Gov. Bobby Jindal remained steadfast in his support of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson Thursday after the reality cable television star characterized gays as sinners and black people as happy, crooning cotton-picking laborers before the Civil Rights movement.
A&E Network suspended Robertson from the popular television show based in West Monroe for his comments in the January issue of GQ magazine. Much of the initial controversy surrounding the article focused on Robertson lumping “homosexual offenders” in the same godless category as adulterers, male prostitutes, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers. He also graphically described homosexual acts.
Not receiving as much attention was what Robertson had to say about his upbringing in the era before the civil rights movement. He said he hoed cotton alongside black people in the fields and never saw any mistreatment. “They’re singing and happy,” he said.
“I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues,” Robertson said.
Jindal — while admitting Thursday afternoon that he had not gotten around to reading the full article — said everyone agrees that the civil rights movement was a positive thing. He said Robertson is a victim of hypocrisy that allows Miley Cyrus’ career to flourish despite her twerking controversy. Twerking is a term for sexually suggestive dancing.
“It’s stunning to me after all those antics that Miley Cyrus would still be on TV and Phil’s the one getting kicked off. To me that just seems a little backwards ... He’s a friend ... I think his heart is filled with love ... As governor of this state, I wanted to speak out for a fine Louisianian,” Jindal said.
The governor offered some advice for those who disagree with Robertson’s views: Change the channel and cancel the order for the duck calls that made the Robertson family fortune. Meanwhile, Jindal said, his own young sons will continue to tune into “Duck Dynasty.”
Jindal was among a number of GOP politicians who rallied around Robertson after his comments sparked a worldwide media frenzy.
Former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was among the first to chime in, posting a picture of herself with the Robertson family on Facebook. Palin wrote that “those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”
Soon afterward, Jindal issued a statement of support for the bearded patriarch and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., tweeted that Robertson was being penalized for his faith. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, R-Baton Rouge, and Louisiana House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, also defended Robertson’s right to express his opinion.
A&E told some media outlets that it was disappointed in Robertson’s remarks and that he will not be filming again anytime soon. It is unclear how the network plans to handle already filmed footage that has not yet aired. A&E officials did respond Thursday to messages seeking comment.
Faith Driven Consumer, which describes itself as connecting Christian consumers with compatible companies, announced gathering 70,000 signatures by late Thursday in its IStandWithPhil.com petition drive for Robertson to be reinstated on his reality program.
In Louisiana, some criticized not just Robertson but officials like Jindal who supported him.
Mike McClanahan, president of the Baton Rouge branch of the NAACP, noted that the First Amendment guarantees that government cannot infringe on a person’s freedom of speech, but private businesses can do as they please. Still, he has no problem with Jindal, Vitter and other politicians supporting Robertson’s right to free speech, even in the context of the decisions made by a private company.
But, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is disappointed with Jindal, Dardenne, Vitter, Kleckley and the other Louisiana politicians who would not say whether or not they agreed with Robertson’s positions on homosexuality and African Americans, McClanahan said.
When arguing for a person’s right to voice angry speech, political leaders owe it to the people being targeted, who they also represent, to point out that they disagree with the content of the message, he said. “When they’re defending his right to say it, if they don’t also say ‘Hold up. What he is saying is wrong,’ then they’re agreeing with what he said,” McClanahan said.
Joshua Stockley, associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe said he finds it interesting that most have focused on Robertson’s comments on homosexuality. “What’s been lost in the criticism is the potential racial implication that some blacks were better off or were happier under intense racial injustice,” he said.
Stockley said he thinks news outlets have pushed the racial comments to the background because Robertson used much more colorful language when he was talking about homosexuality.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, exclaimed “Oh, my God” after listening to a recitation of Robertson’s views on the happiness of black people in the era before the civil rights movement. Smith is a former leader of the Legislative Black Caucus. “I grew up in the civil rights era, too, and I can tell you his experience is totally different from mine and he probably doesn’t totally understand ... It’s truly amazing right now he’s millionaire and some of those people are probably still poor,” she said.
Smith scolded Jindal for taking the time to defend Robertson. “There’s so many other things he could be talking about in this state,” she said, adding that the governor’s own staff is not racially diverse.
Officials with Forum for Equality Foundation — a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights organization in Louisiana — blasted Robertson as a bully.
“I have a news flash for Phil Robertson: he chose his religious beliefs, but I didn’t choose to be gay, I was born just as I am. I’ve seen way too much bullying, bigotry and hatred over the decades and Robertson’s remarks fit all three categories,” said John Denison, the forum’s chair.
Denison offered to sit down with the Robertson family and introduce them to a “successful, proud and Christian gay man. The Ouachita River isn’t so wide that we can’t sit down to break bread over iced tea.”
Much of the GQ article focused on hunting and the wealthy family’s humble life, zeroing in on their love of squirrel meat and store-bought cinnamon rolls. What got Robertson into trouble were little snippets about homosexuality and civil rights.
In explicit terms that would make an anatomy professor blush, he professed to not understanding a man’s desire for another man. “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. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right,” Robertson told GQ writer Drew Magary.
Robertson also embraced what he called eternal health care instead of “insurance schemes.” He said the show’s massive popularity allows his family to share the Gospel. “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, R-Swartz, is close to the Robertson family. McAllister won election to Congress with the muscle of a “Duck Dynasty” endorsement and with the overwhelming support of the African American community in Ouachita Parish.
McAllister said in a prepared statement Thursday night that Robertson should be able to express his opinion, even if it is not politically correct. “The Robertsons are great people and great friends of mine. Everyone is criticizing a reality star that became so popular by being himself,” McAllister said.
Mark Ballard with the Capitol news bureau and Jordan Blum with The Advocate Washington Bureau contributed to this report.