As someone who hasn't been reluctant to criticize future ex-TV host Larry King, I've got to give him credit when he gets it right.
And, for the most part, King got it right with Laura Schlessinger recently.
"Dr. Laura" went on "Larry King Live" to announce she's quitting her radio advice show at the end of the year, perhaps because she knew that King has never been big on challenging outrageous statements.
If you missed it, Schlessinger made headlines when she used the "n-word" 11 times on her radio show. She apologized and insisted that she was making a "philosophical point," to little effect.
(In 2010, it's amazing that somebody as media savvy as Schlessinger would use the n-word, oblivious to the obvious blowback that would result.)
Schlessinger went on "Larry King Live" to announce that she would give up her radio show "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 and attack sponsors."
Thus, she clearly demonstrated she doesn't understand the First Amendment.
And, much to his credit, King challenged her false assertion.
"Why is your freedom of speech denied on radio?" he asked. "Because people can criticize what you say."
Schlessinger again made her ignorance clear. And made herself out to be the victim.
"When I started in radio, if you said something somebody didn't agree with or they didn't like, they argued with you. Now they try to silence you," she said. "They try to wipe out your ability to earn a living and to have your job. They go after affiliates. They send threats to sponsors."
"But that's their right, too," King said.
"Yes, but I don't have the right to say what I need to say. My First Amendment rights have been usurped by angry, hateful groups who don't want to debate, they want to eliminate," Schlessinger said.
Perhaps she's never read the First Amendment. Here it is:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
If the government tried to silence Schlessinger, that would be a violation of her rights. That didn't happen.
Schlessinger has the right to say whatever she wants. And those who are unhappy about that have the right to criticize her, to complain to the stations, to complain to her show's advertisers.
That's their right under the First Amendment.
King didn't mention the Constitution — as he should have — but at least he did challenge Schlessinger.
"So where have you lost freedom of speech? You can say whatever you want and they can criticize," King said.
"You're missing the point," Schlessinger said, completely missing the point herself. "I, obviously, am losing First Amendment rights."
She, obviously, is not. She's simply complaining when other people employ their First Amendment rights.
The tactics used by her detractors — the same tactics employed by those on both the left and right of the political spectrum — violate no one's constitutional rights.
I'm not a big fan of those tactics no matter who employs them. As a matter of fact, a decade ago when protesters wanted to keep the "Dr. Laura" TV show off the air before it premiered, I came to her defense, writing:
"I'm also deeply troubled by the efforts to keep her off television. The same people who would scream if someone they agree with were being similarly assailed somehow have no problem attempting to censor someone they disagree with. And censorship is what this amounts to."
But it didn't violate her First Amendment rights.
In that case, people were protesting a show they hadn't seen yet — which bothers me to no end.
(And, in the end, the "Dr. Laura" TV show quickly died of bad ratings.)
In this case, King was absolutely right. Nobody violated Schlessinger's rights; she dug her own grave and then jumped in.
And good for King for having the gumption to call her on it.