CFYI-AM re the Dr. Laura Schlessinger Show

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 99/00-0005)
R. Stanbury (Chair), P. Fockler (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc),M. Hogarth and M. Oldfield

THE FACTS

On June 15, 2000, the complainant sent a letter to the Program Manager of CJCH-AM
(Halifax) in which he complained of the episode of the Laura Schlessinger radio
program which had aired “on June 12”, described by him as “the very first
broadcast day beyond the 30 day period” following the release of the Panel’s
decision in CFYI-AM and CJCH-AM re the Dr. Laura Schlessinger Show (CBSC Decisions
99/00-0005 and 98/99-0808, 1003 and 1137, February 9 and 15, 2000). The complainant, who
followed such matters closely, had been one of the principal complainants in the previous
matter. He complained, in the present case, that “Schlessinger had one of her normal
tirades at approximately 4:15 in which she emphatically Frepeated her moral and scientific
authority for claiming that gays are ‘biological errors’.” (The full text
of his letter is annexed hereto as part of Appendix B.)

On July 19, the Program Manager replied. Since the principal part of his letter
responds to the complainant’s points which are not pertinent to the matter under
consideration here, its text is not quoted here but may be reviewed by interested parties
in Appendix B. That part of the letter which is directly relevant, though, indicates that
the station’s review of the June 12 episode revealed “nothing in this, or any
other portion of the period monitored that makes any reference to gays or lesbians as
‘biological errors’.”

Clarifying the original letter in which he acknowledged that he had provided the wrong
date, the complainant wrote back on July 21 to say that “the correct broadcast date
was June 13.” He also enclosed a transcript for the relevant portion of that episode
of the show which he had downloaded from the web site of GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian
Alliance against Defamation), and for which he vouched (“I can verify personally that
the enclosed transcript is an accurate one”). (The complainant’s full letter
also forms a part of Appendix B.) By that date, the June 13 tapes had, in the normal
course of events, been recycled; however, the Program Manager “confirmed that CJCH
accept[ed] GLAAD’s transcript as an accurate statement of fact,” thus enabling
the CBSC to consider that original complaint. Then, on August 16, the complainant sent a
further letter relating to the shows of August 9, 11 and 15. Relevant summaries,
observations or quoted portions of those programs follow. Fuller transcripts of relevant
material can be found in Appendix A hereto.

June 13

In the GLAAD transcript of the June 13 program, Laura Schlessinger states:


I want to read you something that was published
today. You can get it on your computer; you can get it at the — let’s see —
newspaper stand. I knew what that was. USA Today, Tuesday 13th, Tuesday June 13. An
article written by film critic Michael Medved. He’s a member of USA Today’s
Board of Contributors, and he hosts a national radio talk show, and the little salutation
at the bottom of his article — that’s what I call those — says he hosts a national
radio talk show that directly competes against Laura Schlessinger’s show. Why they
felt the need to do that, I don’t know, but interesting.

Want to read you his piece. The reason I want to read you his piece — and there have
been many, many pieces presenting the current issues of so-called controversy surrounding
me, and this is basically the only one I’m choosing to read cover-to-cover, because
it’s so honest, it’s so clear, and it’s so elucidating of the main issues,
and it’s not just about me, which is the point I keep making.

It’s entitled “Gays Unfairly Target Dr. Laura”.

Now this is a quote from me, and it’s an accurate quote.

“’If you’re gay or a lesbian, it’s a biological error that
inhibits you from relating normally to the opposite sex,’ Dr. Laura said Dec. 8 on
her Web site. ‘The fact that you are intelligent, creative and
valuable…’”

As a gay,

“‘…is all true. The error is in your inability to relate sexually,
intimately, in a loving way to a member of the opposite sex.’”

Let’s compare that to “I’ll stab you in the head whether you’re a
fag or a lez.” I don’t know — which one sounds like hate speech to you? Anyway,
to continue:

“If you accept the religious notion that the most profound, timeless purpose
for all sexuality is procreation, then is it truly so bigoted and irrational to suggest
that a sexual focus that can never result in children is, in evolutionary terms, if
nothing else, an error? Is this line of argument so hateful and
[sic] dangerous,
that it can’t even be discussed? Even Dr. Laura’s critics acknowledge that she
scrupulously avoids crude insults such as ‘fag’ or ‘queer’ when
discussing homosexual behavior. In this Jerry Springer era, it seems odd that her show
should inspire such controversy.”

August 9

There is nothing in this program which appears to relate to the point made in the
complainant’s letter. It may be that his recollection of the date of the show was
mistaken.

August 11

This show dealt primarily with the issue of Schlessinger’s differences with the
American Psychological Association and really had nothing to do with the debate at hand,
namely, the making of abusively discriminatory statements about gays and lesbians. The
host spoke of her arguments with the APA as a body. The Panel does not consider that her
remarks were directed at the gay and lesbian community, even by indirection.

August 15

The host reported that she had received a fax from a listener, the mother of a
homosexual, who had said to his mother that he had been told by a “hate Dr.
Laura” web site that statements of the radio host said that her son was a biological
error and that he was, personally, a biological error and a deviant. This led Schlessinger
to explain the evolution of her position on gays and lesbians. She said, in part (the full
transcription of her remarks is included in Appendix A):


Where I moved over to the other side is by the gay
activist groups… being described as hate. And I’m real tired of that because
it’s a lie. It’s a damn lie, and they know it. But they have managed to convince
the non-activist gay civilians that I come from a position of hate. … How can I be so
hypocritical as to say “I know God says, of the many forms of sexual behaviour that
are unacceptable, this is one”? Because there are many forms of sexual behaviour that
are unacceptable, like parents with their kids. That’s also unacceptable. So,
there’s a list of what you’re not supposed to do. Like your dad’s new wife.
There’s a long list of what you’re not supposed to do, and homosexuality is but
one of them. The rest are for the heterosexuals, I guess you could say, but whatever…
But, if I said hypocritically that I believe in God and God’s words, and I believe in
God’s moral direction on how were supposed to lead our lives, whether or not its what
we want, or what we feel compelled to do. What we feel compelled to do doesn’t make
it right. God says what’s right and what’s wrong. … So, when you hear about me
that I made this transition from supporting same-sex relationships to not because of hate,
it’s a lie. I’m on record. I’m on tape. I did it out of compassion and
religious love. Now, if some people don’t believe in God or decide that God’s
word is not relevant, well that’s theirs to deal with. It’s not my venue.
It’s not my venue. But if you call me for a moral framework, I can only give you the
ultimate moral framework, as best I understand it. … Here’s what I said: human beings,
all creatures on the face of the earth, reproduce in some way. Some just have cell
division. That’s it. One microbe divides into two, and now you have two individuals.
That’s not how human beings do it. Human beings do it heterosexually. That’s how
were geared. Eggs, sperm, penis, vagina. That’s just how the biology of it goes. What
I did say is that when an individual is not so drawn to a member of the opposite sex, in
biology, that is some kind of error because it doesn’t result in reproduction. … So,
when I said “biological error”, I did not say a human being was a biological
error. I never would call a human being a biological error. I never would. That is
despicable. But I need you folks to know that the activists are lying to you. I never said
that. Now, lets get to the other one. I’ve called people “deviants”. Well
there are. Anybody who goes after a kid to me is a serious deviant, is evil, and they
should be strung up by his you-know-what. But that’s not what I said. I didn’t call
homosexuals “deviant”. I said that the direction of the sexual impulse deviated
from heterosexuality. Therefore, it was deviant from heterosexuality. I never called a
person “deviant”. Those “deviant behaviour” and “biological
error”, those four words, out of all the monologues and all the work I’ve done
out of twenty-five years, get repeated. Don’t you folks understand that when you see
four words and you don’t see the context, that you may be being used. Because there
is a political agenda here. … I’m sure I’m not always correct, because
I’m not divine. But I try, and I work hard at it. But I have never called any one of
you homosexuals or lesbians a “biological error” or a “deviant”.

The broadcaster did not provide a further reply to the complainant’s
correspondence beyond his original reply of July 19. On August 16, the complainant wrote
to the CBSC directly saying that he “look[ed] forward to the Council’s
decision,” which the Secretariat considered to be the equivalent of a Ruling Request.

THE DECISION

The Atlantic Regional Panel considered the complaint under the human rights provision
of the CAB Code of Ethics.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2

Recognizing that every person has a right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy
certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall endeavour to ensure, to the
best of their ability, that their programming contains no abusive or discriminatory
material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour,
religion, age, sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap.

The Regional Panel Adjudicators listened to the tape of the relevant portions of the
August episodes, read the GLAAD transcript of the June episode and reviewed all of the
correspondence. Without modifying in any way their decision in CFYI-AM and CJCH-AM re
the Dr. Laura Schlessinger Show
(CBSC Decisions 99/00-0005 and 98/99-0808, 1003 and
1137, February 9 and 15, 2000), it is the Panel’s view that the broadcaster has not
aired comparable material during any of the episodes challenged by the complainant here
and, consequently, that the broadcaster has not breached the provision of the Code of
Ethics
cited above.

A Review of the First Decision

The Atlantic and Ontario Regional Panels, which issued a joint decision in February
2000, reviewed the jurisprudence which established the principle that the protections in
Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics extend to persons on the basis of their sexual
orientation. Of the numerous challenged areas raised by the complainants, the Panels dealt
with six; namely, “the host’s comments on the gay agenda, the gay culture,
fatherless homes, paedophilia, the murder of Matthew Shepard and her generalized
allegations of sexual deviancy, aberration and dysfunction.”

Since most of the foregoing issues are not raised in the present matter, it is
unnecessary to review them all. That which is at issue here is the characterization of
gays and lesbians as abnormal, aberrant, deviant, dysfunctional, biological errors and so
on. On that issue, the Atlantic and Ontario Regional Panels were unequivocal. Of the
host’s comments, they said:


The host’s perspective is clear and
unambiguous. Whether the terms she uses are “abnormal”, “aberrant”,
“dysfunctional”, “disordered”, “deviant”, “an
error” or the like, her terminology is clearly pejorative. She is
unhesitatingly critical, negative and unambiguous and her words are as critical and
unrelenting as she can make them. In the end, she is utterly rigid about a fundamental
issue which goes to the nature, the essence of gays and lesbians. It is the
view of the Councils that the host’s argument that she can “surgically”
separate the individual persons from their inherent characteristics so as to
entitle her to make comments about the sexuality which have no effect on the person
is fatuous and unsustainable. As the Supreme Court has said, where an identifiable group
of persons is “defined by an innate or unchangeable characteristic”, it will
be protected by the human rights provision of the broadcasters’ Code of Ethics
in Canada just as all Canadians are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms
. The sexual practices of gays and lesbians are as much a part of their being
as the colour of one’s skin or the gender, religion, age or ethnicity of an
individual. To use such brutal language as she does about such an essential characteristic
flies in the face of Canadian provisions relating to human rights.

While the conclusion of the same Panel differs here from that in the earlier case, it
is not on any question of altered principle; it is on the basis of what the host said and
what the broadcaster aired. In this case, while some of the words used are similar
to those spoken on the previous occasion, the way in which they are used is totally
different here. The CBSC Panels always consider the context in which words and
images are broadcast. While context is not everything, it provides the shape to the
broadcast and the basis for the understanding of that broadcast by its audience.

The Present Broadcasts

The Panel has no doubt but that both the tone and tune of the host have changed.
Perhaps as the result of the previous CBSC decision, perhaps as the result of other public
commentary, perhaps on the basis of matured reflection alone, in the examples raised here,
she is not as aggressive in dealing with the issues of deviancy as she had been. She is
cautious, perhaps even defensive, but certainly quite limited and careful in dealing with
that theme, an approach which the Atlantic Regional Panel applauds. The Panel also assumes
that the Canadian broadcaster and/or the syndicating service for the program have played a
role in assuring that the airing of the show in Canada would be tailored to respect
Canada’s private broadcaster standards and the CBSC applauds those industry members
as well.

What, then, is different?

On June 13, the host’s monologue was entirely dedicated to the reading of Michael
Medved’s article in USA Today. She was not making accusations. Nor was he. To
the Panel, she seemed relieved that she had found such a well-known person writing a piece
in what appeared to be her defence. In fact, what he wrote was a comparison between the
“wildly popular hip-hop artist” Eminem whose albums appear to contain
graphically homophobic lyrics and the far different commentary of Laura Schlessinger.
Based on the Eminem lyrics cited by Medved, it is difficult to consider that
Schlessinger’s comments fare other than well, when lit by the same light as the rock
star’s lyrics. That, of course, is not a definitive defence for Schlessinger and is
not the CBSC’s issue or concern. The fact that someone may be more abusively
discriminatory does not relieve the less abusively discriminatory person from that
unacceptable characterization. And, parenthetically, the fact that Medved has either not
read or understood the previous CBSC Schlessinger decision or has been selective in his
reference to it does not make that side of the discussion more credible. In the end,
though, Schlessinger is merely reviewing someone else’s commentary and comparison on
a controversial issue. Moreover, her comments are quite narrow and restricted. They relate
solely to the biological issue of “relating normally to the opposite sex” and
the discussion of the “religious notion that the most profound, timeless purpose for
all sexuality is procreation.” Citing Medved, she asks, “Is this line of
argument so hateful and dangerous, that it can’t even be discussed?”

Now, limited to this issue, the Panel finds nothing inappropriate in the broadcast of
June 13. It is undeniable that she has said that “it’s a biological error that
inhibits you from relating normally to the opposite sex” and that “The error is
in your inability to relate sexually, intimately, in a loving way to a member of the
opposite sex.” That point is immediately qualified by the next passage which she
cites from the Medved article will relates that issue solely to procreation. The
error, as established in the context of that broadcast, is religious and is
limited to the inability to procreate by such sexual relations. In that limited sense, it
may be seen to be assimilated to the Catholic view that contraception is immoral, wrong
and against the precepts of the Church. It approaches the areas of concern previously
underscored by the CBSC but walks the line without so falling over it that the Atlantic
Regional Panel is unwilling to conclude that it constitutes abusively discriminatory
comment. If anything, it appears to the Panel that the host has gone out of her way to
accommodate the concerns of the Atlantic and Ontario Regional Panels expressed in their
previous decision.

On August 15, her discussion was again limited
to the question of the “many forms of sexual behaviour that are unacceptable.”
She gave examples of parents having sex with their kids or having sex “with your
dad’s new wife.” She put homosexuality in the same category. Now, the question
again is limited to that specific area of sexual activity which could be evaluated as a
religious or moral matter, something which the CBSC has previously acknowledged as
discussable within the bounds of the codified standards. In CHCH-TV re Life Today with
James Robison
(CBSC Decision 95/96-0128, April 30, 1996), the Ontario Regional Panel
explained the line which can be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable comments
regarding homosexual activity.


The host’s message was that monogamous
heterosexuality was the “right” lifestyle. He expressed the view that a proper
interpretation of the Bible leads to the conclusion that homosexuality is an unacceptable
lifestyle (as is also the case with adulterous heterosexuality, according to his
interpretation). It is not the Council’s mandate to determine the correctness of the
views presented, but only whether the views were presented in a non-abusive, legitimate
manner. In a contrary circumstance, they would be in breach of the Code; however, in this
case, the Council finds that the host’s statements were expressed as his moral
position, presented in a legitimate manner and not at all as hateful commentary.

Then, in CKRD-AM re Focus on the Family (CBSC Decision 96/97-0155, December 16,
1997), the Prairie Panel determined that the broadcast comments in that case had gone
further. They said:


While Focus in the Family is free to describe
the homosexual lifestyle as sinful, as did Life Today with James Robison, the
program under consideration here has gone much further. It has treated support for the
movement as “flimsy” and has disparaged that support (see, for example, the
dismissal of a study authored by a gay activist with the general statement that “like
all gay science, it really has very flimsy foundations”). Moreover, it has attributed
to the gay movement a malevolent, insidious and conspiratorial purpose, a so-called
“agenda”, which, in the view of the Council, constitutes abusively
discriminatory comment on the basis of sexual orientation, contrary to the provisions of
Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

In the case at hand, it is the view of the Panel that the host has not gone too far,
indeed, that she has not gone nearly as far as she had in the earlier CJCH decision
referred to above. As she said at one point in her monologue here, “if you call me
for a moral framework, I can only give you the ultimate moral framework, as best I
understand it.” She elaborated, but carefully, and in a fashion limited to
reproductive issues.


Human beings do it heterosexually. That’s how
were geared. Eggs, sperm, penis, vagina. That’s just how the biology of it goes. What
I did say is that when an individual is not so drawn to a member of the opposite sex, in
biology, that is some kind of error because it doesn’t result in reproduction
.

In that regard, the Panel considers that she is entitled to her opinion. She was quite
careful to restrict her comments to that issue in a context which was not sweeping. It was
more than the complainant wanted to hear, to be sure, but less, far less, than she had
said before and not directed to the group of persons on the basis of their
sexual orientation. There was no characterization of the group. There was no use of any
of the offending adjectives: abnormal, aberrant, deviant, dysfunctional. Such limited
opinion as was expressed here falls within the protected bounds established in the earlier
decisions noted above. The broadcaster has done its job. There is no breach here.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to the complaint, the CBSC always
assesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the substance of the complaint.
While, in this case, the broadcaster did not respond to each of the complainant’s
letters, the Program Manager did reply to the initial complaint at some length and in
sufficient personalized detail with respect to each of the issues raised. Nothing more is
required.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast
Standards Council. It may be reported, announced or read by the station against which the
complaint had originally been made; however, in the case of a favourable decision, the
station is under no obligation to announce the result.