Right-wing blowhards have never been known for their intellectual consistency or for shying away from hypocrisy. They have always been among the first to attack those with whom they disagree and demand satisfaction in the form of terminating the employment of outspoken liberals. There isn’t a progressive public voice whose job hasn’t been threatened by conservative activists who have campaigned for the firing of people like Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, and Al Sharpton.
Today, however, these same martinets of virtue are appalled that A&E has suspended Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty (the show with “nasty” right in its name) after he unleashed a vile tirade of hateful commentary about homosexuality, which he likened to bestiality and rebuked as sin. The debate has consumed conservative media with pundits railing over this intolerable injustice. And leading the charge, of course, is Fox News. Their community website, the lie-riddled Fox Nation, posted six articles on this one subject.
The magnitude of obsession with a single topic might seem appropriate if the topic were imminent war, a deadly epidemic, a natural disaster, or an economic collapse. But for Fox all it takes is a missing white girl, a high-speed police chase, or a bigoted hillbilly being put on leave from a lucrative television program. And as is always the case when a conservative says something offensive and dumb, his defenders wail about free speech. Here are a few examples of the more hyperbolic grousing that has been heard:
Todd Starnes (Fox): A&E is apparently run by a bunch of anti-Christian, bigots. Duck Dynasty worships God. A&E worships GLAAD. If Phil had been twerking with a duck the network probably would’ve given him a contract extension. But because he espoused beliefs held by many Christians, he’s been silenced.
Ted Cruz: Phil expressed his personal views and his own religious faith; for that, he was suspended from his job. In a free society, anyone is free to disagree with him.
Rush Limbaugh: I think they’ve essentially fired the guy, and in the process, they have thrown away the largest audience on cable television. They’ve just thrown it away. They’ve thrown away all that advertising.
Limbaugh’s complaint is ironic in that he has some personal experience with throwing away advertising by saying stupid and offensive things, like calling a young woman a slut and a prostitute because she advocated in favor of access to reproductive health care. But the larger point regarding free speech is something that conservatives get wrong repeatedly. They seem to believe that free speech means being able to say anything you want, but that no one else has the same privilege if they disagree with you.
The truth is that the Duck Dude has free speech and he exercised it. His critics and defenders also have free speech and they are exercising it. Even A&E has free speech and they are within their rights to punish an employee whose behavior reflects poorly on their enterprise. Robertson’s suspension has not impaired his freedom to speak. He could appear on Fox News tomorrow if he wants and reiterate his repulsive views. I’ll bet he has already received numerous invitations.
Finally, Fox News has an abundance of free speech that they utilize to advance a right-wing agenda. That’s why, in a world that is not lacking for subjects that have a profound impact on people’s lives, Fox has devoted six articles to the triviality of a cable TV reality program whose bigoted star is gonna have stay home in the swamp for a little while enjoying his wealth and killing defenseless creatures.