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Phil Robertson, A&E, and GLAAD

Gary North - December 21, 2013
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Reality Check

What A&E has done was best described by astronaut Gus Grissom half a century ago, as recorded for posterity in The Right Stuff. It has committed a deviant act: symbolic bestiality. A&E has screwed the pooch.

A&E has just lost a franchise that generates almost half a billion dollars a year in product sales.

Can you spell "dumb"? The only hope is that buyers do not figure out that they are making money for A&E.

Let's see if Walmart follows A&E's lead.

The Robertsons can cut a deal with Walmart or Target 12 months after the last Duck Dynasty show airs in a few months, if the family decides to start a new show. A&E will then get leftovers.

We see here a failure to honor a familiar principle: count the cost. Choose your tactics accordingly. Do not overplay your hand. The great master of this was the Leftist organizer, Saul Alinsky. He assessed his strength. He assessed his opponents' strength. Then he adopted a plan of action. He understood what it takes for a tiny minority to gain leverage. In Rules for Radicals (1972), he wrote this:

We will start with the system because there is no other place to start from except political lunacy. It is most important for those of us who want revolutionary change to understand that revolution must be preceded by reformation. To assume that a political revolution can survive without a supporting base of popular reformation is to ask for the impossible in politics. Men don't like to step abruptly out of the security of familiar experience; they need a bridge to cross from their own experience to a new way. A revolutionary organizer must shake up the prevailing patterns of their lives -- agitate, create disenchantment and discontent with the current values, to produce, if not a passion for change, at least a passive, affirmative, non-challenging climate. "The revolution was effected before the war commenced; John Adams wrote. "The Revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people. . . . This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments and affections of the people was the real American Revolution." A revolution without a prior reformation would collapse or become a totalitarian tyranny.

From day one, the people at A&E violated this tactical rule.


Phil Robertson is a curmudgeon's curmudgeon. He is almost perfect. As the folks in Hollywood are said to say, it is as if he was sent by central casting.

If you have seen him on Duck Dynasty, you know that he is articulate. He has a peculiar way of speaking, which I noticed almost from the beginning. But his eloquence is unique. It is a strange eloquence. He grabs your attention, not simply because of what he says, but because of the way that he says it. It is no-frills speech. He does not waste a word. And he chooses his words carefully.

There is no question that A&E had no idea that this program would become the dominant cable show in history. There is no way that anybody could have predicted that. Robertson himself did not think it would work. But it did.

The producers of the show initially did their best to suppress its Christian overtones. As Robertson said before the recent flap, by removing references to Jesus whenever possible, the producers tried to make the family something it wasn't. The editors bleeped out words, as if the men were using profanity. The story is here, posted in April 2013.

They pressured Phil to stop praying in Jesus' name. The family then put pressure on the producers to lay off, and the producers, seeing that they had hit pay dirt with the show, capitulated. From then on, when Phil prayed at the dinner table, he began using Jesus's name more often, as is required by Christian ethics. The public may not know this, but Christians are supposed to pray in Jesus' name.

And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do [it] (John 14:13-14).

Robertson lives in a very simple home, located far out in the sticks. He is not motivated by money. His son Willie is already worth $20 million, and Duck Commander, which sells duck calls that Robertson invented, is a $40 million a year business.

In one of the early shows, Robertson says on-screen that he told his son he could do anything he wanted with the business, as long as he got his monthly check. I suspect he is getting a very large monthly check.

Robertson has no debt. He has a lot of money coming in. He never wanted to do the TV show in the first place. He is therefore beyond any negative sanctions that might be imposed by the producers at A&E. The producers at A&E are not used to people being in this situation.

Fame does not mean anything to Robertson, except that he gets invitations to come and present his life story. There are now going to be a whole lot more invitations.

How did this happen? Here's my assessment.


For some reason, which I really do not understand, he consented to an interview by GQ magazine. This is positioned a gentleman's quarterly, meaning a fantasy site/magazine for non-gentlemen. If there has ever been an American male who did not belong in GQ, it is Phil Robertson. The magazine is filled with pictures of good-looking men who are dressed exquisitely. If there has ever been a public figure in America who has not dressed exquisitely, it is Phil Robertson.

Robertson decided to give his opinion on homosexuality. His opinion was stated in the most graphic way that I have ever seen in a mainstream magazine. As I said, he has a power with words. He does not waste them. He gets right to the point. That is his strength, and once he said what he said, GQ could hardly avoid printing them. This was red meat in front of a starving tiger.

Once the statement was published, the activists at GLAAD had to go on the offensive. Not to go on the offensive would have been a sign of cowardice in the eyes of the organization's supporters. It would have cost them donations in December, the biggest month in the year for non-profit organizations. It is an organization that represents a tiny minority of people, but these people have considerable political clout. So, the organization did what it always does, which is put pressure on any organization that has given an audience to someone who criticized homosexual practices. GLAAD demanded that A&E take action.

Succumbing to this pressure, A&E suspended Phil Robertson from the show. It had to do something. Anyway, the executives thought they had better do something.

From the moment that story hit, Robertson's statements to GQ became a sensation. By suspending him, A&E created a firestorm of resistance.

Millions of Christians saw that someone had said in public what they have always believed, but have not talked about publicly in the last 40 years. Then he was placed under negative sanctions in full public view. The response was immediate.

The story broke on Wednesday evening. Matt Drudge immediately made it his lead story.

My wife woke up very early Thursday morning. She got up, logged into Facebook, and found a page called "Stand with Phil Robertson." The people clicking "like" agreed to boycott A&E until Robertson is restored to the show. The site had only been up for a few hours. It already had 79,000 "likes." By the next morning, there were 250,000. By Thursday night, there were over 1 million. By Friday morning, there were 1,250,000.

Then the rest of the Robertson family did what I figured they would do, which is to say, "we're gone." They said they would no longer participate in the show.

A&E has left the re-runs on. It plans to run the next season's shows -- with Phil! This is a half-hearted response to GLAAD, and now they are going to eat an enormous helping of crawfish by restoring Robertson to the show, or else they're going to see the show end. That will hit them where it matters most in Hollywood: the wallet.

Robertson's hostile opinion regarding the practices of homosexuals is shared by the vast majority of Americans. He called this a sin. I don't think most Americans believe this any longer, but American men fully accept his preference for women. This is why GLAAD has a problem. They responded by putting pressure on A&E. They did not resist lighting the fuse.

Within 24 hours, the powder keg blew up. It is now clear to the people at GLAAD that they are facing pent-up opposition, which had not gone public for 40 years. In one 24-hour period, the curtain lifted, and behind the curtain are millions of people who are mad as hell, and are not going to take it any longer.

Legal tolerance is not the same as social acceptance. You can get toleration as a favor: "no harm, no foul." "Live and let live." But you can't get social acceptance as a favor. That has to be earned. You can demand it, but you cannot get it. When you are in a small minority, you would be wise strategically to use the courts to gain legal tolerance. But when you take the step of imposing economic sanctions on those who do not share your views socially, you make a tactical error. This is what GLAAD has done. It was a huge blunder. It has backfired.

To generate a media frenzy like this, there has to be a representative figure. There has to be somebody who takes a hit. There has to be somebody who plausibly represents people who were previously invisible to each other, and were also previously invisible to the Hollywood community. The Internet has made possible the explosion. Millions of Christians have come out of their prayer closets and onto Facebook protest pages.

When they click "like," they are implicitly clicking "don't like." They are clicking "fed up."

The reason why they did this, is clear: their enemies, who really are their enemies, decided to make an example of someone whose ideas these people are committed to, but committed to in silence. A&E unleashed a firestorm of resentment, which has been festering for 40 years.

You know an issue is hot when Drudge puts it as the lead story for three days in a row. It is not just his lead story; he puts over half a dozen of related stories right beside the huge main headline. He is doing this because he is a marketing genius. He can see what people want to read about. They want to read about this. The links are all to articles hostile to A&E. Four days later, Drudge still has it as his featured story.

Robertson did not call for any legal discrimination against homosexuals. He simply described, in graphic terms, what the vast majority of humanity believes today, and which it has always believed. When A&E attempted to impose negative sanctions on him, A&E was imposing symbolic negative sanctions on everybody who agreed with him. Finally, a large chunk of the silent majority made it clear that they have had enough. Too much, in fact.


I do not know if the show can survive if it leaves A&E, changes its name to something like The Robertson Family, and continues as before. I have real doubts that this is possible. The show is based on lighthearted comedy. There is nothing lighthearted about this issue. Maybe the public can make the mental transition to a return to the old format, but on a new network. This transition will not be easy. Everybody in the country knows what has happened. This really is reality TV.

I would be very surprised if A&E buckles. I would be even more surprised if the Robertson family buckles. The network is going to lose the show. The network deserves to lose the show.

Phil Robertson is now a hero to millions of straights. He is a villain in the eyes of GLAAD. There is no way to reconcile this conflict of opinions.

From a cultural standpoint, GLAAD has overplayed its hand. It has enabled millions of people to recognize that they are not alone. This is always the worst nightmare of any minority group which has adopted a policy of activism, suppression, and retaliation. When you seek to impose negative sanctions on a public figure, you had better be prepared for massive public resistance.

For decades, the Christian community has been under assault by its enemies. Christians tend to keep quiet. They assume such hostility is normal, and they live with it. Most minority groups accept this. Jews do not accept it, which is why there is the Anti-Defamation League. Homosexuals do not accept it, which is why there is GLAAD. But a minority group that uses public negative sanctions to get its way is risking massive public resistance by the targeted majority.

A large minority group correctly perceives that Phil Robertson represents them, and that a tiny minority imposed negative sanctions on their representative figure. That was the logic of what GLAAD did, and it is the logic of what A&E did. It has now blown up in a way that neither group could have expected. They should have let the sleeping hound lie.

The headline blared: 'Duck Dynasty' Fallout: GLAAD Reeling From Biggest Backlash in Years, Says Rep. They have overplayed their hand.

If A&E had said something like this, the blow-up would not have happened.

The A&E network does not agree with Phil Robertson's statements regarding homosexuality. But A&E is committed to free expression as a matter of principle. It is the opinion of A&E that Mr. Robertson's statements are unacceptable, and should be rejected by every American. But A&E does not intend to make an example of Mr. Robertson by imposing negative sanctions of any kind. A&E will continue to broadcast Duck Dynasty, which is the most popular cable television show in history.

That would have gotten GLAAD off their backs. They would have gotten the advertisers' money into A&E's bank account. But A&E also overplayed its hand. That is always the risk of a minority group that seems to have been successful in silencing the opposition. Without warning, the opposition gets very noisy.

The Hollywood outlet, Variety, ran this headline: Duck Dynasty' Suspension: Why A&E Played Its Cards Right.

A&E is holding two pair: aces and eights. The Robertsons have a straight flush: king high.

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