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

Phil Robertson is entitled to speak his mind; that doesn't mean he can't pay a price for it

Do we really need this civics lesson again?

In the wake of “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson’s suspension from the A&E program for anti-gay comments in a magazine interview, a Christian group and conservative watchdog the Media Research Center (part of Brent Bozell’s empire of indignation) have denounced the network for engaging in censorship.

“TV networks might claim they support free speech, but the suspension of ‘Duck Dynasty’ star Phil Robertson shows that to be an utter lie,” the MRC said in a statement.

The irony here, of course, is that it was the very same sort of groups that pioneered this approach, dating back 20 years with the economic pressure campaign waged against “NYPD Blue” by targeting ABC affiliates and advertisers.

All of which goes to show that “censorship” is one of those terms generally used conveniently, when somebody says or does something with which you disagree.

So let’s rehash the basics, just for those new to the party: Robertson has every right to say whatever he wants. And A&E, as his employer in this particular enterprise, has every right to respond to those statements with some form of discipline if the company feels Robertson’s actions will negatively impact its bottom line or run counter to its values.

Personally, it would be nice if the whole “Fire people for saying stupid things” industry calmed down a little — particularly in regard to entertainers. Being on TV or in movies doesn’t require a master’s degree in political science, and it’s not always clear why someone’s personal views, goofy or otherwise, have any bearing on their job performance.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to feel too sorry for anyone involved, including Robertson or A&E. After all, the network and producers gave the extended family a showcase precisely so they could go out and play sitcom-style rubes and rednecks. So it’s a little disingenuous to express shock when one of them actually goes off script and articulates homophobic views that are widely shared among religious conservatives who flock to the show. (Robertson’s defenders will note that his remarks were based on Scripture, but in practical terms, they can be faith-based and still sound homophobic.)

Given what we already know about the Robertsons, one can argue that A&E could have distanced itself from the comments and condemned them and left it at that. By that measure, the network appears to be acting out of principle, although any response was going to rile somebody.

Still, without sounding too cynical about it, one suspects with this much money at stake the parties will resolve this — and keep the “Duck” gravy train rolling with barely a hitch in its get-along.

The main beneficiary of this flare-up, meanwhile, is the media, which has been presented a juicy controversy regarding a highly rated show to chew over during what’s usually a dead time in the calendar. And yes, present company included.

Just to be clear, though, nobody is “censoring” Phil Robertson’s right to speak his mind. As for those who share his views threatening to boycott A&E for suspending him, that, too, is their right, and by all means, they should feel free to do so. Just as those offended by the remarks are free to turn “Duck” off. Maybe even try watching a sitcom where all the dialogue is scripted, and not just the scenarios.

See? Is this a great country, or what?

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