A Sad Story of a Good N-word apology Nullified

By DuncanRhys C. Liancourt

––If a good apology truly has three parts––saying sorry, taking responsibility, and trying to make it right––then Dr. Laura Schlessinger must be given credit for making a good apology. After repeatedly using the N-word on the air on her radio show, while on the line with a caller, Dr. Laura did three things: she said she was sorry; she took responsibility, saying “I did the wrong thing”; and toward making it right she said “and it just won’t happen again.” This is a very good apology, classically balanced. This apology does not hedge with cleverly couched denials or self-defensive word play. This apology, crucially, seems sincere. But this apology, sadly, is a null one.

Dr. Laura nullified her apology in two ways. The first is that, although the apology is structurally complete, it addresses only half of her offense, the repeated use of the N-word. What Dr. Laura said after hanging up on the caller, but still on the air, is at least as offensive: “if you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry outside of your race.” Dr. Laura’s judging of her black caller as hypersensitive about race is specious and absurd, and even were there some truth in it, it would be a censorious and unprofessional accusation. The attack on the caller’s sense of humor is patently inappropriate. Most egregious, however, is the miscegenationistic admonition to the black caller to not marry a non-black. Adding insult to insult and injury, Dr. Laura’s miscegenationistic scolding is punitive as well as prescriptive. Since she is aware that the caller is already married to a white man, Dr. Laura is saying, in effect, you brought this on yourself now you can suffer with it.

The second way Dr. Laura nullified her apology is by going back on the air with self-defensiveness and denial, complaining to Larry King that “living with the constant fear of affiliates and sponsors being attacked is very distracting.” She admits that she is voluntarily leaving her radio show because it feels distracting, while simultaneously blaming special interest pressure on sponsors. “I’ve made the decision not to do radio anymore. The reason is I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors.”

There are so many things wrong with these words of denial that bullet points are in order.

  1. She said she was wrong but does not feel she should suffer any consequences thus untaking responsibility: part two of the good apology null.
  2. She suggests her free speech is impinged: this is ignorant or disingenuous as the First Amendment prevents congress from infringing speech. It does not prevent employers, affiliates, or sponsors, all capitalist entities, from regulating the speech of its representatives, nor does it prevent individuals or groups, of specialized or general interests, from protecting themselves from erroneous or harmful speech.
  3. She suggests that what she said on the air is “helpful and useful” thereby nullifying part three of her apology, trying to make it right by promising it would never happen again. She says she wants to say “what’s on my mind and in my heart” thus negating the sincerity of her apology.
  4. She speaks of her suffering, of harm to her feelings, of how “distracting” it is for her. But what of the caller? What of the listeners? What of the people who heard about her “mistake” later? This goes beyond a defense of––I didn’t mean to hurt anyone––to imply that the hurt to others is not what is paramount thus negating part one of her apology, the part where she said she was sorry.

Everyone deserves the chance to apologize. Dr. Laura made a good, if partial, apology and if she had given us time to see that it was sincere then it would have been our duty to forgive her. But an apology is not forgiveness but a request for forgiveness, and forgiveness is not trust but the first step on the way to trust. With her own words Dr. Laura has nullified her apology. She has not, therefore, asked to be forgiven for her offenses. These offenses, then, are not nullified but are valid–– from the Latin for ‘strong’––they remain in force and are what we must confront when we ask ourselves if we can or cannot trust again.

5 Responses to “A Sad Story of a Good N-word apology Nullified”
  1. Lucy, thank you. You point to an important set of questions about how the radio call-in advice industry is monitored/regulated, not from a media standpoint, necessarily, but from a therapy one. But we must be fair and clear––although Dr. Schlessinger’s original medical training is, as you note, in physiology, she did obtain training and certification in the counseling field as well as a state therapist’s license. I am not familiar with her work in general, my piece seeks only to explore issues around her specific behavior during the ‘N-word’ call, her subsequent apology, and what I read as her complete undermining of that apology and what that might mean for the (and her) public. The heart of your comment is full of heart and concerns what is most important––the people seeking advice.

  2. Thank you Clare. You bring up a good point about publicity, how we all––consumers and the media business––define it and what we together allow to drive it, as well as how we let it inform who we’ll take advice from on the radio.

  3. Tamara K says:

    Awesome job on articulating the truth of this. Thanks.

  4. Concise and to the point. She insulted the listener long before she used the “N” word, as you say. She never listens — everything is a springboard for her views. I used to feel sorry for the people who were so desperate that they had to call “Dr” Laura for advice. As we all know by now I think, she is a Doctor of Physiology, not a real psychologist or psychiatrist. I suspect we won’t hear the last of her.

  5. Clare Keller says:

    Excellent critique. She’ll be replaced by someone worse, because in the end, the radio or TV station will get more attention from bad behaviour than from good. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

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