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Dr. Laura: Wronging our rights in the library

Ombudsman

By Paul McMasters
First Amendment Ombudsman
First Amendment Center
pmcmasters@freedomforum.org

07.12.99

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Are the nation's librarians really pimping for pornographers and pedophiles?

Anyone listening regularly to one of the nation's radio talk-meisters, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, might think so.

We've come a long way from Dr. Ruth to Dr. Laura, but it's hard to say whether we've been headed in the right direction.

Laura Schlessinger's radio show rivals Rush Limbaugh's as the nation's most listened-to, with more than 20 million tuning in each week. She has legions of adoring fans, she has several bestselling books to her credit, she has a syndicated column, she has her own Web site, she has her own magazine, and she has a line of T-shirts, mugs and trinkets she hawks to one and all.

Above all, Dr. Laura has her opinions. She is never wrong and seldom in doubt.

For five years, she has been turning rants into ratings. But more recently, she has expanded her horizons. In the words of Patrizia Dilucchio, writing for salon.com: "No longer content to administer tongue-lashings to callers lamenting their divorce, infidelity, unwanted pregnancies or abusive spouses, lately Schlessinger has become a woman with a mission, a scriptural absolutist, seeking nothing less than a complete moral make-over of society."

And in Dr. Laura's opinion, the American Library Association, representing the nation's libraries and librarians, is badly in need of a moral overhaul.

While few of us would put librarians at the top of our list of people most menacing to our children, Dr. Laura believes they are evil incarnate. During National Library Week this spring, she launched her attack on the ALA, which, she said, "is boldly, brashly contributing to sexualizing our children. And now the pedophiles know where to go." The ALA, she said, wants "to make sure your children have easy access to pornography, under the guise of free speech."

That was on April 15, and Dr. Laura hasn't let up on the ALA since. The cover-story blurb in the latest issue of her new magazine, The Dr. Laura Perspective, reads: "Thanks to the American Library Association's distorted interpretation of the First Amendment, pornography is easily accessible through library computers."

In a May 5 letter to ALA Executive Director William Gordon, Dr. Laura said, among other things, that "by advocating open access to hard-core smut, the ALA has constructed a protected haven to corrupt our innocent."

So Dr. Laura has gone after the ALA. The ALA!

She says the library association's Bill of Rights is full of wrongs. That's the document in which the ALA affirms its commitment to a First Amendment right of access to materials in the library for everyone. That doesn't sit well with Dr. Laura, who apparently believes that librarians should monitor and restrict access to things she personally finds offensive.

Dr. Laura is particularly unhappy with the fact that the ALA included a link to Columbia University's Go Ask Alice Web site among the sites recommended in the Health and Medicine section of the ALA's Teen Hoopla page on the Web, which provides references to a variety of resources for young people.

Dr. Laura describes Go Ask Alice as "a site discussing many graphic issues including bestiality, sadomasochism, group sex and other." Here's the way Columbia University's Health Service describes its site: "factual, in-depth, straightforward and nonjudgmental information to assist readers' decision-making about their physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual health."

Ironically, visits to the Go Ask Alice site increased by 500,000 hits a week more than the average after Dr. Laura started attacking it. In fact, one has to do some digging to find the link from the ALA Web site; Go Ask Alice is much easier to find on Dr. Laura's own site. Then there are all those millions of listeners she keeps telling about the site.

Dr. Laura isn't content with complaining on her show. She claimed credit for getting reconsidered a California bill that would require filtering of public-library Internet access. And the ALA credits her talk show for torpedoing eight months of negotiations for a $250,000 grant from the Toys 'R' Us toy-store chain. The money would have gone to the Fund for America's Libraries to pay for the building of children's reading rooms in public libraries across the United States.

What's puzzling is that so few people have come to the ALA's defense for what amounts to a bizarre attack on the integrity and motives of some of the nicest people in the whole world, the folks who work in our libraries.

Why haven't newspaper editorialists and broadcast commentators taken note of the ironies and contradictions in Dr. Laura's diatribes? There are many.

While Dr. Laura shrieks about porn and pedophilia over the airwaves, librarians dispense learning and tolerance in the quiet confines of the libraries. While Dr. Laura talks about molesters lurking among the stacks, the librarians carefully craft acceptable Internet-use policies and provide a tap on the shoulder to those who don't adhere. While Dr. Laura talks about right and wrong, as in "I am right and you are wrong," librarians encourage adults and children alike to think for themselves.

And while Dr. Laura shamelessly exploits her First Amendment rights in order to deprive others of theirs, librarians quietly check out her books to patrons without a second thought.

Paul McMasters can be contacted at pmcmasters@freedomforum.org.

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