As you may know by now, A&E Networks (a joint venture between the Hearst Corporation and Disney–ABC Television Group) has lifted its suspension of Duck Dynasty family patriarch Phil Robertson over comments he made in an interview with GQ magazine. The suspension was originally announced as “indefinite,” but it appears that by “indefinite” they meant “nine days.” And since this is in the middle of duck hunting season, and since by contractual agreement there would be no filming of the series during this-two-month period, the effect of the suspension was nil, nada, zip, nothing. Ten episodes already filmed will begin airing in mid-january with all the family members included, and when filming resumes all family members will again participate. So, despite the dustup and media frenzy over this, in the end nothing will change as far as the show itself is concerned. As Duck Dynasty is one of the most popular shows on cable television (they supposedly get over 13 million viewers each week, but those are industry estimates based on their own finagling of numbers), A&E just couldn’t bring itself to accept a possible drop in revenue should the family pull out of production altogether, which they threatened to do. Many famous conservatives flocked to their defense (couldn’t resist) and in doing so, they seemed to show a complete misunderstanding of what free speech is about.
Phil Robertson’s right to free speech was never threatened, despite the unpleasant things he said (and I’m being kind here, this time.) He is, as he always was throughout this hubbub, a free man who was not once threatened with prison over his remarks. And THAT is what free speech is about. You are free to say almost anything you want without fear of the government hauling you away and locking you up in response. There are limits to your free speech, of course. You are not free to lie to people to fraudulently rip them off. You’re not free to threaten bodily harm to another person. You are not free to makes threats against the President of the United States. And, in what is probably the most famous counter-example, you are not free to falsely yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. If you do any of those things (and Robertson didn’t), the government will haul you away and lock you up in response. So I think we can all agree that our constitutional rights are not unlimited. (You can’t own a nuclear weapon of your own, despite what the Second Amendment says.) Yet famous conservatives from Sarah Palin to Gov Bobby Jindal have insisted that free speech was under attack and our country was going to die be cause of it. (The irony here is that Bobby Jindal was the one who, after the Republicans got their butts handed to them in the 2012 elections, said that the Republicans had to stop being “the Stupid Party.” Even he ignored his own advice.) Not only did they say free speech was under attack, but religious freedom was, too. If you have the stomach for it, try going through the comments in the Todd Stearns FB page in which he announces an exclusive message from the Robertson family. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. (As I have gotten more and more into following the nutty things conservatives say, I find myself thinking that same thing over and over – “nothing could be further from the truth.”) The entire Robertson Family is still free to practice the religion of their choice without the government telling them they can’t. And that includes the right to say the ignorant things Robertson said regarding race and religion. It doesn’t mean we have to accept those opinions as valid.
That Phil Robertson believes the things he says should not be in doubt, but the actual things he believes very much should be in doubt. For example, he said
“All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.”
Um, two things, Phil. One, Muslims do revere and respect Jesus and even consider him a prophet. Just because they don’t believe he’s the only way to salvation doesn’t mean there is no Jesus in their lives. And, two, have you looked at the murder rate in this country? We have a lot of people in this country who believe in Jesus (full disclosure, I’m not one of them), and yet we have tens of thousands of murders by gun fire alone more than any other country. But religion wasn’t the only topic on which he spoke.
Robertson also explained his rationale for voting for Mitt Romney. (Note: If everyone applied the logic he did in making our presidential selections, this country would be in a lot of trouble.)
“If I’m lost at three o’clock in a major metropolitan area…I ask myself: Where would I rather be trying to walk with my wife and children? One of the guys who’s running for president is out of Chicago, Illinois, and the other one is from Salt Lake City, Utah. [Editor’s note: Romney is from Boston, not Salt Lake City.] Where would I rather be turned around at three o’clock in the morning? I opted for Salt Lake City. I think it would be safer.”
Excuse me, but WTF does where a candidate is from have to do with what kind of job that candidate would do in elected office? If Robertson actually knew that Romney was from the liberal city of Boston, would that have changed his opinion of the man?
Lastly, and this is the one that was most ignored by the media and it shouldn’t have been, there were the comments regarding his view of black people.
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
And that proves what? You never personally saw any kind of mistreatment, so it never happened? Wow, is that ever ignorant or what?
So, as you can see, Phil Robertson said some ignorant and stupid things, but his freedom was never at stake throughout. And A&E didn’t fake-suspend him (nothing was filmed during these past two weeks, and he’ll be back with the family next month) because of some violation of the First Amendment, nor did they report him to the police for arrest. Robertson always had, and continues to have, every right to say the ignorant and stupid things he wishes to say. And we have every right not to reward him financially for saying those things.