Thursday, December 19, 2013

TV Personality Suspended. Free Market Advocates Support the Rights of the Network. Oh, Wait . . .

I've never seen an episode of Duck Dynasty. But, I'm familiar with the premise and that the individuals featured on the show have become extremely popular. I also know that one of the elder statesmen of the program made some comments recently in an interview with GQ magazine regarding homosexuality and his own (very descriptive) preference for the female anatomy, and this has led to his indefinite suspension by the A&E network.

A&E made a business decision and now we will see what happens. Will the network regret the suspension as millions of Duck Dynasty fans decide to boycott any of the programming A&E offers (and we all know the sacrifice that comes with foregoing Bad Ink and Shipping Wars)? Will A&E find legions of new fans for its ideological stand?

Let's take ourselves back in time about a decade. It's 2003 and Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks proclaims that she isn't exactly a fan of then-President George W. Bush. The backlash from country radio is instantaneous. Stations across the country refuse to play The Dixie Chicks' songs. Gatherings are held so that people can be outraged together as they stomp on CDs and burn them. The future earning potential of both Maines and her two fellow band mates undoubtedly was forever altered by one sentence Maines uttered in an interview.

All of you who are now decrying the end of free speech for Christians due to Phil Robertson's suspension, I wonder if you also were standing up to the radio stations and yelling, "Hey, you better play 'Cowboy, Take Me Away'! That young woman was just exercising free speech. You can't hurt her livelihood because of that!"

It's the same thing.

I think Natalie Maines said something stupid. I think what Phil Robertson said was incredibly stupid as well. And, as I hope my fellow free market thinkers would agree, there are consequences to your actions. The consumers will decide if they still want your product. 

If A&E made a bad decision by suspending someone on its most popular television show and it loses millions of dollars as a result, so be it. If Robertson finds even greater celebrity and voice for his opinions as a result of this incident, so be it. That's market forces and consumer influence at work.

Phil Robertson still has his freedom of speech. The government is not putting him in jail for comparing homosexuals and terrorists in the same breath. He is still free to stand on any street corner and proclaim his views. He can give a hundred more interviews and express his love for the ladies and, thanks to our freedom of the press, it can be published.

Instead, Robertson's private sector employer decided that he no longer represents the network in a way that reflects its beliefs. A&E does not want to be forced to condone behavior/words/actions it finds offensive. If you have a problem with A&E's rights in this instance, then you also better stand on the side of President Barack Obama and the federal government in Hobby Lobby's fight not to have to fund contraception with its company's insurance policies. Do you agree that private entities have the right to make these ethical decisions or not?

If you embrace Phil Robertson's philosophy and choose to end your support of A&E as a result of this suspension, go forth and boycott. I'm all for that. Use the influence of your dollars to make a statement. (Anyone see how long those lines were at Chick Fil-A in support of its owner several months ago?) But don't lament the end of the First Amendment. We still have the right to say whatever we want. And that is partnered with the right of others not to like it.

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