What A&E Should Have Done with Phil Robertson


As a nation—one that is at war, one whose economy is still a mess and whose government is dysfunctional—we’ve already wasted enough time and attention on Phil Robertson’s opinions about homosexuality. But this story persists, and it persists in large part because the TV network that airs “Duck Dynasty,” A&E, completely mishandled this controversy.

After Robertson’s opinions about homosexuality appeared in GQ, here’s what the network should have done:

  •  Issued a statement saying that the network did not agree with Robertson’s views.
  • Suspended Robertson from “Duck Dynasty” while announcing that Robertson could eventually return to “Duck Dynasty” if he appeared in a new special series on A&E.
  • Announced that the new series will consist of Robertson meeting, getting to know and spending time with homosexual men and women. They could have called it “Duck Season” or something like that.

The easy solution was firing indefinitely suspending him. The more difficult solution—and potentially beneficial for all parties—would have been to put the spotlight on Robertson while he met with with dozens of homosexual men and women to see if his opinions changed.

As the executive producer I would have him meet with gay men and women who have been the victims of intolerance, who have been ostracized by their church and family, who are themselves Christian, who live happily and normally, who left straight relationships to live more honestly, who hunt and fish and live a lifestyle similar to Robertson’s. People of all stripes–sympathetic, proud, normal, funny, outdoorsy.

If at the end of the experience Robertson still expressed the same views about homosexuality, the network could cut the cord and say, “Our hope was that Robertson would learn from this experience, but we guess there is just no reaching some people. We created this problem, and we tried to turn it into a positive.” That would have been fair.

The more likely outcome, in my opinion, would have been a change in heart. It’s hard to spend time with the people you disapprove of from a distance and still maintain naive, antiquated notions about how they live. It’s worth adding that Jesus was tolerant of many types of people, and if Robertson focused, prayed and thought about that aspect of Jesus’s life, perhaps tolerance combined with experience would have led to a change of heart.

The smart response would have been for the network to subtly challenge Robertson to show the Christian values of love for all mankind and tolerance for different people. Instead of turning this story into the latest battleground in the culture wars, A&E could have allowed Robertson and the 45 percent of Americans who think homosexuality is a sin to learn something together. “Duck Dynasty” is the highest-rated cable TV show of all time. The viewership would have been massive.

Even if Robertson learned nothing by the end of the show, odds are some of its viewers would have.

But now the battle lines are hardened, and no one will learn anything from this mess. No minds will change. No hearts will soften. We’ll just see more exploitation and cynicism. This was a missed opportunity. A&E flubbed its call.

Joe Donatelli is the author of Full Griswold: Stories from a Honeymoon in Italy.