Why Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson — and not Alec Baldwin — became a cause célèbre

Both men got kicked off TV for perceived homophobic slurs. Nobody stuck up for Baldwin, but Robertson is now a free-speech martyr.

(Image credit: (Karolina Wojtasik/A+E))

On Wednesday, GQ published an interview with Phil Robertson, the patriarch on the A&E hit reality show Duck Dynasty. "We're Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television," Robertson told GQ's Drew Magary. That means, Robertson added, that he and his Louisiana hunting family believe America would improve with a little repentance and love of God. Then things got dicey.

For repentance of sins, Robertson told Magary, "start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men." Then he paraphrased a passage from St. Paul's letters to the Corinthians: "Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won't inherit the kingdom of God." And then, this:

It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical. [Robertson, to GQ]

The reaction was swift: Gay rights group GLAAD warned that "Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families." A&E said it was "extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ," and placed him on indefinite leave from the show.

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The counter-reaction was equally fast. Sarah Palin was one of the first conservatives to jump to Robertson's defense:

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Robertson's governor, Bobby Jindal (R-La.), made a similar point, misinterpreting the First Amendment but making the fair point that "it is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended." Mollie Hemingway offered a more nuanced, theological defense of Robertson at The Federalist, suggesting that he "knew exactly what he was doing" in the GQ interview and clearly "doesn't give the slightest damn what big-city yuppies will think of him." RedState's Erick Erickson found a silver lining:

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But it wasn't just conservatives standing up for Robertson's right to express his views. MSNBC's Don Lemon said it's best to "err on the side of free speech," and "the marketplace should decide" the Duck Dynasty patriarch's fate, not A&E executives. Here's Salon's Alex Pareene, possibly commenting un-ironically:

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Townhall's Katie Pavlich unintentionally hits on an interesting point here:

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Baldwin was fired from his short-lived, long-sought MSNBC show in November, after reports that he yelled homophobic slurs at a photographer. GLAAD did push for his ouster, and celebrated the message his subsequent firing sent.

There was no great outpour of conservative protestations about defending free speech when the liberal Baldwin was canned — or, a bit later, MSNBC host Martin Bashir, for making a rude comment about Palin. And there was no big liberal uproar over those departures, either. Baldwin, stung, could have been a Fox News guest when he blamed "the fundamentalist wing of gay advocacy" for his show being killed.

Self-described "libertarian RINO" Chris Barron called out the apparent #hypocrisy:

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There is clearly an element of partisan bias here. Baldwin is an outspoken liberal, so why should conservatives be upset that his voice was taken off the air, even if it was for allegedly calling a paparazzo a "cocksucking fag"? It's easier for conservatives to rally behind Robertson, a born-again Christian who was expressing his homophobia in the context of his particular brand of Christianity.

Also, Barron's critique isn't entirely fair. Fox News' Sean Hannity says that firing people for expressing their views is a "slippery slope," asserting that he never called for Baldwin or Bashir to be ousted, either. Ed Morrissey similarly protests:

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On the whole, though, conservative commentators are outraged over the suspension of the Duck Dynasty star and anywhere from gleeful to uninterested about Baldwin losing his show.

Either way, if two people get booted off the air for anti-gay statements, is that really so bad? Barron again:

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But that's probably not true: Some bigots are winning. If anything, this kerfluffle raised Robertson's profile and cultural cachet. Baldwin lost the support of some of his natural ideological allies. While the episode will be added to his list of cultural demerits, he's a good actor; he'll recover. But neither outburst should have come as a surprise to anyone even casually familiar with Robertson or Baldwin.

So let's end on this suggestion:

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Peace in our time.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.