'Our Long National Nightmare Is Only Warming Up, I'm Afraid'
A&E reverses course, allows Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson to rejoin his own show. But as Ace notes, "Robertson only gets to speak his mind without punishment because he has millions of fans. The rest of us are not so fortunate":
Our current social understanding of free speech is this: You can speak your mind freely if you have a large enough army of supporters to pressure a company into resisting pressure from a large army of Speech Police.
This is not free speech. This is free speech as an exceptional thing -- only for those with a wide, passionate following -- not as a routine thing.
A&E is a cowardly organization. First it puts Robertson on "indefinite hiatus" under pressure from one group of people, then it puts him back on the air because they've been pressured by a somewhat larger group of people.
At no point did they trip over anything resembling a general principle of speech free from "consequences" of broad application.
While starring in a "reality" show, Robertson's reality in terms of dealing with the legacy media isn't that far removed from a star or producer who waits until his career has sufficient critical mass before coming out as a conservative, a la Kelsey Grammer or Jon Voight.
On the other hand, Deneen Borelli of The Blaze looks at the other side of the equation: at least A&E restored the show before Jesse Jackson could shakedown the network with his ambulance-chasing tactics:
A&E caving to public pressure shows the power that resides with Americans. Armed with social media, Duck Dynasty fans were able to overcome left-wing activists like Jesse Jackson and GLAAD, forcing Cracker Barrel restaurants and A&E to reverse their initial positions.
Moreover, it’s extremely gratifying to see that Jackson and the NAACP are losing influence. Their race card dealings failed showing their waning ability to force change through baseless claims and meaningless press releases.
Still, the bottom line is that regardless of what A&E says to provide cover for itself, Disney, or the Hearst Corporation, Robertson was reinstated only nine days after being indefinitely suspended. Throughout his suspension he did not cower down to A&E. Rather, he said he had simply quoted the Bible in his comments to GQ and made clear that he would not apologize for doing so.
Bill O'Reilly is a big loser here as well. He too kicked Robertson while he was down, criticizing him for quoting the Bible in a way that singled out one group of people.
Phil Robertson won. A&E, Disney, the Hearst Corporation, and O'Reilly lost -- and lost big.
"Robertson-1, Media Industrial Complex-Ø," Kate writes at Small Dead Animals.
But then, the Media Industry Complex, in the form of an otherwise forgotten cable network, should be thanking the ratings gods it was lucky to get together with Robertson in the first place, as Rob Long noted a week ago at Ricochet:
Ten things to consider:
1. Duck Dynasty is the #1 reality (unscripted) television show in cable history. It debuted last season to almost 12 million viewers. Twelve million. Want to hear something fun? On Monday night this week, MSNBC had about 600,000 viewers.
2. The cable outfit on which Duck Dynasty appears, A&E, cannot afford to lose the show. It's holding up the rest of their programming, lifting the network into prominence at a time when the cable universe is engaged in brutal and vicious competition. The only way to survive in the new television business is with break-out programming.
3. You know what works on television? Characters. Not plot, not dialogue, not special effects. Just characters. For the audience, a television show isn't a one-time decision. People become friends—in a weird but meaningful way—with the shows they like because they want to spend time with the characters on the show, either real or scripted. Or should I say, "real," because a lot of these "reality" shows are heavily produced and edited to tease out the bigger personalities.
4. I didn't say you have to "relate" to the characters on television. Or "approve" of them. You just have to find them interesting and likable. Twelve million people "like" the family on Duck Dynasty. I don't think that means that those 12 million people agree with the Biblical interpretations of the patriarch—maybe they do, but they don't have to, enjoying the show doesn't require that -- but every single viewer who watches the show likes the characters and their world enough to actively choose—and that's important: television viewing now is active and choice-driven; gone are the days when viewers would leave the set tuned to a network and watch whatever came next—to devote some time and effort to the show.
According to the London Daily Mail, "The Robertson family has a merchandise empire that is estimated by Forbes to be worth about $400 million -- and their deal with Walmart makes up around half of this."
Forbes estimated that Glenn Beck "earned a staggering $90 million dollars over the last 12 months, more than even Oprah Winfrey, who earned an estimated $77 million," the Daily Caller noted in June. He did so after leaving Fox News to launch The Blaze, his own independent Internet-based video channel. Given Robertson's ratings and fiscal clout, as Glenn Beck did before him, think Robertson is strongly investigating the option of free agency right now after getting royally hung out to dry by A&E? You bet he is.