Friday, December 20, 2013

The First Amendment & The Duck Dynasty Debacle

At some point last night, I put my phone down and sighed. It seemed like everyone on the internet was completely and totally preoccupied with the controversy over the words spoken by Phil Robertson and the resulting moves A&E made in their wake. 

I would like to discuss the First Amendment issue here since that seems to be the most talked about online. Essentially, there isn't one. Really. I say this not just as an opinion based on what he said and whether I think it should be protected speech, but as someone who has actually studied Constitutional Law in depth.

The First Amendment protects against governmental intrusion upon the freedom of speech. Phil absolutely has the right to say whatever he wants to here. He has not been arrested, detained or silenced by the government for doing so.

What he doesn't have the right to, is to say whatever he wants to say without consequence. His public persona is one that A&E has a right not to do business with, and if he says something they take issue with, there is no obligation on their part to keep employing him.

Their decision to suspend him from filming in the wake of these events is purely a business one...and in all likelihood a smart one, at that. Those who call for public support of the Duck Dynasty show, those who are going out and purchasing DD merchandise to show their solidarity are actually supporting A&E, who has the licensing rights to the merchandise, and who should be the target of their frustration.

In fact, this controversy has resulted in a huge amount of publicity for both the show and the network, which makes the cynic in me wonder if it wasn't all staged.  Particularly since it's a week before Christmas. Hmm.

It is the industry, after all.

If you want to make the argument that their personas aren't manufactured (or at least embellished) for television because it's a reality show, you should check out what the family (already wealthy from the duck call sales) looked like before they were on TV. Go look at that, then tell me it's not all for show.

Told you I am a cynic.

I have had a few people ask me if I am annoyed that he was even asked what he was in the interview in GQ. The short answer is no. I'm not surprised by much, actually, and it's pretty clear that the questions were asked because they would be answered, and those answers would get a lot of attention. Reporters like a story with traction, and this one had a ton of it.

Personally, I wasn't surprised by what he said in the GQ interview. Frankly, I'm not sure that A&E was. They certainly shouldn't have been. I will not even get into what he said or didn't say, because at the end of the day, that's not important. He has his views, he is entitled to have them, he is entitled to speak them, and though I may not agree with him, that's not important to this discussion.

Trust me when I say that those discussions are all over the internet right now if you are interested in finding them. I'm not about to start one here.

Being entitled to having and speaking those opinions, though, doesn't confer any protections in the private world of employment.

It seems that some of the people rushing to his defense, as well as those in a hurry to attack him haven't read the article itself. Whether he should say what he did is a subjective question, but whether he can is an objective one. He can and he did, but that doesn't mean that he should be insulated from the effects of his words. The lack of said insulation isn't a Constitutional issue.

As a writer, words are my medium. I say things. I have opinions. I write them and put them out there for the world to see. I don't get to tell the rest of the world that they have to listen to what I say, but they can't decide not to associate themselves with me based on what I write. Neither does Phil. The people who read what I write can absolutely choose to stop talking to me, stop reading what I write, stop being my fans, even stop being my friends.

It has happened before, it will happen again.

I don't live in a fantasy world where I am covered in bubble wrap and fully insulated from the effects of what I do and say.

Neither does Phil.

A&E can decide they don't want to do business with him moving forward.

And it has nothing to do with the First Amendment.


  1. Excellent post and discussion of constitutional law relative to the First Amendment concerning the facts and circumstances in the instant case.


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