This Sightings column should be called Hearings, as it picks up not on the printed word but radio. People in this business have to push unfamiliar buttons on their radios. Mine is tuned to two "born-again" stations and one "Catholic Family Radio" station, all of which have popular talk shows from which one can learn a great deal.

From these stations we learn that radio's "Dr. Laura," Laura Schlessinger, is very popular among conservative Christians. Though she is Jewish and not one of them, they like the way she shuns ambiguity, invokes absolutes, lays down the law (usually described as God's law), and favors strict religions. By tuning in to these same stations, we also learn that protests and threats of boycotts against potential sponsors of Dr. Laura's upcoming television show evoke cries of protest about the unfairness of it all, cries coming from sometime boycotters of sex-and-sleaze-and-violence shows.

That her opponents have been successful is obvious. Procter & Gamble jumped first from Dr. Laura's ship, and United Airlines stopped running her advertisements in its in-flight magazines. Xerox will not renew its contract. More will follow.

Who protests? Gay and lesbian alliances, whose leaders and members find offensive Schlessinger's descriptions of homosexuality as "deviant" and homosexuals as "biological errors." Why call the gay and lesbian threats unfair? Because conservative Christians resent being accused of violating unwritten rules of the game when they use their own power to intimidate sponsors of programs they deem offensive.

Sightings does not go looking for trouble, but on any balance scale we know of, let's grant that they have a point. Boycotts are always tricky, not always effective, high-risk, capable of provoking backlash, and making less than successful boycotters look foolish. But we are talking about rights, not about wisdom.

Again, "unfairness" comes up on these conservative Christian shows because sponsors are more ready to back off when gays and lesbians and similar groups protest than when these Christians do. But here the issue is less unfairness than fear. When the Southern Baptist Convention announced that it would boycott Disney products, little happened; the membership evidently blithely kept attending and watching Disneydom. And it is harder for these conservative Christians to gain a hearing when they cry "Persecution!" since there are no dead bodies to reinforce their claims.

But gays and lesbians are more likely despised by "straights" than Christians (a huge majority) are despised by non-Christians, so the homosexual segment of the market seems to represent a danger zone. Sponsors and advertisers are nervous about anything that crosses lines into that zone. Companies want to sell products, and they calculate their risks in a day when it seems that someone will protest anything. The Christian risk is low.

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