Dr. Laura plans to end radio show at end of year

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NEW YORK (AP) — Talk show host Laura Schlessinger says her desire to talk freely without having affiliates and sponsors attacked led to her abrupt decision to end her “Dr. Laura” radio show later this year.

Schlessinger said she is walking away a week after apologizing for saying the N-word 11 times on the air while talking to a black woman with a white husband, then saying “if you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.”

She apologized a day after the Aug. 10 remarks, but Media Matters for America called for her removal from the talk show. The group encouraged its members to contact show sponsors and affiliates and urge them to drop “Dr. Laura.”

Schlessinger said Tuesday on CNN’s “Larry King Live” that her daily talk show will end when her contract expires this year, with the last show probably around Christmas. She said she was wrong to say what she said, was sorry for it, but “there are people who won’t accept my apology.”

“When I started in radio, if you said something somebody didn’t agree with and they didn’t like, they argued with you,” she said. “Now they try to silence you … My First Amendment rights have been usurped by angry, hateful groups who don’t want to debate. They want to eliminate.”

Media Matters’ Ari Rabin-Havt said the apology wasn’t accepted because his group was concerned about Schlessinger’s overall attitudes toward race, more than just the N-word. And those attitudes weren’t addressed in the apology, he said.

For Schlessinger to portray herself as a First Amendment “martyr” is an outrage, he said.

“She has the constitutional right to make her statements, and I have the same right to assemble people to challenge the statements,” he said.

Corinne Baldassano, an executive with Schlessinger’s production company, Take on the Day LLC, said the talk show host plans to pursue opportunities through her website, books, podcasts and a YouTube channel.

It was not immediately clear how many sponsors had pulled out of her radio program. Baldassano said Motel 6, owned by Accor SA, had pulled out. Schlessinger said the show had also added sponsors.

Mark Masters, head of the Talk Radio Network, which distributes Schlessinger’s show, did not immediately return a telephone call for comment.

Previously, Schlessinger’s negative comments about homosexuality on her television show in 2000 inspired gay activists to campaign to get her off the air.

The flap recalled radio host Don Imus’ firing by CBS Radio and MSNBC in spring 2007 for referring to members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed.” Imus apologized and eventually rebuilt his network of radio affiliates for a weekday show also telecast on the Fox Business Channel.

Michael Harrison, publisher of the industry trade journal Talkers, said he doesn’t quite believe Schlessinger will leave a show she appears to love doing.

He said her announcement “came from her emotions, not figuring it out. Four months from now, it might be a different story. There are inconsistencies in what she’s been saying. That makes me believe that she’s stressed.”

The controversy comes during a particularly heated political era, with interest groups from different sides closely watching what public figures say and springing into action when they believe something offensive is said.

Fearing political trouble last month, the Obama administration pressured Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod to resign. Conservative websites were spreading stories that Sherrod, who is black, had talked about not helping white farmers who sought her assistance in a previous job. Instead, Sherrod’s comments had been taken out of context.

“We live in a time when society and the media and politics is searching for a victory rather than seeking truth,” Harrison said. “All sides want to prove the other side wrong. Not just wrong, but bad.”