On Sunday, the Santa Barbara News-Press announced that Laura Schlessinger - aka “Dr. Laura,” a radio talk show host known for her cutthroatly conservative views and tough-love opinions who started writing a column for the N-P following the start of the daily’s meltdown last July - would be “taking a break from her column.”
The announcement came after a particularly rough week for the well-known pundit and author, one that began with her reportedly attacking military wives for being whiners and ended with the Pentagon launching an investigation into a load of objectionable material that her Army son allegedly posted to his MySpace page. The news about her 21-year-old, Afghanistan-based soldier son - whose MySpace page supposedly had cartoon images of rape, murder, torture, child molestation, and more - broke on Saturday, and has since been picked up in a number of media markets. The announcement about her break followed on Sunday, though it remains unclear whether the two situations are related. She has not returned a request for comments.
Dr. Laura’s troubles are largely attributable to the work of journalist Matthew LaPlante, who covers the military in Utah and reported from the Iraq War in 2005 for the Salt Lake Tribune. LaPlante wrote a story published last Monday, May 14, that quoted Dr. Laura as saying before a Utah appearance, “He could come back without arms, legs or eyeballs, and you’re bitching? You’re not dodging bullets, so I don’t want to hear any whining - that’s my message to them.” The story led to a number of angry emails to the talk show host from military families.
LaPlante, meanwhile, was also attacked by Dr. Laura’s fiercely loyal fans for making her look bad. And the SLC Trib also put their “Reader Advocate” on the story, who produced this report that said the complaints from readers reeked of a campaign launched by Dr. Laura and summed the reaction up with, “Oh, come on.”
In that interview, she explained, “Well, that’s a correct quote, but it’s out of context. And the context is about the fact that, when you’re the warrior’s wife or the warrior’s mom, as I am, because my son’s deployed in combat in the Middle East, you can bitch and whine and moan to each other - but never to the warrior, because that distracts them. It demoralizes them, and that puts them more in harm’s way.” See the full interview here.
Dr. Laura was miffed because her comments were construed more as an attack on families than as advice to not express dismay to the “warriors” fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, where her son is stationed in Kandahar. “[W]hen he calls me the rare times he can, you know, make a call, I am up and supportive and I listen to him,” she explained as an example of how she interacts with him. “And I never whine to him. We have to support them. They are in a horrendous situation there. And we need to be warrior families.” She says that when wives or mothers-or, presumably, anyone in the family-complains to their “warrior,” such complaints become unnecessary distractions.
O’Reilly, ever raging against non-FOX News media, took the opportunity to publicly denounce LaPlante, who refused to appear on the usually combative FOX News program because, as he wrote on his blog, “I just don’t think I can scream loud enough.” In LaPlante’s absence, O’Reilly informed Dr. Laura, “So Matthew LaPlante isn’t a journalist. He’s out to hurt you. He’s out to take your comments and make it look like you want to hurt military families…That’s what he’s in business to do in the Salt Lake City [sic] Tribune.”
(The SL Trib‘s Reader’s Advocate took issue with O’Reilly’s comments, explaining, “LaPlante not only keeps a close eye on military affairs of interest to Utahns, he also has been to Iraq twice, where he traveled and told the stories of Utahns on the war’s fronts. He took risks equal to many troops in the theater and has the helmet and body armor to prove it. To those Utahns who regularly read The Salt Lake Tribune, I am sure you understand how fair and detailed LaPlante is in his reporting.”)
On the O’Reilly program, Dr. Laura was more cordial to LaPlante, explaining, “I got to give him some points, because after my blog came out he has been a gentleman about it. It just hurts me that we can’t suck all the pain that families are having back in.”
But Dr. Laura may be singing a different tune today about LaPlante. That’s because he revealed in his Saturday, May 19 story that Dr. Laura’s Kandahar-based son Deryk was hosting a MySpace.com web page with “cartoon depictions of rape, murder, torture, and child molestation; photographs of soldiers with guns in their mouths; a photograph of a bound and blindfolded detainee captioned ‘My Sweet Little Habib;’ accounts of illicit drug use; and a blog entry headlined by a series of obscenities and racial epithets.”
Deryk Schlessinger’s MySpace page, which is no longer available online, also included a blog. One blog entry explained, “I LOVE MY JOB, it takes everything reckless and deviant and heathenistic [sic] and just overall bad about me and hyper focuses these traits into my job of running around this horrid place doing nasty things to people that deserve it … and some that don’t.” According to LaPlante’s article, Deryk wrote that “godless crazy people like me” are now “a generation of apathetic killers.”
LaPlante, according to the article, was tipped after his initial Dr. Laura story ran by a SL Trib reader who was a classmate of Deryk’s. When LaPlante called the Army about Deryk’s MySpace page, it was the first they’d heard of it. It has since been shut down. Coincidentally, last week the Pentagon began restricting access on its international computer systems to social networking sites such as MySpace and YouTube, citing security concerns and technological traffic jams.
An email was sent to Dr. Laura on Monday afternoon. As of Tuesday 4 p.m., she had not replied. However, in LaPlante’s article, her spokesman Mike Paul offered, “We hope all news media outlets will respect his privacy for his safety and the safety of those serving with him.” Paul also suggested the site could be a fake.
Back in Santa Barbara, the dwindling number of News-Press readers who are fans of Dr. Laura are left wondering when she’ll be back. Attempts to get that information from the News-Press‘s public relations representative Agnes Huff was unsuccessful.