A&E Network this week suspended Robertson indefinitely from the hit series “Duck Dynasty” after the patriarch of the show’s family made remarks about his religious faith and homosexuality in a GQ magazine interview.
In the pantheon of anti-gay rhetoric, it was relatively tame stuff. Robertson wasn’t advocating violence or discrimination against homosexuals. He expressed a common biblical view of homosexual acts as part of a broader discussion of sin, which included bestiality and heterosexual adultery as well as greed and drunkenness. His, er, colorful comparison of copulations was even couched in self-awareness: “That’s just me.” In short, this wasn’t a Rev. Fred Phelps screed — or even an Alec Baldwin rant.
Nevertheless, it understandably offended many people. Perhaps Robertson should’ve been more mindful that his star shines in red and blue states and refrained from answering the question. But then, that wouldn’t be keeping it real.
To be clear, this is not a First Amendment issue. The government is not censoring Robertson for his speech. As a private employer, A&E is free to discipline an employee that the company believes has done harm to its image.
Whether that proves to be a smart business move remains to be seen.
“Duck Dynasty” appeals to many because of the Robertson clan’s professed Christian beliefs and traditional values. Phil Robertson wasn’t telling GQ anything that people didn’t already know, suspect or agree with — hence the immediate and outraged response on social media from those who disagreed with A&E’s suspension. The channel potentially stands to lose a lot of money if these folks stop watching the show and buying “Duck Dynasty” merchandise in protest — or if the Robertsons decide to take their show elsewhere.
Perhaps A&E doesn’t understand its audience (it soon will, if hasn’t already — a Facebook page titled “Boycott A&E Until Phil Robertson is Put Back on Duck Dynasty” already has more than 600,000 “likes”). Or maybe it’s making a decision based on principle and is willing to take a hit to its bottom line.
Regardless, you don’t have to agree with Robertson’s views to be troubled by A&E’s reaction to them. The proper responses to speech you find objectionable are to ignore it, or to engage and challenge it with more speech — not to silence or punish it. That goes for Southern backwoods duck hunters as well as Hollywood actors pontificating on politics and country music groups that criticize the president.
A&E should have stopped with the release of a statement that Robertson’s opinions were his own and not reflective of the channel or its advertisers. Instead, the network followed the path that much of American society has chosen these days — to abandon debate and tolerance of opposing views, and to provide more grist for the grievance industry in our ongoing culture wars.
The pledge to “disagree with what you say, but defend to the death your right to say it” has given way to, “Shut up or else!” If we associate only with those with which we agree, we will live in an insular world lacking in true diversity.
Republished from the Panama City News Herald. Distributed by creators.com.