Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

'Duck Dynasty' network's hypocrisy

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 2:39 PM EST, Tue December 24, 2013
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
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
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
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT