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Phil Robertson’s Edited America

| December 29, 2013

Phil Robertson likes fictional history.

Phil Robertson likes fictional history.

Even as I write these words, I have to admit that, like you, I never want to read another word about “Duck Dynasty” and its hirsute star, Phil Robertson. In case you missed it on the Friday after Christmas, the A&E network decided to lift the suspension it had imposed on Robertson for his unfortunate remarks about gays and black people–a suspension that wasn’t a suspension at all because Robertson won’t miss appearing in a single episode of this weirdly successful show. As if we had any illusions to the contrary, ratings and dollars carried the day for Robertson, whose clan had announced it would not work with A&E unless Daddy Phil was included.

So, I hear you ask, why does all this matter? The answer is not complicated: Bigoted remarks uttered in the privacy of one’s living room or around a dinner table are lamentable, but the damage they do is confined to a small audience. When expressions of prejudice and ignorance are spouted by people in the public eye there is a cost to all of us. And while the usual suspects—Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal—cheered Robertson on in the name of free speech and freedom of religion, this episode has nothing at all to do with the First Amendment or that favorite target of the right, “political correctness.”

In a way, A&E bears a large measure of responsibility for Robertson’s remarks by turning a backwoods entrepreneur into someone whose opinions are sought. Public figures—politicians, entertainers, professional athletes, corporate CEOs—are taught to understand that their words, published or broadcast, resonate well beyond their own private circle. And when public figures preach ignorance—recall John Rocker and Michael Richards–they deserve to take a fall. Phil Robertson apparently built a successful business, but for six decades he had lived his life out of the public eye. Thanks to the curious phenomenon known as reality TV, Robertson, courtesy of A&E, suddenly became a celebrity, and what had been his private prejudices became news when he was interviewed by GQ magazine.

Robertson’s comments about gays, cloaked in religious dogma, touched off an immediate firestorm, but his observations about blacks in the Jim Crow South prompted an oddly muted response. As it happens, my wife and I were in Charleston, S.C., last month when we returned to our hotel room and read Robertson’s remarks. Less than an hour earlier we had toured Charleston’s Old Slave Mart Museum, which presents a raw history of slavery in all of its barbaric ugliness. Elsewhere in Charleston, which was the nation’s capital of enslavement right up until the end of the Civil War, we viewed the artifacts of a society that, as soon as Federal troops were pulled out of the South by President Rutherford B. Hayes, began exacting revenge on its black citizens.

A quarter-century later, the Supreme Court, by a 7-1 vote, affirmed “separate but equal”–which was anything but–in its shameful Plessy v. Ferguson decision. What followed was 50 years of lynching, terror and the disenfranchisement of black voters. If I had one wish for Robertson and the cowardly politicians who rushed to his defense, it would be to spend a few days in Charleston, as well as at a good public library, learning the truth about the history of race in this country. Had Robertson opened his eyes in the first 30 years or so of his life, he probably would not have told GQ that, “Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

Many Christian conservatives insist that Robertson was well within the bounds of his faith when he preached his particular brand of bigotry against gays. What we have not heard, you might notice, are historians leaping to defend his portrait of Southern history between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights era. Nevertheless, Daddy Phil, rich and quotable, as well as his apologists, need to be held to account for presuming that fame is synonymous with wisdom.

As for A&E, the network will continue to make millions by offering us the carefully-edited version of Robertson and his brood. But having given him a pass on a script they couldn’t control, A&E is declaring that Robertson’s distorted view of the world is really no big deal.

Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. Reach him by email here.

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22 Responses for “Phil Robertson’s Edited America”

  1. Otis Wilbury says:

    Would Bobby Jindal be ok if Phil Robertson called him a dot head?

  2. Ron says:

    Curiously, I don’t recall Palin, Cruz or Jindal touting the Constitutional right to free speech of Alec Baldwin or Martin Bashir when they made their questionable comments.

    Wonder why?

  3. PC resident says:

    I watch Duck Dynasty, and I am not surprised as to the comments as I was raised in the region of this show’s location. When I became an adult, I moved to a northern region that had moved on from slavery around the time of Lincolin’s proclamation. It was there that I realized I had been raised to be racist. In the middle 80’s I specifically remembered a color child had enrolled into our school, I over heard a teacher say, “there is a black kid in the school now.”

    I look back to that and where my wife grew up they did not teach kids about skin color. I do not teach my kids to recognize skin color, and if I hear a child mention it, it is learned from the child’s parents or schooling! I understand that Phil was raised into a demographic that had different views as other societies in the USA. If he has not been enlightened then you can’t expect different.

    I don’t hold him liable or A&E, it is what it is at this point. Stop beating a dead horse on this one.

    • Anonymous says:

      @PC Resident says–Historical ignorance is not an excuse for the continued existence of racism. Mr. Duck Dynasty is making a pretty good buck for putting himself out there and he has to deal with the consequences of his actions and his words. If everyone accepted the rationale that you put forward in your argument, the human race would never progress beyond a caveman mentality. This is not an OK attitude to teach our children.

  4. barbie says:

    In case you hadn’t heard, Mr. Duck Dynasty here also is quoted thusly in another source (source is YouTube, link is easily found on a search)

    “Video has surfaced of Robertson giving a speech in 2009 at the Sportsmen’s Ministry in Georgia, where he suggests that men should target 15-16 year-old girls for marriage — because they’re basically over the hill at 20. “Look, you wait ‘til they get to be twenty years-old and the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket. You got to marry these girls when they’re about fifteen or sixteen and they’ll pick your ducks.”

    The guy is disgusting.

  5. Todd Gann says:

    My view of this situation takes on a different light, if you will. First, I have never viewed one signal episode of Duck Dynasty. Do I think he was being denied his First Amendment rights? Absolutely not. I do however think he has seen the consequences of free speech and the damage it brings with it. My issue is not what was said, but the rediculous reaction of the public in general. Get a grip people! Or should I say “Get a life!” Do I really care what Phil Robertson thinks? No. And nor should anyone else for that matter. We as a nation have bigger fish to fry, so to speak. We have a government that is Hellbent on dissolving our republic before our very eyes, veterans losing benefits, the price if gas approaching $4.00 a gallon, unemployment, and a inept president who lies to the people of this nation everyday, and all you can worry about is what Phil Robertson said about homosexuals in GQ magazine! I think we as a nation should get our priorities in order! Phil Robertson will be just fine with or without A&E and it’s liberal cesspool. His net worth is just around $400 million. So when it comes down to it, you need to ask yourself which is more important, what Phil Robertson thinks or what is real that effects your immediate life?

  6. DLF says:

    I guess we are still allow to voice are feelings in America, you may not like them but you have no right to stop them. I do not like the “N” word nor do I choose to use it, however I do not want some liberal media rep. telling me I cannot use it. I was surprise Bill Clinton did not come to the rescue, do we remember the remark he made about Obama, oh, I forgot that was a liberal speaking and they can say whatever they choose without being censored by the liberal press. I for one grow tired of the press using the race card whenever they are at a loss for a sound debate , this article proves my point.

  7. ohmy says:

    To the author:

    When expressions of prejudice and ignorance are spouted in the public eye”?

    OK, so now you are deciding what’s prejudiced or bigoted? Sorry, folks should say what they think– I’ll decide what category it belongs in although I know that irritates the ” thought police”.

  8. Ducky says:

    Next time take a trip up to the northern states and go into the inner cities. Let’s see how you feel about blacks if you make it out. Your liberal BS is worse then any “backwoods” person could ever say.

  9. tom jack says:

    Remember it was blacks who captured and sold other blacks into slavery just as they continue to do today in parts of Africa. Also remember that in ancient times it was normal for people of ALL colors and nationality to be held as slaves with no better treatment than slaves of the early Americas.

    • Anonymous says:

      @tom jack says–And that is your rationale for slavery and racism, in our country’s past and present? Well, THAT speaks volumes….

  10. DJSII says:

    Keep in mind that Robertson is a backwoods entrepreneur with a Masters Degree who created and owned a multi-million dollar business long before A&E came along and “offered him a job”.

    Do I personally believe that homosexual lifestyle is wrong and immoral? – Yes.
    Do I care, at all, if someone is engaged in a homosexual lifestyle? – No.

    Does this view of homosexuality make me a bigot? Maybe in the eyes of some. I also don’t agree with the current socialist agenda. Does that make me a bigot? I guess that anyone could interpret another’s views as bigoted if they don’t agree with their own.

    I happen to like the old Cristian adage that goes something like “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you” I don’t believe that I should have to agree with someone (or someone’s lifestyle) in order to treat them with respect. I don’t believe that it is within my purview to judge someone for their beliefs or their lifestyle.

    If you believe in God then you understand that he will judge you at the moment of your death; and that is the only judgment that counts.

  11. never reading again. says:

    Steve Robinson, I will never visit flaglerlive again. That is all.

  12. Anonymous says:

    My parents raised to keep in mind there are three things to not discuss in a healthy marriage or friendship: religion, politics or abortion. GQ should have never opened their mouth and asked such questions to Phil Robertson, or any guest for that matter. Unless their intent was to cause controversy. In this case, they beyond succeded. I found his remarks about genitals more disgusting than his remarks about anything else. His lack of judgement in today’s society actually made me laugh, as well as the fact of simply stereotyping him; you HAD to of known this is how he would feel. And if you didn’t, well then, you’ve never watched the show… Use your imagination….

  13. Sherry Epley says:

    Unfortunately our civilization has deteriorated to the place where controversy and disgusting, outrageous points of view gain audience share and “make money”. . . and that’s what it’s ALL about! We have sold our souls, and now worship the “golden calf” of maximizing PROFITS by dishing out garbage to those who love it!

  14. Anonymous says:

    The popularity of this show explains a lot about why our country is in the shape it’s in…and that has nothing to do with Obama or Liberals. Politicians who appeal to the lowest common denominator in us are only doing so for attention and power and for their own personal gain. Mr Duck Dynasty is a symbol and unfortunate symptom of that sad sick truth.

  15. Steve says:

    I figured that before someone brings it up I would take it upon myself to comment on the Mitt Romney/MSNBC fiasco. Call it a preemptive strike. The fact that this was a planned segment on Melissa Harris-Perry’s show makes it even more inexcusable. I wonder how many staffers at MSNBC have gone through the difficult task of adoption, much less adopting someone of a different race or ethnicity. The network–which has recently had to can two of its on-air personalities for unacceptable remarks–clearly has to look at how it is running its shop. Having spent a chunk of my career in a TV news environment, I can say that producers should have stopped the segment in its tracks at pre-show planning meetings. When “the talent” decides that something is funny, when it is in fact offensive, it is the role of producers to say no. Whether you come at issues from the left or the right, it would appear that MSNBC’s managers have lost control of the troops.
    Happy New Year to all!

  16. Freddimac says:

    Where is your article on Melissa Harris-Perry and the clowns at MSNBC commenting about Romney black grandchild? Why not lump them in with Sara Palin and Cruz? Why point out just one sides idiots.

    • Steve says:

      Freddimac, please see my comments right above yours. I will say, though, that MSNBC has shown a willingness to dump people who get tripped up by their own words. As for A&E, looks like they’re stuck with Daddy Phil and his endorsement, while holding a Bible, of men marrying girls at “15 or 16.”

  17. Mr. D says:

    Well since equality and affirmative action was established what has happened. It was neither affirmative or equal. Area’s with non- Caucasian Populations are riddled with violence & drugs all perpetuation upon themselves where the majority of the residents are supported by the taxpayers. To the point that generation upon generation are breed to expect everything be provided for them with entitlements to include the latest model cell phones, cable TV and laptops. So how has a half white president in the oval office helped? It hasn’t, it seems the Demoncrats what to foster more dependents in order to ensure that the sheep vote to keep them in power.
    America as an emerging nation could have done just fine had we picked our own cotton.
    But rest assured with the welfare rolls well staffed for generations to come and programs to keep many on it enslaved, the powers that be have set their sights firmly on the next targets at the sake of the taxpayers “The 12 million Illegal Invaders” within our borders. ensuring that they are getting in line to put their needs ahead of the taxpaying citizens.

  18. Anonymous says:

    With the advent of “Duck Dynasty” and “Honey Boo-Boo”, we have now advertised, for all the world to see, how much we, as Americans, value education and intelligent discourse.

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