Aug. 13, 2010 — -- Usually, she gives advice. But after broadcasting a five-minute-long rant in which she used the N-word 11 times, Dr. Laura Schlessinger is now on the receiving end.
"It's unacceptable," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "There's no way that it's acceptable. It's not funny, it's offensive to African-Americans. She should know better. There should be consequences."
At least one entertainer, no stranger to the word himself, agreed.
Black comedian Paul Mooney once "had a love affair" with the N-word. But in 2007, after "Seinfeld" actor Michael Richards nearly ended his comic career by using the N-word in a tirade at Los Angeles' Laugh Factory, Mooney, who famously wrote for Richard Pryor, banned the word from his vocabulary and started urging others to do the same.
"There are times when I was saying it and I couldn't see the forest for the trees," he said. "I've said it, I've been a part of it, because I've been a victim of my environment. I'm like a recovering alcoholic."
Schlessinger ignited a firestorm of criticism after Media Matters posted audio from a Tuesday conversation she had with a black female caller. The caller was complaining about her white husband's friends and their use of the N-word. In response, Schlessinger said:
"Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO and listen to a black comic, and all you hear is n****r, n****r, n****r. I don't get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it's a horrible thing. But when black people say it, it's affectionate. It's very confusing.
When the caller said she was appalled by Schlessinger's use of the N-word, the radio host demurred, "Oh, then I guess you don't watch HBO or listen to any black comedians. My dear, the point I am trying to make ... we've got a black man as president and we've got more complaining about racism than ever. I think that's hilarious."
Their exchange heated up after that. When the caller said she couldn't believe Schlessinger was "on the radio spewing out" the N-word, Schlessinger said she "didn't spew out" the N-word and repeated, "n****r, n****r, n****r is what you hear on HBO."
She then criticized the caller, saying "Don't take things out of context. Don't NAACP me."
Their conversation ended there. Schlessinger offered an epilogue to her audience: "If you're that hypersensitive about color and don't have a sense of humor, don't marry outside of your race."
The Internet dropped its collective jaw as Schlessinger's rant went viral. The story spread through Tweets and Retweets, blog comments and Facebook status updates. The following day, she offered an apology, on-air and on her website.
"I talk every day about doing the right thing. And yesterday, I did the wrong thing," she said. "I didn't intend to hurt people, but I did. And that makes it the wrong thing to have done. I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the N-word all the way out -- more than one time. And that was wrong. I'll say it again -- that was wrong."
It's not the first time Schlessinger has offended masses of people: in 2000, she issued multiple mea culpas after referring to homosexuality as a "biological error" and criticizing gays for "deviant" behavior.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger Trips Down Don Imus' Path
Don Imus, "Seinfeld's" Richards, Mel Gibson: all toyed with the N-word, all suffered because of it. With more than 30 years of radio experience under her belt, it stands to reason that Schlessinger would think twice before tripping down the same path herself.
Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said that whether Schlessinger should be banned from broadcasting is a matter for the public to decide, just as widespread anti-Imus sentiment sent the 10-gallon-hat wearing talk radio host off the air for nine months in 2007.
"Her popularity depends on whether this is acceptable to her audience," he said.
Schlessinger's reach is sizeable: according to her Web site, "The Dr. Laura Program," now in its sixteenth year of syndication, boasts 8.25 million weekly listeners in over 40 countries on over 250 radio stations.
"If it is acceptable, that's scary," Foxman said. "If you have an audience like that, something's wrong with American values."
Would Schlessinger's use of the N-word been OK if she were black?
"In the public manner, no," Foxman said. "Show business doesn't make using that word acceptable."
Comedian Mooney quipped that the radio host could use some treatment to reinforce that point.
"Dr. Laura needs a doctor herself," he said.
On a more serious note, Mooney lamented that Schlessinger's rant shows how deeply rooted the N-word is in American culture. Still, he continues his push to eradicate the N-word from the public consciousness. For him, Schlessigner's scandal only serves as a reminder that the slur still holds a sick power.
"If it could be taken care of tomorrow, if it could disappear, I would want it to disappear," he said. "I want it taken out of society."