It’s somewhat frustrating how people are so quick to point out that the whole thing with Phil Robertson has nothing to do with “free speech” – sure, A&E can suspend him without violating the First Amendment, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the point being made. No one is arguing the government should intervene and give Mr. Robertson his job back.
What is being discussed is the culture of free speech in America, something that has drastically declined in the last 15-20 years. There is a natural balance of reaction that used to take place: in other words, the punishment fit the crime. If someone said something stupid or mean, then other people corrected or made fun of him. Now, it’s somehow become commonplace (and in a truly bizarre turn, treated as “more civilized”) to dodge any confrontation and instead impose legal or economic sanctions on someone for comments. Instead of using our words to discuss these controversial issues, we’ve devolved into hate-slinging and twitter-length jabs, followed by a public thrashing of the person in question.
This happens with both sides: only a couple weeks ago, Martin Bashir was harassed out of MSNBC for making crude and offensive remarks about Sarah Palin. Should he have been mocked and rebuked for his comments? Absolutely. Should he have lost his job? Probably not, unless his crudeness became so distasteful to viewers that his ratings tanked.
Similarly here, we have a case of A&E “killing the golden goose” by removing one of the most popular figures on its highest-rated show to appease the politically correct requirement that someone be sacked for upsetting a LGBT lobbyist group. Think about this: who has the power to most quickly and directly impact your life without recourse if they want to penalize you for saying something they don’t like – your government, or your employer?
If the media organizations agree that something is Politically Incorrect and Worthy of Punishment, and use their position to attack your employer to coerce them into imposing real penalties on you – suspensions, demotions, mandatory behavior seminars, etc – just because you said something they don’t like… then you’re in a very scary place, and there’s not much you can do about it.
So yeah, A&E has the right to fire Phil Robertson. MSNBC had the right to fire Martin Bashir. But – as Ace pointed out this morning – they also have the right to stick up for people’s right to say what they want, even if it’s unpopular, and as media companies, they really have a vested interest in doing so. The pushback is not against the government. It is, and should be, against this idea that “of course your employer can and should fire you for expressing an opinion.”
Let’s just go back to being civil to each other and not seeking to destroy the people we disagree with. As an aside, I think Phil knew exactly what he was doing. He’s got a history of clashing with A&E over their censoring religious stuff from the show, and has said he doesn’t enjoy the cameras. My guess is he’s not exactly heartbroken.