Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

'Duck Dynasty' network's hypocrisy

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
December 24, 2013 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Jase, Si, Willie and Phil Robertson star in the A&E television series "Duck Dynasty." The popular reality show follows a Louisiana family that became rich through Duck Commander, a business making products for duck hunters. Jase, Si, Willie and Phil Robertson star in the A&E television series "Duck Dynasty." The popular reality show follows a Louisiana family that became rich through Duck Commander, a business making products for duck hunters.
HIDE CAPTION
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Phil Robertson's role in future "Duck Dynasty" shows unclear
  • He says the network that airs the show is continuing to profit from it
  • New episodes are to be aired in January, and there's a holiday marathon
  • Navarrette: Network gains from the Robertson persona, which it helped create

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- This Christmas, enjoy the turkey and roast beef. But do yourself a favor, and skip the duck.

This whole controversy over A&E's hit show "Duck Dynasty" is whacked. Better make that "quacked."

First, the network puts Phil Robertson, the family patriarch, on indefinite suspension for making insensitive remarks in a magazine interview. Then, the rest of the family rallies around their leader and suggests that the hit show will not go on without him.

Ruben Navarrette
Ruben Navarrette

As you probably know unless you've spent the last couple of weeks crouching in a duck blind, Robertson -- in paraphrasing a Bible verse -- appeared to liken homosexuality to bestiality and used crude language to describe his own sexual preference. In speaking to GQ magazine, he also seemed to minimize the discrimination that African-Americans suffered in the South before the civil rights movement.

Criticism of Robertson poured in, but so did support for one's right to express oneself.

The patriarch responded: "I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different than me."

'Duck Dynasty' star breaks his silence

In fact, Robertson claims he and his family are the ones who have been treated disrespectfully -- by the producers of the show, and the entertainment industry in general.

In an interview two months ago with the Christian Post, Robertson said that television editors in Los Angeles "with no moral compass" have routinely manipulated the show's footage to intensify the language and make the family appear more profane and unruly than they really are.

"They inserted fake beeps like somebody had used profanity, but no one had used profanity. If you want that, you can get all of that you want," Robertson continued. "Just turn the station. There's plenty of that! And if we're not using profanity, why make it look like we're using profanity? What is the point? Why don't you just run it and say what we say?"

Eventually, he said, producers gave in and "quit doing that." According to Robertson, the editors also took out the phrase "in Jesus' name" when the family prayed.

It makes you wonder exactly how much reality is behind some of these reality shows.

And now, it looks like the whole spectacle of Robertson being taken to the woodshed by the network could be part of the show. According to Entertainment Weekly, A&E will -- starting January 15 -- air new episodes of the show that will include scenes featuring Robertson.

These new episodes were already in the can. Still, if A&E is sincere in its outrage over what Robertson said, then it should stop trying to profit from the show he helped make successful.

Michael Feeney, senior vice president of corporate communications for A&E, told me that since filming isn't set to resume until the spring, the network has not yet had to make a decision on Robertson's role. He said he couldn't comment on the Christian Post interview.

Despite the fact that an average of 14.6 million Americans tune in each week to track the adventures of the Robertson family when you count DVR recordings, I've never understood the appeal. For me, the question isn't why Phil Robertson was suspended. The real mystery is why he and his family -- who run a successful business making supplies for duck hunters -- have a television show in the first place.

I have a theory. Here is what you need to keep in mind as you waddle through this controversy: The reason that "Duck Dynasty" is on television is to make liberal studio executives at A&E, and parent company Disney feel superior, while making big profits for the studio.

The Robertsons are on television so that people in New York and Los Angeles -- the kind of folks who refer to anyplace in between as "flyover country" -- can feel progressive and enlightened by comparing themselves to simple country folks in Louisiana who, according to the elites, are neither. (And can make lots of money doing so.)

"Duck Dynasty' is this era's ode to "Amos 'n' Andy." In that show -- which aired on radio and television from the 1920s through the 1960s and which was created, written and produced by white people -- Americans were given the opportunity to laugh at African-Americans, adding insult to the injury that this group of citizens was already sustaining before the civil rights movement.

Now, Americans have a new group to laugh at -- a self-described "bunch of rednecks from Louisiana."

Here's the irony. This show is successful at least in part because the characters say things that many Americans consider colorful and crude. It makes them interesting. That's the schtick of the Robertson clan.

Now Phil Robertson is in hot water for staying in character and saying something colorful and crude. That is, Robertson was suspended for doing in print what he has, for the last four years, been paid to do on television.

That's awfully hypocritical of A&E. The network is embarrassed and would surely like to distance itself from the Robertson family. However, it seems, it would like to stay acquainted with the millions of dollars the show generates each year.

The network should be embarrassed. Not by what Robertson said; it couldn't control that. It should be embarrassed about what it could control: the way it responded and the mess it made of this situation.

In discussing this story, commentators have been talking a lot about rights. Robertson had the right to express his opinion. The network that has chosen to co-mingle its brand with the Robertson brand had the right to suspend him. Viewers who support the family have the right to boycott the network.

But with rights come responsibilities, and -- as far as A&E executives are concerned -- they include the responsibility to avoid the hypocrisy of continuing to profit from a persona they created that they now claim to find offensive.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think the "Duck Dynasty" holiday marathon is well under way.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT