It took less than a day for A&E to indefinitely suspend Phil Robertson, star of its reality television show “Duck Dynasty,” for making anti-gay remarks in an interview with the men’s magazine GQ.
The suspension appears to be the culmination of long-running tensions between Robertson and A&E over his self-described “Bible-thumper” religious views.
In 2012, Robertson told a Christian sporting magazine that “Duck Dynasty” producers had repeatedly censored group prayers which ended in the name of Jesus and also inserted fake audio bleeps to make it look like the family members were using profanity regularly.
Speaking with GQ contributor Drew Magary, Robertson indicated that there were “controversial” things which he would like to say on camera but he was prohibited from doing so by A&E. That led to a discussion about homosexuality which the reality star firmly believes to be a sin. Robertson was rather graphic in describing that viewpoint, at least if the GQ piece has fairly quoted him:
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.” […]
As far as Phil is concerned, he was literally born again. Old Phil—the guy with the booze and the pills—died a long time ago, and New Phil sees no need to apologize for him: “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?” […]
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
Soon after the article was released online, Robertson issued an apology:
I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.
It proved too little, too late, however. In a matter of hours, Robertson had been suspended.
But was Robertson fired for his anti-gay comments? It is easy to say yes, however, the reality television star made a racial remark that has received almost no attention because it was published in a separate article on the GQ website. Headlined “The Gospel According to Phil,” the short sidebar item quotes Robertson as saying the following about black Americans living in segregated Louisiana:
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.
It is difficult to construe the above quote as not being offensively naive. If I had to bet, I would argue that it was the primary reason behind his suspension, even if A&E has chosen not to further publicize it. It is absurd to think that black people living under Jim Crow were ever going to tell a white man about their displeasure with their situation. It is also ridiculous to state that people who were continually forced into "separate and unequal" situations would somehow be "happy" about it.
Still, the statement was almost certainly one made from forgetfulness and not racism since Robertson has been very welcoming of a black grandchild into his family.
While the recent departures of Alec Baldwin and Martin Bashir from MSNBC have shown that media liberals can now be fired for making offensive statements, it is still rather remarkable how much quicker the process works against a person deemed to be aligned with the political right.
Phil Robertson was suspended literally in the same day that his anti-gay comments were published online. By contrast, Bashir “resigned” a full 19 days after he deliberately said on the air that he thought former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin should be force-fed feces and urine. It took 12 days for Baldwin to have his weekend show with the left-wing network cancelled after he was filmed using anti-gay slurs against a photographer, even though the actor has a long history of making offensive remarks against homosexual men.
Outrage, like beauty, seems to be in the eye of the beholder. As NB’s Geoffrey Dickens noted earlier this month, the broadcast network news shows (which continue to have much larger audiences than any cable channel) showed literally no interest in covering the controversy Bashir provoked before his firing. Even afterward, not one of the broadcast networks bothered to cover it.
None of the foregoing is meant to excuse or condone offensive statements. It is worth noting, however, that the terrible swift sword of the national press cuts much more swiftly against public figures perceived as leaning rightward.