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Duck Dynasty, Free Speech, and Hypocrisy

I don’t write this every day but sometimes it needs to be said. Liberals have a point. Not about ObamaCare or their plans to increase spending and taxes. But about Phil Robertson and the hypocrisy of some of his conservative supporters who are outraged about the fact that the Duck Dynasty star was suspended for uttering critical remarks about homosexuality as well as some bizarre comments about the Jim Crow era that for some reason got less attention than his conservative Christian take on gays and sex.

Robertson was suspended yesterday by the A&E network that runs the hit reality show about a family business that makes duck calls after an outcry over things the hunting patriarch said in a GQ interview. In response, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said Robertson (who is a resident of his state) was a victim of the “politically correct crowd.” Sarah Palin weighed in with her trademark lowbrow pandering style on her Facebook page:

Free speech is an endangered species. Those “intolerants” hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.

Are they right? Not really.

Robertson is entitled to his opinion about faith, sex, race, or anything else on his mind. But his right to free speech doesn’t entitle him to a job on an A&E show. If the network doesn’t wish to be associated with such views, they are free to tell him to take a hike. For the same reason MSNBC was within its rights to can actor Alec Baldwin when he used a homophobic slur and then lied about it. The same network was also right when it eased Martin Bashir, one of the network’s left-wing opinion slingers, out after he used despicable language about the same Sarah Palin. At that time conservatives (including me) wondered what was going on when for weeks Bashir went unpunished for behaving in such an atrocious manner. Nobody on the right thought Bashir’s right of free speech was at stake. Instead, they correctly identified the issue as the hypocrisy of liberals who are quick to brand conservatives who speak out of turn as extremists and radicals who are primarily responsible for the lack of civility in politics today.

The right to free speech has nothing to do with having a gig on television. No one has a right to such a job and nothing prevents those who run these outfits from choosing who works for them. That applies to Bashir as well as to Robertson.

Those defending Robertson are making a broader point. They fear that anyone who is critical of gays and states it from a conservative theological frame of reference is particularly vulnerable to being singled out for being politically incorrect. There’s something to that, as popular culture has rendered those with negative views about homosexuality, whether rooted in faith or not, as anathema. Gays shouldn’t be subjected to abuse or insults, but the fact that Robertson’s comments about them sparked more outrage than his Christian chauvinism or his idiotic assertion that blacks were happy under Jim Crow tells us a lot about our culture these days.

It should also be pointed out that there’s something odd about A&E punishing a member of the cast of Duck Dynasty for uttering comments that seem in character for a program whose conceit is an opportunity to see backwoods hunters at home, work, and play. But if they think the bearded stars of the hit show shouldn’t offend people in this manner, then they can discharge him–although the suspension for future work would make more sense if they took the reruns that continue to appear on their channel off the air too. Reality shows are peopled largely by outrageous figures that specialize in foolish or vulgar behavior. Jindal wasn’t entirely wrong when he said on Twitter that there was something faintly ridiculous that there was plenty of room in the entertainment business for a trashy vulgarian like Miley Cyrus but none for the likes of Robertson.

But hypocrisy works both ways. Those who are chortling about Jindal and Palin’s support for Robertson were silent when Bashir was trashing the former Alaska governor. Liberals are quick to seize on any outrageous thing said by a figure on the right and shrug their shoulders or ignore it when left-wing politicians, pundits, or TV talkers make hateful or prejudicial remarks.

What we need here is not so much more civility—though that would be nice—but some consistency when it comes to outrage. If you think gays shouldn’t be subjected to negative or prejudicial remarks on TV, then try to be just as interested when people of faith or conservatives are given the same treatment. The same advice applies to conservatives. Selective outrage that is only generated when someone whose political opinions you disagree with crosses the line is what is really turning our public square into a verbal junkyard.


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