Sorry, Duck Dynasty, That’s How Capitalism Works

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

It’s not exactly a shock that Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson is embracing his inner homophobe.


After all, he’s a self-proclaimed “Bible-thumper” who sees his hit reality-TV series as a vehicle for delivering “the good news about Jesus” to folks, “whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists.”

So when he emptied both his barrels in the pages of next month’s GQ—smearing gays and condescending to African Americans—I wasn’t all that surprised and didn’t give it much thought, because life somehow goes on, even when the world’s most famous duck-call purveyor shows his ass in the pages of a national men’s magazine.

And the lesson that Robertson learned this week is that if you feel free enough to describe “pre-welfare” black folks as “singing and happy,” and you lump same-sex love in with “bestiality,” then your network, A&E, and your audience might feel free to put you on “indefinite hiatus.”

Which is, of course, how the free market works.

Prime-time TV isn’t a public-access community bulletin board, and Robertson’s not out there doing this stuff for free—and once his folksy wit took a turn for the ignorant, A&E did what it had to do to protect itself from advertisers who want stay on the good foot with a diverse customer base. 

What’s strange, though, is that a lot of Robertson’s conservative defenders don’t see it that way.

In response to A&E putting the show on hold, Sarah Palin told her Facebook fans that "Free speech is an endangered species” and that the Duck Dynasty haters “are taking on all of us."


Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, who is Robertson’s home-state governor, accused the “politically correct crowd” of being “tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with,” while adding that he could remember a time “when TV networks believed in the First Amendment.”

Sen. Ted Cruz called out the media “thought police” who were “censoring” Robertson’s views, and that “If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson."


But what’s wrong with their comments, as Slate’s Matt Yglesias notes, is that there’s no such thing as “a First Amendment right to a television show.” The government can’t abridge your free speech, but the TV network you work for can drop you like a bad habit any time it wants to.

And what these self-styled conservatives also miss is that for better or worse, the whole chain of events was sorted out quite nicely by the free market—otherwise known, you know, as capitalism.


We live, thankfully, in an age where it’s become bad business to air a show whose leading man spouts Robertson's antiquated views. And although he later said that even if, in his view, “women and men are meant to be together,” he would never “treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me," he’s still got a stance that suggests an intolerance for gays and lesbians—and he’s got an almost comically blinkered view of his one-time “singing and happy” black friends.

As a guy who makes $200,000 per episode, and collects a tidy sum selling his highly sought-after duck calls, Robertson knows better than anyone that in America—in this case, a multicultural, multifaith America—the customer is always right.


Yanking him from the air didn’t violate his right to free speech; it was a business decision for A&E—and also just a dose of common sense.

One conservative, though, got this right: Glenn Beck.

Businessman that he is, he invited Robertson to bring Duck Dynasty to Beck’s Blaze TV, and just like that, solved a free-market problem with an entrepreneurial solution.


Maybe those other “conservatives” could learn a lesson of their own.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter