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 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT