I’ve never watched the reality show “Duck Dynasty,” featuring the Robertson family of West Monroe, La., who make products for duck hunters. Many others have. The fourth season premiere was the most-watched nonfiction series telecast in the history of cable TV.
They won’t be watching family patriarch Phil Robertson on the Arts & Entertainment Network in the future, evidently. Fourteen hours after Mr. Robertson, paraphrasing St. Paul (Corinthians 6:9-11), told GQ magazine: “Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God,” the suits at A&E suspended him.
“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ,” the suits said. “His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.”
On ABC’s “Good Morning America” Dec. 19, publicist Howard Bragman praised A&E for its “courageous” decision to suspend Mr. Robertson. His statements were “really outrageous,” agreed ABC entertainment reporter Lara Spencer.
The First Amendment’s free speech protections shouldn’t apply to “vile bigots” like Mr. Robertson, said CNN’s Piers Morgan.
MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts wondered if suspension was “enough” punishment.
Not all liberals were applauding.
Mr. Robertson is “being fired for staying in character – a character A&E have nurtured and promoted and benefited from,” said Andrew Sullivan, who is gay. “Turning around and demanding a ‘Duck Dynasty’ star suddenly become the equivalent of a Rachel Maddow guest is preposterous and unfair.”
To fire Mr. Robertson just for saying what he thinks is “utterly fascist, utterly Stalinist,” said Camille Paglia, a lesbian.
Ms. Paglia overstates the problem. I deplore what the suits at A&E did, and why they did it. But they did no injury to our right of free speech. The First Amendment bars the government from punishing us for what we say. A&E is a private company.
The suits there have as much a right to be offended by what Mr. Robertson says as he has to say it.
The issue here is the perfectly legal, but utterly despicable, effort of most on the left to label those of us who take God at His word as “extremists,” “bigots,” “haters.”
Just because Christians take seriously what the Bible says will be the fate of unrepentant sinners doesn’t mean we take pleasure in it. For most, the opposite is true.
Mr. Robertson expresses himself crudely — he’s a redneck, after all — but there is no evidence he has ever mistreated a gay person.
The backlash created by his firing indicates Phil Robertson need not be the latest victim of liberal bigotry. Harnessed properly, it could spearhead an effort to reclaim from the left the dominant institutions of our culture — the schools, the news media, the entertainment industry.
The other cast members should honor whatever contractual obligation they have with A&E. But each should say publicly essentially what Phil said about homosexuality. Then the suits either will have to fire them too, reinstate Phil or be exposed as rank hypocrites.
Once the contract expires, or is voided because the rest of the cast got fired, the Robertsons can move the show to another cable network.
Meanwhile, the rest of us must write our lawmakers to demand Congress pass Sen. John McCain’s bill to forbid “bundling” of cable channels. We should have to pay for only those channels we want to watch.
Switching to an “a la carte” model would cut cable and network revenue roughly in half, estimated Laura Martin, an analyst for Needham Insights. That gives you an idea of how much we’re being overcharged.
Few Americans know about this consumer rip-off, or how much it costs them, so Congress has paid more attention to cable industry lobbyists. But ire over the firing of Phil Robertson can build a demand for reform lawmakers would ignore at their peril.
Once we can pick and choose, we can drop A&E. And if we put an end to this consumer rip-off, it won’t be just A&E in peril.
Dozens of low-rated networks would be killed off, CNN and MSNBC likely among them.
There’d be fewer channels, but they’d have better programming, and would be more responsive to customers, predicts Forbes’ media writer Jeff Bercovici.
So let’s not get mad. Let’s get smart. And get even.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1476).