis Lambert, illustrated by Dan McFeely
- Why Do You Love Me?, April 1999
- But I Waaaaaaaant It!, April 2000
- Growing Up is Hard, April 2001
- Where's God?, April 2003
For several years, Schlessinger published a full-color 16 page monthly magazine, The Dr. Laura Perspective , but it has ceased publication.
She wrote a syndicated weekly column, carried in many newspapers as well as Jewish World Review , where archives are still available. She currently writes a monthly column for World Net Daily.
Schlessinger created 'The Dr. Laura Foundation ' which helps abused and neglected children, in 1998. Schlessinger asks her on-air audience to donate items for "My Stuff" bags which go to children in need (often children who must leave their home with no possessions). A review of the foundations 1099's (in alt.radio.talk.dr-laura) shows Schlessinger's own donations to the foundation are her name and the proceeds from the necklaces she makes and then auctions. All other donations comes from other people or groups, usually in the form of donated items for the bags. Per the foundation's reports, money not used for operations is directed toward pro-life organizations such as crisis pregnancy centers.
In September 2004, Schlessinger abruptly announced she was closing down the foundation by the end of the year. Her reason for ending the foundation's work, as given on her website and in an announcement to listeners, was to support two other causes she values just as highly as helping abandoned and displaced children: adoption and abstinence. Since most charities do not cease operations while growing, detractors surmised either tax problems or Schlessinger's typical approach to causes where she advocates strongly and then loses interest. Schlessinger's statement says that the costs of maintaining national inventory is what led to the decision, and encourages her supporters to start local programs that accomplish the same thing as the foundation did.
- Dr. Laura's website
- alt.radio.talk.dr-laura (Usenet); show summaries, transcripts, links
- StopDrLaura.com (inactive)
- Dr. Laura monthly columns at World Net Daily
- Dr. Laura columns at Jewish World Review (inactive)
- Dr. Laura columns at TownHall.com (inactive)
- Tom Shales review of Dr. Laura TV Show
- Forward article on Schlessinger dropping Orthodox Judaism
- Dr. Laura on Tourette Syndrome
- Dr. Laura on Tourette Syndrome Defense
- FOXNews.com - Foxlife - Dr. Laura Tells Women: Just Do It
- Salon Technology | Dr. Laura targets the new Sodom: Libraries
- Hillsdale Collegian on Deryk Schlessinger's Hookah Bar
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