Tag Archives: free speech rights

For Bucks and Ducks: The Brilliant Cynicism of A&E Network Regarding Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson

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Less than two weeks ago the A&E Network put Phil Robertson, the 67 year old “Patriarch” of the Robertson Clan of Duck Dynasty and Duck Commander on an indefinite suspension. When it occurred I waited to comment because I had suspicions that things were not entirely as they seemed.

The controversy was born in reaction to an interview in GQ magazine where Robertson made comments which equated homosexuality with bestiality. The interview was much more far ranging than that and if you want you can check it out here http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson?currentPage=1

Unlike Sarah Palin I actually decided to read it before making any comments and you should too. The fact is whether you agree or disagree with Robertson you owe it to him and more importantly your principles whatever they may be, to read it.  To be fair Robertson’s beliefs are not out of the Evangelical mainstream, especially the traditional Fundamentalist, the activist culture warrior and Christian Dominion crowd. Honestly I don’t think that Phil Robertson meant any harm to anyone in making those comments, it is just a big part of what he believes and he is not ashamed about what he believes. That is his right. From what I read about Robertson and his family they are generous and contribute much to an otherwise poor community.  As far as Robertson’s comments I don’t agree with them, in fact I strongly disagree with them from a theological and social standpoint as a Christian.

That being said Robertson has the right to his beliefs including the right to speak about them publicly in whatever forum he desires. Everyone has that right. However employers can restrict those rights. All of us if we work for someone else have constraints on our free speech rights in the workplace, either implicitly by contract or even the unwritten expectations of our employers. Likewise people have the right to watch or not to watch his show or buy or not to buy his company’s products. That is the free market. So if A&E wanted to suspend Robertson or to cancel the show based on his actions that would be their right and not be a violation of his rights. If the government did it that would be another matter.

When the controversy erupted and LGBT and other progressive and liberal advocacy groups protested the comments, A&E quickly announced Robertson’s suspension. That was on December 18th. In fact the suspension came so quickly that it surprised me. There was none of the usual hand-wringing that often accompanies media controversy around the star of a hit program and that puzzled me.

The first thing that triggered my suspicion was that Duck Dynasty had already finished filming for the season. Thus any suspension, unless it was a permanent cancellation of the show was only until the next season began. In other words it was a suspension of the off season. So in other words Robertson was not harmed in any way by the suspension. A&E did not fine him or take any money from him. The suspension appeared to me to be a ruse.

However, within moments of the announcement Evangelical Christian pastors, pundits and preachers went into action. Robertson was the “victim” of demonically inspired homosexuals, liberals and secularists. Even those that never read what Robertson said like “Governor half-term” Sarah Palin came to his defense.

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The outcry was amazing. Facebook and Twitter groups rallied to Robertson’s defense threatening A&E with boycotts and calling for his restoration. Likewise politicians introduced legislation to anoint him an “American hero.” Pundits and cable television commentators covered the story more heavily than they would actual issues dealing with the economy, unemployment, national security or events overseas that could harm the country. Preachers rallied their flocks to the cause and many used the controversy to condemn those who were the real victims of Robertson’s actual remarks.

The cry that Robertson’s Constitutional “free speech rights” were being violated and that he was being “persecuted” for his beliefs were oft repeated. The fact of the matter was that A&E never  penalized Robertson, never took any money from him and still allowed him to continue to speak, and even double down on what he said even after the suspension without penalty. In fact A&E aired a Duck Dynasty Christmas marathon on Christmas Day in which Robertson was in every show. How that qualifies as persecution or restricted Robertson’s free speech rights is beyond me.

Conservative media, especially Fox News jumped to Robertson’s defense, proving what Susan Jacoby said in her book The Age of American Unreason: 

“If enough money is involved and enough people believe that two plus two equals five the media will report the story with a straight face always adding a qualifying paragraph noting that mathematicians however say that two plus two still equals four.”

The nine days of unremitting media hysteria came to an end today when A&E announced that Robertson would return for the next season, without penalty and without missing a show.

I was not surprised by today’s announcement. What it showed me was that A&E which had dealt with a similar situation with “Dog the Bounty Hunter” a couple of years ago used the controversy for its own benefit and bottom line. It quickly acted to “suspend” Robertson ensuring that during the so called “War on Christmas” that conservative media that media coverage would provide more free publicity than they could ever spend  on a reality television show. They used the suspension to work up Evangelicals who reacted to fully support Robertson ensuring renewed interest in the Duck Dynasty series and product lines offered by many major retailers.

All in all the controversy and suspension was a successful enterprise for the A&E network and the Robertson clan. There was massive free publicity for the show and no penalties for Robertson. Even better the suspension was cloaked behind the veneer of a network acting like it was doing something to penalize a man for saying things that offended a minority that the viewers of the show despise and then after a carefully scripted “apology” reinstating him. In the statement announcing Robertson’s reinstatement A&E promised to “launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people…” It was cynical as hell but brilliant from a business standpoint. You see for A&E it really isn’t about ideology it is about profit. If Duck Dynasty was a failing show they would have cancelled it without questions and tossed show’s Evangelical viewers in the ditch. But there is too much money to be made. In the first 9 months of 2013 the show made $80 million in advertising revenues and merchandise sales have added another $400 million, about half of which went to Wal-Mart. It would be hard for a niche cable network to make up those kind of losses.

I resisted writing anything about this when the controversy erupted because I sensed something fishy. It seemed that given the circumstances that this was a carefully orchestrated event on the part of A&E. When they announced that he would return so soon after suspending him after milking the controversy for all it was worth I realized that my initial gut reaction was right. 

Liberals and the LGBT community who protested actually fell into the A&E trap. Their protest was used as fodder for the network and for the Right Wing media for two different purposes that became a perfect storm: First the controversy fulfilled A&E’s need to bolster the show going into the next season by providing free publicity and reenergizing the viewers. Second it gave the Right Wing media and politically minded preachers the chance to demonize gays and their supporters as being intolerant and hateful, for simply reacting to words that can only from an LGBT point of view be seen as prejudicial, unfair and harmful.

It also gave A&E and the right wing media the chance to avoid Robertson’s other equally repugnant comments about pre-civil rights era black share-croppers which he had made previously.

All in all it was a cynical and brilliant scheme that worked all too well. Machiavelli and Goebbels would have been proud of the PR folks at A&E and Fox News who used Robertson’s unfortunate comments to create a controversy that enriched them and inflamed their supporters.

Progressives, liberals, activists and political moderates like me as well as the LGBT community have to learn to step back from our immediate emotional response to situations like this in the future. We have to be smarter at strategy and look at the big picture. Things like this do not happen in a vacuum. A&E probably assumed that at some point one of the Robertson’s would say something like this and that there would be a backlash. That is why they were able to react so quickly and carefully scripted their response culminating in today’s announcement. Likewise the right wing media sees this kind of controversy as grist for their political and ideological mill.

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Tony Perkins the KKK supporting head of the American Family Association demonstrated this in his press release tonight:

“The attacks on Phil Robertson revealed to the American people that the push to redefine marriage is less about the marriage altar than it is fundamentally altering America’s moral, political and cultural landscape. A&E Network’s reversal in the face of backlash is quite telling to the American people who are growing tired of GLAAD and cultural elites who want to silence people and remove God and His word from every aspect of public life….”

When a situation like this occurs we need to be suspicious and ask “why this? why me? why now?” If we ask those question we can keep from being suckered into no-win situations that those who want to take away our rights to dissent use to set us up and demonize us. In the cyber age of instantaneous communication this is hard to do and we do have to get better at doing it.

If you don’t believe me just look at Perkins. He took this as a way to propagandize his prejudice and hatred of the LGBT community and progressives, for that matter all who disagree with his theocrat machinations including other Christians.

The A&E network and people like Perkins have different goals. For A&E it is profit, for Perkins it is the use of religion and the state to persecute and discriminate against easily demonized minority groups, appealing to the worst aspects of human nature. In this case those often conflicting goals coalesced into the perfect storm.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Hank Williams Junior’s Free Speech Violated? Give me a Break… it was Business doing what is best for Business

 

“After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision. By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It’s been a great run.” Hank Williams Jr. announcement Thursday after ESPN announced that he would no longer be featured as the intro to Monday Night Football

Back when I was in college I did something incredibly stupid simply because I thought that I was being funny.  I had a part time job as a Peer Counselor with the Educational Opportunity Program.  The program was to help kids from poor families with not so great educations get a chance at college. Some kids did well and others didn’t.  My wife Judy was a student in the University’s program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students.  The office that ran the deaf program was called Support Services for Deaf Students or simply SSDS.

Judy had a roommate named Kendra and the three of us came up with some pretty sick jokes. In fact I learned sign language more to tell jokes with Kendra more than any other reason. Since Judy was “just hard of hearing” I used some sign with her but mostly to help her understand in difficult situations as for the most part she functioned as a hearing person despite having a 77% hearing loss.   Judy is also an artist and a cartoonist. One day we came up with a fake flyer for a parody of SSDS.  We called it Support Services to Dead Students.  Judy did the drawing and all would have been well had I not gotten the less than brilliant idea to “spam” the flyer out. Now this was way before e-mail and Facebook or any other social media.  So I went to a copy store and made about 50 copies and took them to work. I put them in messenger envelopes and sent them to most school departments through the internal school mail system.  I thought that it was hysterical and I must have let slip to someone that I had pulled this off this prank. Anyway a couple of days later I was called into my boss’s office and was told by him that he knew that I did it. He felt that it was deeply offensive and that I could resign or be fired.  I ended up resigning and my boss was grateful.  To be truthful it had nothing to do with the EOP students we were poking fun at the deaf students. Yes it was still crass and insensitive but I didn’t think that I would lose my job over it. I thought that it was a funny parody. My employer didn’t.

I learned a hard lesson. No matter how funny I thought that my parody was that it didn’t mean that my employer had to keep me on. What I did embarrassed my department and paid the price for it. Was anyone harmed? No. Was it malicious? No.  Could it be interpreted in ways that I didn’t intend it to be? Yes. Did it reflect on my lack of judgment? Yes.  Did my boss have a right to terminate me? Yes.  Did I learn? Most of the time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eF6vCv13bw

Now of course Hank Williams Jr. made a complete ass of himself on Fox and Friends Monday morning.  Not only did he compare President Obama with Hitler but he went into a rant that just made him look like an angry idiot.  He called Obama “the enemy” and in making the Hitler comparison really made light of the Holocaust.  There is little that any American politician on the right or the left can do to be compared with Hitler.  Even his Fox friends who are not known for their love of Obama looked really uncomfortable as Hank ranted on.

Now to get things right I will defend people’s free speech rights and I don’t have to agree with them. If one decides to compare any American President with Adolf Hitler Joe Stalin, Pol Pot or the Ayatollah Khomeini he or she can say it without fear of being prosecuted by the State for doing so and if he is I will defend his right to that speech, even if I think it is hateful.  It may be hateful and ignorant to do what Hank did but there is no law against it and if he was prosecuted for it by the government I would defend his Free Speech rights.

That being said if one is the face of Monday Night Football as Hank was ESPN then there are risks to acting like an idiot. The producer of that show and the NFL had a right to end his relationship with the show.  It is about business, other companies with that advertise on Monday Night Football don’t want to be linked to the “H” word.  If they had not ended the relationship it would have been bad for business.

Let’s face it using the Hitler analogy tends to get people fired and it is not about free speech it is about business.  There are probably hundreds if not thousands of “conservative” commentators, bloggers and journalists who have made the Hitler analogy frequently on the internet and in print. It is protected Free Speech.  In fact when George W. Bush was President left wing bloggers and columnists frequently played the Hitler card against him. .  However none of them were the face of Monday Night Football and generally they work for employers that make money by criticizing Obama and the Democrats or Bush and the Republicans so they keep their jobs.  Remember each business determines what is good for their business.   Monday Night Football decided that Hank was now bad for business.

Hank is now saying that he decided to leave Monday Night Football “with his rowdy friends.” He said that what happened to him was a violation of his free speech rights. Now it seems like most people with the exception of Hank and Sean Hannity think that ESPN was within its rights to end their relationship with Hank.  If I recall one of the key conservative tenants is that employers are the ones that set the conditions for employing people.  The right to hire and fire at will is something that conservatives and Libertarians love.  Firing and shunning celebrities for doing stupid, ignorant or hateful things or even for benign associations is a sport in this country if a business deems the celebrity’s actions bad for business.

Let’s just go back 50-60 years, the McCarthy hearings and the Hollywood “blacklist” which tarred and feathered many actors, directors and others involved in the film industry being associated with the Communists or other unpopular causes at some point in their life, even if they had renounced that association.  Those people were not allowed to work, many for years simply because their loyalty to the country which had nothing to do with their acting abilities was questioned and producers fearing audience backlash simply blacklisted them.  Some of the many people blacklisted included Orson Welles, Burgess Meredith, Eddie Arnold and Edward G. Robinson.

Then there was an actress named Hanoi Jane Fonda, daughter of Hollywood icon Henry Fonda who had the dumb ass idea to go to North Vietnam, make anti-American and anti-war statements and be photographed on an anti-aircraft gun within a mile or so of the Hanoi Hilton POW camp.  She couldn’t get work for several years and when she did start working again, many people, me included boycotted her films and I still won’t watch them.  She was able to say what she wanted but she suffered the consequences and is still one of the most hated Hollywood celebrities in conservative circles.

There are so many other examples where celebrities have been fired or shunned because of their actions. Here are a few:

Gilbert Gottfried: Tsunami jokes got him fired as the voice of the Aflack Duck.

Megan Fox: Canned from Transformers due to Hitler remarks.

Madonna: Fired from her Pepsi sponsorship when the American Family Association boycotted Pepsi after Madonna released her controversial “Like a Prayer” music video.

Michael Phelps: After getting caught smoking dope was dropped by Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes.


Mel Gibson: He was shunned after making anti-Semitic comments during a DUI arrest. His career has not been the same since.

Whoopi Goldberg: The Sister Act star got canned from her Slim Fast spokesperson job when she made double entendres about President George Bush at a John Kerry fund raiser.  She was also shunned by Kerry after it.

Sharon Stone: Dropped by Christian Dior inChina for suggesting that Chinese earthquakes were caused byChina’s treatment of Tibet.

The Smothers Brothers: Their hit comedy was cancelled by CBS for their controversial statements about racism,Vietnam and politics.

The Dixie Chicks: While touring “Old Europe” the country singers lashed out at President Bush and the Iraq War.  They were not fired but lost a huge number of fans in the process. The fans shunned them. They lost money and have not regained their former popularity.

The list can go on but I think I make my point. If people want to claim that business are free to do as they please and hire and fire people for whatever reason they deem fit on one hand, then they shouldn’t  that their Free Speech rights are being violated.  It is a two way street.  Think about it. If you are a business owner or in management and one of your employees does something that you think reflects badly on your business and may hurt your business would you fire them? You bet your ass you would and it doesn’t matter for what reason politics, religion or even your sense of humor.

What old Hank did was so stupid it defies imagination but he could say it. Fox didn’t cut away as he shot off his mouth, he wasn’t censored.  While his words and tenor were unbelievably stupid they were not illegal.  However I don’t blame ESPN for firing his sorry ass.  Hank is no victim of political correctness he shot his own balls off and I don’t care if he works ever again or he overcomes this and his career recovers.  However, he can say what he wants and believe what he wants and if he was prosecuted by the government for voicing those beliefs I would defend his Free Speech rights.  But that is not the case here.

Now I do have a lot of strong feelings about the often capricious ways that businesses use their liberty to mistreat or silence workers for speaking their political and religious beliefs in the workplace.  However if one wants to say that businesses should be free to do what they want to increase profits and market share without government interference then one has to expect that businesses will do best for business. Profit and not Free Speech is their number one concern.  Many celebrities and ordinary citizens have found this out before Hank; he can just join the club.  Heck, I’m no celebrity but it happened to me too… boo hoo Hank. Boo hoo. I’ll cry in my beer with you.  Wow that rhymed.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under celebrities, football, laws and legislation, Loose thoughts and musings, Political Commentary