Friday, December 20, 2013

On Taking the First Amendment in Vain and The Scandal Industrial Complex

There’s been an awful lot of hullabaloo of late in regards to Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson and his recent interview with GQ magazine. Quotes from the interview in which Robertson very particularly and specifically identified why and how he believes gay people are sinners, and also responsible for other kinds of sin as well, “blew up”, to say the least, and now A&E has suspended Phil from his own show.

Immediately, even before the suspension, and now into overdrive following it, a fierce storm began to rage under the auspices of Robertson’s First Amendment Rights.  I have received a number of FB petitions asking me to support Robertson’s First Amendment Rights, to shame A&E for their decision, to rant against the destruction of free expression in the world of political correctness, etc.  

I’m awful big on the First Amendment.  It’s my favorite of the Constitutional Amendments.  My admiration for it is how I ended up in my chosen field.  I believe in it strongly. I believe there’s a reason why it’s first.  I believe freedom of expression is THE penultimate reason our country is something special.  

So why am I not sharing or following the instructions of any of the insistent calls to support Phil? Am I a hypocrite who only believes in the First Amendment when people say something I like? Am I a prisoner to political correctness? Hell no! What I am is someone who understands what the First Amendment is, and what it isn’t. I understand this whole thing doesn’t have a single grain of sand to do with Robertson’s First Amendment Rights.  Walk with me: 

1) I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in Robertson’s right to say anything he wants to! On TV. Off TV. On a street corner. Wherever. In fact, even though I disagree strongly with his opinions, I’d just assume he say them rather than not say them. I prefer it when people speak their truth rather than lie about it.  It lets me know where I stand with them, or not.  

2) The First Amendment is a contract between the US Government and the citizens of the United States.  It says The Government cannot interfere with people’s freedom of expression.  Considering how far and wide (some of) Mr. Robertson's statements have traveled, how much they are being repeated and shared over the Internet and media, often by people who clearly haven’t read the entire article, I think it’s more than fair and obvious to say that Mr. Robertson's freedom of expression is not being limited by The Government in the slightest.  People who had no idea who Phil Robertson was a week ago sure know who he is now, and they know his opinions. Sounds like Freedom of Expression in Action to me.  

3) First Amendment Rights do not exist in the workplace, as people who speak shit about the place they work in public forums often find out.  Companies and organizations have the right to suspend or fire employees who say things that contravene the organization’s image, mission or business. The courts uphold this regularly.  

4) Reality TV isn't REAL or, in other words, Phil Robertson is an employee of A&E, whether he realizes it or not.  Yes, Reality TV works hard in shows like Duck Dynasty to make it look like these guys were just hanging out doing their thing and, whoops!, there happened to be some cameras there, but while The Robertson Family are surely real people who were doing their thing before A&E showed up, Duck Dynasty is an A&E production.  I’m sure that the Robertson's signed contracts with A&E. I’m sure these contracts have behavior clauses in them.  

5) But Kati! He wasn’t ON Duck Dynasty when he said that homosexuality was the sin from which all other manner of sin emanates. He was giving an interview to a magazine! A&E sucks for firing him for doing an interview!  

Nope, sorry. Not an argument. Reality shows hire “personalities”. The personality is something that exists even when the cameras are off.  The personality is something the show wants to promote in all kinds of ways, including setting up interviews with national magazines, or drop ins on TV talk shows or what have you.  I’m sure that the Robertson's contract with A&E specify a certain amount of contractually obligated publicity, and if the GQ article wasn't contractually obligated publicity I will eat my hat.

6) Networks fire people for what they define as embarrassing behavior All The Time.  In fact, less than a month ago Alec Baldwin found himself fired from his MSNBC talk show for hurling a particularly vile homophobic epithet at a photographer, and then compounded his error by accusing Anderson Cooper of being in “The Gay Mafia”.  Now, I guess what I’m wondering is, if you’re about to hit “send” on that “save Phil” message, where were your messages in support of Alec?

They’re nowhere, because Alec Baldwin is the Left Wing's inappropriate drunk uncle. His predicament amused conservatives and embarrassed Liberals and no one is going to start a letter writing campaign to MSNBC on his behalf.  And yet, Alec yelled something angry while being shoved by a photographer, and Phil shared his well thought out, clearly articulated thoughts to a national magazine. Screaming crap on a street corner is practically The Very Definition of Freedom of Speech, which Alec exercised, and after which his rights were not violated.  Neither were Phil’s.

7) Phil joins some auspicious company.  The following is a partial list (because there’s not enough room for a full list) of people fired for saying controversial things, as well as what happened after:

Howard Cosell (Retired for racial slurs) - Wrote bestselling books and had his own talk show.
Don Imus (Fired for ethnic slurs) - Back on the air with a nationally syndicated radio show
Howard Stern (Dropped from Clear Channel for indecency) - Runs two channels on Sirius satellite radio
Juan Williams (Fired from NPR for what some felt were racial slurs) - Now working for Fox News
Isaiah Washington (Fired from cast of Grey’s Anatomy for homosexual slurs) continues to work in TV and film

The point of this list is to show two things. First, media companies fire their on air talent all the time when they feel that they've said something they don’t want to deal with explaining.  Second, Americans tend to be short on memory and long on forgiveness.  I have no doubt Phil Robertson will end up with a talk show, or game show or commentator gig or judge spot on America’s Got Talent.
8) Don’t yell about First Amendment. Write a letter to A&E. If you are really angry about what is happening to Phil Robertson, let A&E know. They are a business. They care about the bottom line. But wait, before you do that may I recommend...

9) Reading the Article First.  Personally I am of the opinion that much of this scandal is being manufactured and we are being manipulated. Why? Well, almost ALL the news and FB memes I have seen about this are about what Robertson said about homosexuals.  If you read the article, you’ll find that in addition to saying some bigoted and all too familiar tropes about homosexuality, Phil says some frankly “hair catching on fire” things about African Americans.  Seriously.  It’s as bad or worse than what he said about gays.  

10) So why don’t you know about that, if you haven’t read the interview?  Well, the “Scandal Industrial Complex” wants to whip you up into a frenzy.  While gay marriage is literally sweeping the nation, there are still 43% of Americans who don’t support it, and on some level or another have feelings that match Robertson's.  That’s 43% of the American public who can be convinced that Robertson is a hero. That he’s just speaking aloud what they believe in their hearts.

There are far far fewer Americans, even of those who oppose gay marriage, who believe that African Americans would be far happier if the Civil Rights movement never happened and who really loved being sharecroppers.  In fact, polls on interracial marriage, which reflect people’s comfort with people from all ethnic backgrounds, show that 87% of Americans are OK with interracial marriage.  That’s a far smaller number of Americans who would get themselves whipped into a FB meme sharing frenzy. Do you think the talking heads on news channels who are devoting untold hours of airtime wailing about Robertson's violated First Amendment Rights don’t know what he said in the article about African Americans?  Of course they do, or at least some of them do, but they’re not bringing it up.  Ask yourself why. 

So, to sum, Robertson's First Amendment Rights have not and are not being violated. Read the article for yourself and don’t let someone else decide what you feel about it. Don’t give in to the Scandal Industrial Complex. That is all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As always, articulate, spot on and eye opening. I love this post. FM. (Faux mom)