Ducking Stupidity

I’ve heard over the past week that A&E has violated Phil Robertson’s First Amendment rights by suspending him for his recent comments about homosexuality being a sin.

They didn’t.

The First Amendment stands as a shield between citizens and the government. It does not and should not interfere with private individuals. If you work for a company and in the privacy of your own home take to Twitter, Facebook, and various social media to share with the world how much your employer (by name) sucks, you do not have a right to keep your job. Now we know that Mr. Robertson wasn’t saying anything bad about A&E, so don’t confuse the point we’re making here–the example is to illustrate how the First Amendment protects citizens from the government.

This means that government has no business getting involved in the A&E/Duck Dynasty brouhaha, and people saying “there outta be a law” or “A&E can’t do that” don’t know what they’re talking about.

This says nothing of the fact that A&E has bungled this incident with all the grace of the figurative bull in a china shop. It created a reality TV show—with unparalleled success—out of a Christian family that likes to spend time hunting (with guns even! OH NOES!) in the swamps of Louisiana. It then heard a comment from the family patriarch—who is known for being gruffly honest—that an interest group convinced the network was so offensive as to require immediate action.The network then painstakingly considered the situation for about 15 seconds and then decided to suspend one of the stars of arguably the only show on the network that a sizable audience deemed worth watching..

In our view, the dispute is playing itself out largely the way it should: Phil exercised his free speech rights and shared in an interview what he thought was “a sin” these days in response to an interview question.  Phil’s employer made a decision that such views were not in line with their network’s values, and that they did not want to be tolerant of views that were different from their own.  So they indefinitely suspended him. The show’s fan base is, in turn, holding A&E responsible for its decision, with calls, emails, tweets, messages, threats of boycotts, buying or not buying merchandise, etc. In the end, A&E must decide how it will respond—either to stand behind its original decision, or admit that it made a mistake and reverse its decision.  Either way, it’s hard to believe that the network will make a decision outside of its economic interests.

The only legitimate role for government in this case would be for a civil court to settle any contract disputes that may arise from the incident. No new laws needed. No new regulations needed. No government intervention and no ducking stupidity is needed.

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2 Responses to Ducking Stupidity

  1. Amen, Freedom Forge. There is no legal 1st Amendment issue in play here. The free market will decide the fate of both A&E and Robertson. If enough fans leave A&E for suspending Robertson, the station will have been chastised for punishing free speech even though it is well within the rights of the business to do so if it judges Robertson’s speech to be harmful to it’s bottom line. On the other hand, if Robertson judges himself to be aggrieved, he can refuse to renew his contract once his contractual obligations are fulfilled. Only if the contract, or its terms, are in dispute does the court need to get involved. The government is not there to settle every conflict among people—it is not against the law to be mean-spirited, bigoted, offensive, even stupid, by the way. People forget that with all the government interference we have today. (As one Supreme Court justice said said, back when SCOTUS was not a lap dog for the president, it is not up to the court to declare a law unconstitutional just because it’s a stupid law.) Which of the parties is being any of the above is a matter of opinion.

  2. You’re right. But this is a small side-issue to the oppressive power held by mainstream media conglomerates which serve the interests of the government and/or major corporations. Want to know which corporations commit human rights abuses in poor countries? Too bad, you won’t read the story in the newspapers which carry advertising from those companies. Want the government’s lies to be exposed? Too bad, if the heads of the media corporations want the same thing the government wants or if the government is willing to hand them some benefits. You could argue that it is not the role of the government to limit media ownership. Maybe that’s true. But the fact is that tens of millions of Americans are buying major U.S. newspapers every day or watching CBS News or Fox News or whatever. And only a small handful of people are reading websites like yours. Doesn’t it worry you that people like Rupert Murdoch have complete control over most people’s access to information? I just watched this very good documentary on the subject which gives some striking examples of newspapers like The New York Times unquestioningly passing on blatantly bogus government propaganda (Colin Powell’s presentation of “evidence” about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq) and setting out to discredit another newspaper’s reporting about the CIA turning a blind eye to cocaine smuggling into the U.S. by the Contras they were backing in Nicaragua) :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SAUborWbPw

    It’s true that citizens need protection against the government, but there are corporations which are more powerful than the government. Maybe we need a new revolution that involves refusing to buy newspapers owned by the big media magnates and turning off our television sets.

What do you think?