Wired Women: Dr. Laura Hit Again

Poor Dr. Laura. The queen of talk-show intolerance is learning — the hard way — that the Internet will hold her accountable, one angry bulletin board posting or e-mail after another.

You'd think she'd have figured it out after the gay and lesbian community mobilized last spring to push Paramount to cancel her television show.

After the good doctor — Ph.D. in physiology, don't you know — maligned gay relationships, activists posted her comments all over the Web, picketed Paramount and boycotted the show's sponsors.

In March, the studio dropped Dr. Laura Schlessinger like a hot rock.

"I believe we could have earned a substantial audience in time, but the television advertiser boycott precluded that," the doc whined.

But three months later, her rapid-fire radio rhetoric has her right back in the soup. This time, she's taken on the families of children with Tourette's syndrome.

Tourette's is an inherited neurobiological disorder characterized by involuntary body twitching and vocal tics. It affects about 200,000 Americans, according to the TS Association, only about 15 percent of whom have symptoms that include outbursts of obscene or inappropriate language.

Obscenities at a Wedding

On May 22, Dr. Laura responded to a caller who asked about whether her nephew with TS should be invited to a family wedding.

"Well, I'm going to come to your party and just scream F-YOU, F-YOU, F-YOU every five seconds and see if you want to invite me back," Dr. Laura responded.

"[The child's mother] can punish the whole world because of this affliction of her son. She can punish everybody who doesn't want to call this normal. But it's not normal. And it's not nice."

Egads. Speaking of not nice. …

Within days, TS families were waging Internet war. They posted a Web site, targeted the show's sponsors, talked up the cause in online chats from iVillage and AOL to the Massachusetts General Hospital Neurology forum, and contacted the media.

"The Internet has given voice to the masses in ways that will require greater vigilance by those who presume to speak with both authority and accuracy," says Kathryn A. Taubert, who has Tourette's and has been participating in the discussions calling Dr. Laura to task. "It's this very aspect of Internet communications that recently resulted in the warp-speed blizzard of complaints to Dr. Laura Schlessinger's recent inaccuracies about Tourette's syndrome."

Dr. Laura backtracked. She recanted. At her direction, Brian Glicklich, VP of interactive services at Premiere Radio Networks, posted an apology on an Internet bulletin board. "The comments we made on the bulletin board stand for themselves," Glicklich said Tuesday.

But for some TS families, it hasn't been enough. They want Dr. Laura to acknowledge her mistakes, to correct the misinformation about TS she disseminated, and to apologize for her insensitivity. On the air. And on her Web site.

My Kid's Mom

Benita Winslow is among them.

"Dr. Laura's comments upset me mightily," she says. "I felt they were small-minded, bigoted, ignorant and completely anti-family."

Winslow's son, Ben, has been ticcing since he could walk. Like many children with TS, Ben's symptoms wax and wane. But teasing in the playground and insensitivity in the classroom are constant problems, exacerbated when celebrities like Dr. Laura perpetuate the stereotypes, Winslow says.

This time, Winslow says, the Web enabled her and scores of mothers like her to coordinate their protest. "It was instrumental in allowing the information about Dr. Laura to be disseminated quickly, and a grass-roots campaign developed immediately," she says.

"I, too, am my kid's mom," says Winslow, mimicking Dr. Laura's mantra about being the mother of her child. "And my kid has TS."

A teacher and a journalist, Dianne Lynch is the author of Virtual Ethics. Wired Women appears on alternate Wednesdays.