A+E, which yesterday thought it had put out a major fire in announcing it had yanked the star of its biggest series over incendiary comments the guy made in GQ, this morning got torched by those who are outraged Phil Robertson got the hook exercising his free-speech rights. So long as the bearded, camouflaged, conservative Christian, non-professional actors of Duck Dynasty were doing nostalgic, old-fashioned, down-homey things, like huntin’, fishin’, drivin’, and havin’ dinner with the family, or making whacky comments like “Y’all on fire – like donut grease,” A+E was happy to put the Robertson clan on the air and count the money that came rolling in.
But when family patriarch Phil Robertson explicitly espoused some of the beliefs the network knew to be the family’s backstory — vaguely citing Bible scripture to GQ in comparing homosexuality to bestiality and prostitution, and using “homosexuals” in the same sentence as “terrorists,” the network went into full “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on at Ricks!” mode:
We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty…His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.
Note to A+E: When a self-professed “Bible-thumper who just happened to end up on television” is doing an interview with GQ, it’s maybe best to have a professional network talent wrangler nearby during that interview to, well, wrangle.
(In his GQ interview, Robertson also explained the Japanese attacked the U.S. in WWII because they did not have Jesus, and noted that his personal observations of black Americans in the pre-civil rights South was that they “were happy; no one was singing the blues.”)
A+E got credit yesterday for reacting swiftly and forcefully to the situation, without actually doing much. Its vaguely worded holding-pattern play involves putting on indefinite hiatus a star of a show that itself is on hiatus (it’s not scheduled to return until January 15) and has already shot many episodes of the new season with Robertson on board. A+E has not explained what the heck “indefinite hiatus” means or how it will work, but, nonetheless, the announcement was praised by some of the LGBT civil rights groups that had savaged the GQ interview. Mission Accomplished, A+E.
Or was it?
This morning, some of the show’s fans who connect with the Robertson’s faith, as well as conservative pundits, and politicos, began wailing on the network. “Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us,” tweeted FNC commentator and reality TV queen Sarah Palin. “It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended,”chimed in Rep. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. “Simply put, Phil Robertson is being censored and punished for quoting the Bible, and A+E’s treatment of him is punitive and highly discriminatory, ” said Chris Stone, founder of a group called Faith Driven Consumer that says it connects “Christian consumers” with “faith-compatible companies,” who launched an IStandWithPhil.com petition drive this morning, calling for A&E network to immediately reinstate Robertson, and apologize to viewers who also hold Robertson’s beliefs.
In the other corner were those arguing A+E has the right to put on “indefinite hiatus” — whatever that means — one of its employees who had caused it embarrassment, and possibly ad dollars, with comments so out of line with company position.
According to some sources, most of the new season had already been shot, with Phil getting his usual on-screen time. By the time the actual Robertson Time-Out Episodes air, the whole thing most likely will have died down, as these things tend to do. On the bright side, owing to the controversy the Season 5 debut is now certain to outstrip the Season 4 debut, which now stands as the No. 1-rated nonfiction series telecast in cable history with 11.8 million viewers.