Well, that didn’t take long. A week after the A&E network suspended production of Duck Dynasty due to show patriarch Phil Robertson's homophobic remarks in GQ, A&E blinked. And Robertson is back.
In its defense of ending the suspension, A&E officials say that Robertson expressed his personal beliefs, not the network’s, and that the show isn’t about his beliefs.
The network will also begin airing public service announcements that promote “unity, tolerance, and acceptance.”
Duck Dynasty is a financial bonanza for A&E. It’s a reality show takeoff on the Beverly Hillbillies where backwoods thinking is elevated to new heights of Americana. Duck Dynasty isn’t just about waterfowl; it's more about family dynamics and regional culture. And the show has millions of fans as well as multiple merchandising deals.
Some media industry observers came to the early conclusion that A&E couldn’t win this PR battle. If it took a position that chastised Robertson, they would lose viewers and the money that comes with a hit show. If they stood by and silently supported Robertson, they would open themselves up to criticism, particularly from the LGBT community.
A&E’s initial decision to put Robertson on hiatus was the right one. Robertson, citing mostly religious views, compared homosexuality to bestiality. And he’s allegedly made offensive remarks about African Americans, essentially praising the Jim Crow South.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal were among the first politicians to come out in support of Robertson. Palin talked with her usual breadth of knowledge about the Constitution and Robertson’s right to free speech. And Jindal was upset because, he said, no one criticized singer Miley Cyrus for her sexually-charged antics during a recent awards show.
But to Palin’s point, Robertson’s freedom of speech has not been denied. He has the right to say what he wants, but that doesn’t mean there are no consequences for such disturbing comments. Just ask former MSNBC host Martin Bashir.
And Jindal is just plain wrong. Cyrus was both widely admired and criticized for her public display. But more importantly, as offensive as some viewers may have found Cyrus, she did not give an interview talking about gays and God or the virtues of racism.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see that A&E’s damage control is short-lived. It frequently isn’t long before individuals like Robertson say or do something else equally provocative, partly because they often feel vindicated by decisions like A&E’s.