Speaking freely

My recent slack blogging schedule means that I didn't get around to addressing the Duck Dynasty kerfuffle as it happened, which is too bad, because there were a lot of points to be made. Still, I'm going to go at it once real quickly. In case you were living under a rock, one of the bearded fellows, Phil Robertson, from the popular A&E show gave a magazine interview and said some strange things about gay people, as True Believers often tend to do. When his comments caused a stir, A&E suspended him for some short amount of time. Predictably, Jesus-y and right-wingy types flew off the handle, shrieking about political correctness and the First Amendment. Eventually, A&E reinstated Robertson.

The main salient point to be made here, one that consistently eludes the grasp of people who want to say whatever stupid things they like without taking any responsibility for them, is that this particular instance has absolutely, positively, nothing at all to do with the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Nothing. As my good friend Mudbus Chuck, a lawyer, succinctly put it: there's no government actor here, therefore it cannot be a Free Speech case. Simple.

Obviously, those who rushed to Robertson's defense chose not to see it that way. I thought this was America! This is a free country! He's entitled to his opinion! He can say what he wants!

Yes, he can. And A&E can suspend him for it. As Matt Taibbi wrote, "you can get fired for calling your boss a dick," and this is no different. A&E judged Robertson's comments to be inappropriate, and perhaps something that might jeopardize their relationship with the show's sponsors, so they elected to suspend Robertson. There's nothing even vaguely illegal or free speech-suppressing about this.

Interestingly, the same types who criticized A&E and defended Robertson are the same ones consistently haranguing about the evils of government and singing the praises of private enterprise. A&E is, last I checked, a private enterprise. Shouldn't they be free to discipline their employees as they see fit? As someone who actually understands what the First Amendment protects and what it doesn't, I can construct my view towards these sort of situations logically, using two steps.

First, is it a Free Speech issue? In this case, no. In some cases, yes. You'll note that I don't need to interject my personal views at this stage: I just need to see whether there's a government actor interfering with the freedom of speech of private citizens. If Robertson had gone on record quoting large swaths of The Francis Blog and A&E suspended him, I would still conclude that: no, this is not a free speech issue.

Second: what is my view of the network's actions? This is independent of the first question. Those who agree with Robertson's moronic, bigoted comments are free to do so, and are free to disagree with A&E's decision to suspend him. In the hypothetical case of him being suspended for speaking TFB, people with exceptional good taste and intelligence would no doubt take issue with him being punished.

I don't really have an opinion either way on A&E's choice. I don't care about Duck Dynasty even in the slightest, and I fully intend to continue having never seen it. I understand why they did it, and to some extent, it worked out well for all involved: the right wing got to throw their fit, A&E's sponsors were satisfied, and Robertson and the show got a boatload of free publicity. I suppose I would have preferred that A&E not suspend him; not because I in any way condone his idiocy, but because who cares? He's a guy on a show about guys who make duck calls - what did you think he was going to say? Why make a big deal about it?

Here's my press release if I'm a network spokesperson: "A&E read the things Phil said in the magazine. They were dumb. Let's all move on." Things are easy in Alternate Francis Universe.


Dr. Chicago said...

Can you please work harder to make the Alternate Francis Universe a reality? I would love to live in a world where common sense reigns.

Andy said...

Somehow, my posting on this blog has failed to make AFU a reality ... I'll keep trying, though.

Reid Brown said...

I will never understand Amerika's obsession with the exploits of people who "made it" because some relative a generation or more ahead of them made a lot of money. The inbred white-trash country-fuck redneck descendants of the guy who invented the duck call, the various Khardashians, anybody named "Hilton," the current and previous generations of Steinbrenners, Donald Trump, etcetera. I bunch of spoiled punks who were born on third base and thought they hit triples, and they are lauded as examples of What Makes Amerika Great. Fuggit, just post some pictures of cats, ok?

-- Mister X