The flap touched on enough hot-button issues to keep cable news pundits yakking for days: red state-blue state culture wars, religion, tolerance, gay rights, bigotry, media elitism and claims of sins against the First Amendment — all fronted by the hirsute stars of a hugely popular reality TV show.
And the martyrdom of Phil Robertson is the gift that keeps on giving. The verbiage has barely slowed even after A+E (parent company of cabler A&E) did an about-face on its decision to suspend Robertson from the show. More fuel was added to the fire last week as a 2009 video surfaced of him half-jokingly urging men to marry girls at age 15 or 16.
The timing of the uproar was so perfect for promoting the new season of “Duck Dynasty” (starting Jan. 15) that some speculated the whole thing was planned. But this was the kind of promotion that A&E didn’t need: Robertson quoted in GQ magazine equating homosexuality to bestiality, among other comments.
The storm hit Dec. 18, when GQ sent out a release with Robertson’s most incendiary observations. By day’s end, A&E had put him on “indefinite” suspension and expressed its corporate dismay at his remarks.
The Robertson clan responded Dec. 19 with a carefully worded statement indicating that the others would not continue filming the show without Phil.
From there, the Internet and social media turned the discussion about Robertson’s sentiments — and his right to express them without sanction — into a ping-pong match. The advantage was clearly on the side of Robertson supporters, who may have been extra motivated by the Christmas spirit. Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC and Big Three network news programs feasted on the back-and-forth during a slow news period.
Nobody has gained more from the imbroglio than Raleigh, N.C.-based Faith Driven Consumer, which quickly distributed an online petition demanding Robertson’s reinstatement, and kept the media-friendly soundbites coming. Meanwhile, GLAAD and other orgs condemned Robertson and applauded A+E’s stand.
A+E blinked on Dec. 27, acknowledging Robertson would be back when filming resumes in the spring. The network has vowed to channel the anger unleashed by l’affair de Phil into a PSA campaign preaching tolerance. There’s no word
yet if any of the Robertsons will take to that pulpit.