‘Duck Dynasty’: Robertson Family Wrangles with A&E As Political Frenzy Grows

'Duck Dynasty': Robertson Family Wrangles with
Jeff Reidel/GQ

Cable news feasts on controversy that reflects nation's deep cultural divide

A steamrolling controversy rife with socio-political implications that amount to red meat for cable news coverage is not what A+E Networks topper Nancy Dubuc wanted for Christmas.

The “Duck Dynasty” imbroglio took a predictable turn Thursday evening when family members issued a statement backing patriarch Phil Robertson following his suspension from the hit reality series. A&E suspended Robertson from the show on Wednesday after he was quoted in a GQ article making inflammatory statements about homosexuality as well as African-Americans and practioners of the Islam and Shinto faiths.

SEE ALSO: ‘Duck Dynasty’: Free Speech Doesn’t Mean Consequence-Free Speech

By mid-day Thursday, the chorus of commentators staking out positions on both sides of the Robertson divide was deafening. There was no more dominant story across the cable news spectrum on Thursday.

The bearded millionaires of “Duck Dynasty” already have been championed in right-leaning media circles as a rare example of red-state heroes crossing the nation’s cultural divide with their oh-so-American success story and folksy humor. Anyone who’s been shopping at a Walmart in the past six months knows how popular the “Duck Dynasty” crew has become, judging by the volume of T-shirts, toys and other merchandise on display.

Conservative firebrands including former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin were quick to condemn A&E’s suspension, calling it a violation of Robertson’s First Amendment rights. The “IStandWithPhil.com” online petition demanding his reinstatement, launched by the org Faith Driven Consumers, had more than 125,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon. And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal defended Robertson (a notable show of support given that the state provides tax subsidies for the show to be produced there).

Meanwhile, liberal media watchdog orgs are working overtime sending out press releases condemning her and others who come out in support of Robertson. And a rival online petition to keep Robertson off ‘Duck Dynasty’  was launched Friday by an org dubbed Faithful America that asserts: “There’s nothing Christian about racism or anti-gay bigotry.” It had collected more than 18,400 signatures by Friday afternoon.

Jon Stewart walked a fine line of defending Robertson’s right to say “ignorant #$%^ on television doesn’t get you kicked off that medium” (even though the incendiary remarks were not made on air) in a segment on Thursday’s edition of “The Daily Show” — and still managed to skewer “the free speech absolutists” on Fox News in the process.

In the hothouse environment, media watchdogs have been quick to scrutinize the differences in the response from the punditry to Robertson’s statements, and A&E’s reaction, to MSNBC’s dismissal of Alec Baldwin after just six weeks on the air after the actor used a homosexual slur in an off-air confrontation with a photographer.

Although observers on both sides were quick to describe the Robertson family’s move as setting up a standoff with A&E, the careful wording in the statement signals that the clan, led by Willie Robertson (son of Phil and the leader of the Louisiana-based hunting supply businesses that made the family’s fortune), is taking a more pragmatic approach. The statement said the family is now “in discussions with A&E to see what (the suspension) means for the future of ‘Duck Dynasty.’ “

The strongest language in the seven-sentence statement references the clan being “disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right” and that they “cannot    imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm.” That’s not a declaration of war — or even a vow to breach the family’s contract with A&E to film additional episodes.

A&E at present has nine new episodes ready to roll starting Jan. 15. Production on a new batch of episodes was tentatively set to begin in the spring. Gurney Prods., the unscripted production company that birthed the show for A&E, has stayed mum on the controversy.

A+E, the corporate parent of A&E Network, declined to respond Friday to the Robertson family statement. It’s unclear how significant the conversations between Willie Robertson and A+E execs are at present — if there’s been much contact at all. No doubt execs are hoping to take a beat during the holiday period and hope that cooler heads will prevail in the new year. However, that will probably depend on the intensity of the backlash against A&E in the coming days, and whether Robertson family members decide to speak out more forcefully.

But given their experience as successful entrepreneurs, Willie Robertson and Co. may well resist the temptation (no doubt the phones are ringing off the hook) to fan the flames during the holiday-light news period. Taking a more aggressive stance could make them more heroic in some circles, but it could also cost them the TV platform that made them stars. Willie Robertson has kept mum about the issue on his Twitter feed — he hasn’t sent a message from his @williebosshog account since Dec. 11.

Even Phil Robertson acknowledged in his interview with GQ writer Drew Magary that “Duck Dynasty” isn’t going to be a Nielsen phenom forever.

“Let’s face it,” he told GQ. “Three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever. No way.”

Photo credit: Jeff Reidel/GQ 

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  1. Pablo. says:

    The GQ article that kicked off this whole brew ha ha also state that Phil said he has never even read his ghost written “autobiography” and that he talked about how they “came up with skits” for the show, both points kind of pull back the curtain on real level of “reality” in their media machine. What are the odds Phil actually violated a non disclosure clause of their contract with A&E?

  2. Anna says:

    Phil and Si were already talking about not being in the next season, so I’m wondering if A&E isn’t just using this as an opportunity to try and save themselves the loss.

  3. liz says:

    how disgusting that TOLERANCE applies to everyone BUT a follower of Christ.

  4. Julienne says:

    Actually what’s happening is…the “Tolerant Liberals” are actually showing how INTOLERANT and HYPOCRITICAL they really are. Keep going…you’ll eventually reveal all of your lies.

  5. Martin Freeman says:

    The whole political discussion about his comments seems hypocritical. This is a family with absolute fundamentalist religious views. This has been clear from the get go of the show. I’m sorry, but their views on gays doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone and the producers and their audience were fine with it as long as it made them money and they were entertained. But speak it out loud? Nooooooo!

  6. Christopher HOwatt says:

    I have two words — Paula Deen. The things this guy said are equally as bad, if not worse. Ms. Deen’s comments came to light as a result of a court battle — this guy has publicly espoused his bigoty. Where are all the corporate folks condemning what he said and pulling their merchandise???

    • Julienne says:

      Nobody’s making you watch. If you feel that strongly about it…go to the Middle-East and tell the Muslims what to say and what not to say. You won’t get-out alive….but, that’s the point.

      • Julienne you sound like a thoroughly unpleasant character, you know that? Your argument was the most idiotic I’ve read so far. Of course, he’d probably be killed in a radical third world Muslim community, but he could also be killed in other religious community. However, this is not the point.

        Duck isn’t being persecuted. He isn’t being denied his rights. He did have a right to say what he wanted, but his employers also had the right to fire him if they deemed is actions unwarranted.

  7. Max says:

    Let’s face it, the Bible is a right load of old wank.

  8. Joe says:

    John griffith must be a fag

  9. johndgriffiths says:

    People who tell the mainstream media in a fancy, very gay-friendly magazine such as GQ, that gay people disgust them and will go to hell, and that blacks were happy picking cotton back in the day and were generally treated well and didn’t need the passing of welfare and “entitlements,” do Christianity a tragic disservice. It seems to me they use the their childishly literal, cherry-picked references to the Bible — a document written at a time in a potion of the world when many traditions and behaviors we would today consider just horrrrible were embraced with righteous fervor — as a shield for their fear, stubbornness, hypocrisy, laziness and own entitlement. Not seeing or feeling or thinking that their comments would hurt people — their own friends and coworkers and maybe even family members — and that said comments might even lead a gay or black teen with emotional issues deeper into despair, more than suggests these mainstream media stars do not live in God’s reality but their own warped, uninformed reality. A&E should host a town hall with the Robertsons and prominent and average gay men, lesbians, blacks, adulterers, transgendereds and whoever else they equate with people who have intercourse with goats and who they think will burn in hell. Maybe then this self-described loving, moral family will get closer to true reality. Or they can take risk their own money, start the Stone Age channel, and free-speak all they want.

    • Paramount Employee says:

      How about throw in a couple pedophiles, rapists and murders because, as you know, the instinct driving them is no less inherent.

      • We are talking about a consensual relationship between two, same sex people, Paramount Employee. Same-sex relationships aren’t usually malicious. Rapists and murders harm people, and pedophiles damage the lives of children they molest. Furthermore, it’s about consent. Children can’t really consent to sex; they aren’t mature enough. Rapists and Murderers certainly don’t ask their victims for consent.

  10. Chris L. says:

    Why bother worrying about what one bigoted guy thinks? He — and that silly show he’s on — aren’t worth the effort.

  11. Lisa says:

    If Duck Dynasty is scripted as Operation Repo and Storage Wars turned out to be, then this is becoming very frightening. Surely Variety and GQ Magaine know this also. So why did GQ print the article in the place? Furthermore why did Variety publish an articles about how Obama thinks they are a ‘fun bunch’? Is it an attempt to appease the black population when stuff like this hits the fan and networks are found to be fabricating offensive ‘reality shows’ which could possibly be conveying racist sentiments to the American people? This show is a success to a certain population, obviously a lucrative and impressionable one given this article`s stated high demand of its merchandise at Walmart. A&E has a responsibility to everyone to ensure that discrimination is not perpetuated by what it places on the air. I think this article, as well as others, on the Duck Dynasty Debacle is a result of A&E just doing damage control.

  12. Joshua f says:

    For those making the case that A&E is infringing on Mr. Robertson’s if his first amendment rights, I would remind you that the network pays him to be on their network. They are his employers. And so they have a right to suspend working with him if what he has said hurts them as a business. And it has. Hiding behind the Bible, which is filled with all kinds of nonsensical old world “rules” like eye for an eye and so forth… it’s just lame. The guy expressed so many ignorant views that if A & E didn’t suspend him, the network woukd look like it endorsed his hateful sentiments. Join the modern world folks, and get over this petty garbage! Gay people aren’t hurting anyone. They are just trying to do what we all are, find some happy and try to be loved in a world that I often short on both those things.

    • christine says:

      Wow!! So your calling the bible lame????? You really need to appreciate how you got here in the first place. I feel sorry for you

    • Paramount Employee says:

      Who are you to say what’s “nonsensical?” It’s legal to buy and smoke cigarettes, although they’re proven to smoke cancer. It’s legal to take prescription pills, although they’re proven to cause addiction and even death. What’s legal or socially acceptable doesn’t make it right. You say gays aren’t hurting anyone, but neither is the 50 year old man that falls in love with a 12 year old boy. both might feel it’s right for them. Who are you to say differently? Oh, yeah, because that’s what we as societies do. We deem what’s right and what’s wrong TOGETHER. When the proposal outlawing gay marriage went on the books, the people of California voted it down. The Supreme court overruled them. So, who’s right? The People or the document that you suggest should protect homosexuality but not religion?

      • Joshua f says:

        I’m nobody. But it doesn’t take much to find countless examples of the ancient nonsense I am speaking of. Here, these are just a few of the rules that are absurd. Your bringing in cigarettes isn’t a parallel argument. It actually supports what I’m saying. If adults want to smoke that’s tier business. If they want to have sex with other adults that’s also their business. Bringing in your example of a 50 year old and 16 year old is again trying to equate two different things. Sex with a minor is illegal. Two gay adults having sex isn’t. Though in the Bible Belt it was for years because they take the Bible as a literal piece of writing for the most part. Anyway, your righteousness about this is your right, just as Roberts’ stance is his, but again, the network owes him nothing. And if his statements are hurting tier business then they can fix that by putting him on leave. If he thinks he has a legal to stand on, let him pursue it in the courts.

  13. Michael Anthony says:

    Where were all these free speech defenders a few weeks ago when Alec Baldwin was suspended by MSNBC for his anti-gay remarks?? TRUE defenders of free speech would speak up no matter who said the remarks. It just once again shows how hypocritical the right wing really is. Go back and read and listen to the glee if the right wing pundits over his suspension. And no, Palin and Jindahl, didn’t speak out for him. Both are hypocrites.

    And leave the bible out of this discussion. The bible protects no one’s job and this is a workplace issue, since A/E pays them to be on the show. No court, not even the Supreme Court, will allow an individual to use the bible as an excuse for their actions.

    • Paramount Employee says:

      Sorry, Bro. Freedom of Religion is guaranteed in the First Amendment. Go read it if you’re too scarred over getting kicked out of Van Halen.

      • Paramount Employee says:

        Mike, I have doubts Alec Baldwin was espousing his religious beliefs when he called someone a “fag.” But, hey, nice try. Hope you’re not a trial attorney.

      • mikepope says:

        No one is telling him he can’t say those things. But the Constitution doesn’t say you can’t get fired from a job for saying things–that’s a contractual agreement between private parties. See also: Alec Baldwin and MSNBC, and Martin Bashir and MSNBC. Look up the verb “dooced.”

        I assume you were out defending all of these brave patriots when they got fired also — ?

  14. Tanner Corelli says:

    That’s the problem with Liberals it’s only right if you agree with them. Sounds like judging to me The same thing that you ppl accuse Christians of doing, but I guess that double standered is okay as long as you agree with Liberals.

    • Julienne says:

      Thanks for proving how intolerant and hypocritical you Dem-Libs are. I’m clapping for your lack of common sense. Bravo.

    • Michael Anthony says:

      Double Standard? Show me where Sarah Palin defended Alex Baldwin when he was suspended a few weeks ago for the same thing! Show me which conservative stood up for Paula Deen when she lost her gig for long ago remarks! The double standard is clearly a right wing mandate.

  15. Paramount Employee says:

    Looks like all the liberal atheists are out early this morning, trying to keep down the Christian majority that built this country and the freedoms they take for granted. What’s shocking to me is how many of our Jewish brethren seem to be denouncing Christians over this clear case of religious persecution, something that defines the very essence of what it means to be Jewish. Ah, well. We don’t mind. We liberated you from the Nazis and have protected Israel ever since without reward or acknowledgement. That’s just how we do. Merry Christmas everyone!

  16. Not being a religious person to any great extent, I am also not much of a fan of Duck Dynasty. However, I am concerned that A&E has moved to suppress the first amendment rights cast of this show which has been exploited the religious beliefs of the family they are using to get ratings. Threats by homosexual groups as a means to suppress people who don’t role over when ordered to is apparently the new America. People have poor reading comprehension. Phil grew up the poorest of the poor, equal to the black field hands he worked with as a child. No food, no toilets, no running water, nothing. It is no surprise that he didn’t see or hear the complaints of the overworld he was no part of and only saw black workers who were in the same condition he was. Very poor people often have no vision of the world outside their immediate circumstances. To condemn them for expressing the reality of their existence as it was 60 years ago is absurd. The majority of evangelical Christians believe the ideas expressed by Phil are the word of God.
    I don’t agree with many of the Christian beliefs Phil expressed. Many born again Christians are more extreme in their beliefs than less dedicated Christians. That’s a Big surprise. For A&E to suppress Phil’s 1st Amendment Rights to religious freedom and free speech is un-American. Since cable TV networks are carried as a public monopoly, A&E networks should be removed from cable across the U.S. unless they can support freedom. In our area Charter carries A&E programming on cables under a monopoly granted by the local governments. The next time there is a county commissioner meeting we will be asking that either Charter remove A&E from their programming or lose their right to use public property for their cables and lose their monopoly.

    • Jake Snow says:

      The First Amendment guarantees that the federal government cannot impinge upon your right to free speech. It does not and cannot guarantee that your employer or any other entity will react negatively if you choose to take a particular stance. The argument about whether or not A&E should have done what they did does not involve First Amendment issues.

  17. Gary Cline says:

    Genesis chapter 19 describes how Sodom and Gomorrah had gotten so bad, living the homosexual life style that God (creator of the universe) destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for the sin

    • Beach says:

      Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals’ freedom from infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.
      Civil rights include the ensuring of peoples’ physical and mental integrity, life and safety; protection from discrimination on grounds such as race, gender, national origin, colour, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or disability;and individual rights such as privacy, the freedoms of thought and conscience, speech and expression, religion, the press, assembly and movement.
      Political rights include natural justice (procedural fairness) in law, such as the rights of the accused, including the right to a fair trial; due process; the right to seek redress or a legal remedy; and rights of participation in civil society and politics such as freedom of association, the right to assemble, the right to petition, the right of self-defense, and the right .

      Phil’s civil rights ARE being violated by A@E.

      • mikepope says:

        The Robertsons have a contractual agreement with A&E, which probably has many clauses that we don’t know about, including some that specify under what circumstances members of the cast can be fired. Most employment agreements have such clauses.

        MANY people in media have gotten fired saying or doing things things that their employer did not agree with: Alec Baldwin (MSNBC); Martin Bashir (MSNBC); Don Imus (CBS); Dan Sileo (WMEN); Steven Shapiro, Chris Dimino, and Nick Cellini (WQXI); Paula Deen (Food Network); Charlie Sheen (Warner Bros).

        And that’s just the high-profile cases. Thousands of people are fired yearly for saying or doing something that their employer disagrees with.

        It’s just not a civil-rights issue; none of these cases so much as got to a lawsuit, let alone were they overturned as violations of civil rights. it’s a contractual one between private parties.

        To say again a point that seems to keep getting lost: no one is telling Robertson he can’t say what he did or believe what he believes. His speech was not banned by the government. If he does end up getting fired (and he hasn’t been yet), it’s for a violation of a contractual clause.

  18. kenmandu says:

    Kick the sh*t-kickers to the curb A&E and show some real Liberal backbone rather than bottom- line degeneracy.

  19. michael says:

    wait…bearded “billionaires”???? that doesn’t seem very accurate

  20. Kathy Edwards says:

    if A & E is truly against or disgusted by what Phil Robertson said – they would pull the merchandise they are selling off their site that features Phil, his sayings and images and make no mistake that is their merchandise not Duck Commanders. I think they want to placate the angry hord with words but do not want to loose their cash “duck”.

  21. Contessa46 says:

    I would ask why A&E would want to be associated with such hateful people. It does nothing but make A&E look bad! Could this possible be the same station that shows like Mad Man are produced? They’ve reached as far down the bottom of the barrel one could go. Dump these racist homophobic, religious zealots that don’t reflect American values but that of a moronic, shit kicker minority.

    • With blanket statements like yours, no wonder we can’t have honest dialogue. Framing the entire argument by blaming people YOU obviously HATE as hateful, diminishes whatever point you’re trying to make. This “shit kickers” are hard working people who didn’t have the benefit of a liberal self-righteous SNOB upbringing like yourself.

      Truth is, not everybody agrees that homosexuality is natural, and the Torah aka the Hebrew Bible, and subsequent New Testament writings teach that male to male/female to female sexual contact is immoral and an abomination to G-d. Whether you agree or disagree with it, is irrelevant in the context of A&E choosing to side with 1% of it’s viewership total vs 90% give or take the audience of Duck Dynasty. A&E cowtowed to GLAAD and LGBT groups, instead of sticking behind their most successful reality program ever, and they’re about to pay for it with the loss of millions of viewers and advertising revenue.

    • Red says:

      Wow! Who is the bigot here? Shit kicker morons? I think you might be a left-wing nut weasel that wants to shove your sick beliefs down everyone’s throats. A+E doesn’t produce Mad Men, that’s AMC. Talk about uninformed. Get educated before you spew your version of moronic hate.

      • Woody says:

        Actually, since you like to consider yourself informed- Lionsgate is the main production company for Mad Men. AMC is a co-producer and distributor.

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