New Castle News

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December 23, 2013

Mitchel Olszak: ‘Duck Dynasty’ star dodges flak

NEW CASTLE — I must admit that I do not watch the television program “Duck Dynasty.”

In fact, I don’t watch any so-called “reality” TV shows. I have my own reality, thank you very much.

From what I can tell, these programs are about as real as professional wrestling. Despite that, they appear to be very popular.

And “Duck Dynasty” is supposedly one of the hottest things on TV right now. It’s about a Louisiana family whose main claim to fame is a successful business that manufactures duck calls. And the episodes are about things that happen in their lives.

It’s all pretty low-key, folksy stuff that seems geared not to offend. But then one of the family members, Phil Robertson, agreed to an interview by GQ magazine, in which he made several anti-gay comments and also spoke of blacks and the civil rights movement in seemingly dismissive terms.

The comments sparked an uproar of sorts — no doubt from people who don’t watch the show. And this led A&E, the cable network that airs “Duck Dynasty,” to suspend Robertson.

This, naturally, prompted a reaction against A&E, with people demanding Robertson’s return, with threats to boycott the network added to the mix.

But if people do that, how will they keep tabs on all those storage container auctions?

If I sound like I am trivializing this dustup, that’s because I am. I don’t care what happens to Robertson’s television career, “Duck Dynasty” or A&E.

However, I think this whole episode offers a useful lesson on free speech and what it means in America.

Apparently, Fox News has taken time out from its ongoing effort to alert us about the war on Christmas to defend Robertson. Various commentators on that network have touted his First Amendment rights and blasted A&E for attempting to silence him.

Of course Robertson has First Amendment rights. And he appears to have exercised them in the GQ article. But having the right to free expression does not translate into unchallenged acceptance on the part of others.

Here at the New Castle News, I am sometimes obliged to reject letters to the editor because they are libelous. The writers occasionally accuse me of violating their First Amendment rights.

But that’s false. While they have the right to express themselves, they don’t have the right to have the newspaper publish their views.

Furthermore, people who make foolish or inflammatory comments need to understand that while the First Amendment may grant them the right to do so, it does not protect them from criticism. Individuals who hold opposing views also have the First Amendment right to express them.

People who vociferously demand their rights in this regard sometimes overlook the fact that those rights come with responsibilities. You may have the ability to say or write something ridiculous, but be prepared for the consequences when others object.

So Robertson has the right to say what he did. A&E has the right to act in what it views are its interests by suspending Robertson. And fans of “Duck Dynasty” have the right to protest and boycott A&E as a result.

It’s all one big burst of American-style free expression that would do James Madison proud.

Eventually, of course, all of this will blow over and some other matter of crucial cultural significance will capture the nation’s attention. Maybe one of those TV chefs will say something bad about kale.

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