Opinion: First Amendment protects idiocy

January 5, 2014


Fair warning: This is about the “Duck Dynasty” controversy. Yes, I know. I’m sick of it, too.

Still, relying upon my First Amendment right to freedom of speech, I will make a few observations about Phil Robertson, the grizzled Louisiana duck hunter turned reality TV star whose comments about black and gay people recently got him suspended — and then unsuspended — by A&E.; If you find my observations disagreeable you may, relying upon your own First Amendment rights, protest to my employer. Assuming enough of you bring enough pressure, my employer may dump me. Feeling angry and betrayed, I might — here’s that First Amendment again — blast my now-former bosses for defects of character, courage or cognition.

But one thing I could not say — at least not credibly — is that they’d violated my First Amendment rights. There is nothing in the First Amendment that says a private company can’t fire you.

We’ll return to the First in a second. Right now, let me offer the promised observations about Mr. Robertson: Man really needs to wake up and smell the 21st century.

His comments, made in an interview with GQ, are almost cartoonish in their stupidity. They sound less like they were made by a backwoods ignoramus than by someone doing a takeoff on a backwoods ignoramus.

For instance, Robertson explains his aversion to homosexuality by discoursing on the comparative merits of the male anus and the vagina. For good measure, he invokes bestiality and the Bible. He also notes how black people were “singing and happy” when he was young. “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare … they were godly, they were happy, no one was singing the blues.”


So anyway, A&E; was shocked — shocked, I say, shocked! — to learn that a self-described redneck from the Louisiana woods harbored such illiberal views. It suspended Robertson, thereby igniting a scrum of conservative pols jockeying to express newfound love for the First Amendment.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says he can “remember” when TV networks still believed in it. Sarah Palin calls free speech “an endangered species.” Mike Huckabee says, “Stand with Phil and support free speech.”

Yeah. Because freedom of speech means you can say any asinine thing you want and nobody can call you on it or punish you for it. Right?

Um … actually, no.

Free speech means you can say any asinine thing you want and the government may not call you on it or punish you for it. If the feds came after Robertson, I’d hold my nose and stand with him. But he wasn’t punished by the feds. He was punished by the free market.

The First Amendment gives each of us the right to bring whatever we wish into the marketplace of ideas — faith, gay rights, white supremacy, libertarianism, socialism, birtherism — without government interference. But if enough people don’t buy what you are selling, you don’t stay in the market very long. And if what you’re selling offends enough people, the market will show you the door.

So Robertson’s rights were not abridged because his network slapped his wrists. Those are the rules we play by. That’s how America works.

A&E;, calculating that Robertson had become a liability, dropped him. His fans raised an almighty ruckus and A&E; chose discretion over valor, doubtless realizing the people most likely to be offended by the man probably weren’t watching him in the first place.

Now Robertson returns — just in time for a new controversy. It seems an old video has surfaced in which he lists the qualities a man should seek in a prospective wife. She should be 15 or 16 years old, advises the duck hunter — and a good cook.

Great. So now we get to see how child marriage plays in the marketplace of ideas. God bless America.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald,


Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 2 months ago

I can just imagine how this example of "free speech" would go over in the workforce, for example asked by a waitress or a waiter in a restaurant:

"What will you (*s) be having for dinner today?"

  • Insert your choice of ethnic, political, racial, or religious slur.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 2 months ago

The Arts and Entertainment network long ago abandoned their original intent along with others such as History Chanel and Discovery Chanel. When was the last time you saw a concert or opera presentation on A&E? Like the History Channel that now presents pawn shop people purchasing stuff my mom would religate to what she called "dust collectors" and two jovial persons rooting around in attics and backyard junk piles for "a piece of Amerrica" A&E has joined the legion of lowest common denominator shows that present fare of crime shows and backwoods bigots for public consumption.

It says a lot for the collective taste of our "modern society" .

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 2 months ago

Chapter two (sorry folks!) You know, after thinking briefly about this whole dustup over this A&E show, I kind of wonder if this was all planned for ratings. I had never heard of "Duck Dynassty" nor would I have tuned in to see some bearded backwoods billy-bob blow of he head of a Mallard duck.

But by having this guy "interview" with some magazine and the content of that interview become public noitce, they got hordes of press and news "coverage from CNN, ABC, and all the other news mills. What more could any network in competition with the other multitude of "entertainment" wannabes want to attract attention to themsleves???

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 2 months ago

It is better to know the truth about someone than to believe self serving lies and then wonder how you were duped. But, don't most people associate with those who hold like views and watch tv shows that do the same?

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 2 months ago

Some people agree with the Bible about gay people, but they often forget that in the book of Leviticus, shrimp, all shellfish, and pork, among other foods commonly eaten today, are also prohibited. Selective memory is what that is called.

Leviticus Chapter 11:

[6] And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. [7] And the swine, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. [8] Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean to you. [9] "These you may eat, of all that are in the waters. Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat. [10] But anything in the seas or the rivers that has not fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is an abomination to you. [11] They shall remain an abomination to you; of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall have in abomination. [12] Everything in the waters that has not fins and scales is an abomination to you.

Using selective passages, you can make the Bible say anything you want it to. For example:

Matthew Chapter 27, verse 5:
he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

Luke Chapter 10, verse 37:
And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

John McCoy 4 years, 2 months ago

If the people in the next village suffer idols, go unto that village, slaughter the men, take the women, and enslave the children. That will teach them. Exodus, Ch. 4

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 2 months ago

If you're Jewish, you follow the Oral Law, which is expressed in the Talmud, and not the Torah. The Talmud clarifies what parts of the Torah are still binding, although the many different Judaic movements have very different thoughts on that matter.

The Babylonian Talmud (as opposed to the Palestinian Talmud, which is not considered to be authoritative) is usually printed in 20 volumes, and was completed in about the year 700 after centuries of compilation by the rabbis. That particular mitzvah did not 'cut it'.

Coincidentally, the Talmud was completed at almost exactly the same time that the Koran, which is a very short book, was transcribed from a voice that only Mohammed could hear.

Bob Smith 4 years, 2 months ago

Das Lennypitts seems rather intolerant of people with different belief systems, especially if they look and sound different than he does. In other news of judgmental people: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/tim-graham/2014/01/05/pedo-smithia

Mike Ford 4 years, 2 months ago

oh the defense of dummies on TV. I guess I have to tolerate the bearded foes and their new line of assault rifles to hunt ducks with? ( really). In other news I watched The People Versus Larry Flynt on IFC or Sundance last night. If that guy has to be tolerated then I guess the bearded Louisiana geniuses have to be also. I grew up west of Monroe in Shreveport so all of this is embarrassing to me.

Bob Smith 4 years, 2 months ago

Mossberg isn't making rifles for duck hunting, Mike, really and truly, they aren't.

Bob Smith 4 years, 2 months ago

Those rifles are branded with the Duck Commander logo, but they are not intended for duck hunting.

Brian Mellor 4 years, 2 months ago

"They sound less like they were made by a backwoods ignoramus than by someone doing a takeoff on a backwoods ignoramus."

Yes, that's because he IS doing a takeoff on a backwoods ignoramus.

As fake as this controversy. The idea that A&E dropped him or reinstated him due to protest is silly. They did it because they knew that they'd get exactly this result, and that a bunch of gullible, knee-jerk fools would scream "ZOMG infringin' on hiz speechin' rights!" and buy a bunch of Duck Dynasty merchandise a few days before Christmas.

Then they reinstated him, right after the fervor had cooled down. We got played. Call it the Chick-Fil-A guide to using outrage to increase sales.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 2 months ago

Brian for the win! With photoshopping you can't believe what you see let alone what you hear. Does he really believe what he said about teen brides or was he just trying to see just how gullible people are? They used to say that Davy Crockett could grin an angry bear into docility, I think the duck hunters are doing the same to gullible reporters and their equally gullible readers. That said, I have never watched the show and have no plans to do so.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 2 months ago


This is an autoloading rimfire made by Mossberg for the duck hunters. Wow, there are some tough ducks out there. I had no idea.

Mike Ford 4 years, 2 months ago

my father hunts turkeys with a Mossberg 12 gauge bolt action turkey gun which I admirably call "The Flag Pole". Now that's a hunting gun. The gun shown above is used for hunting paranoia with. Since there are so many paranoia hunters and real hunters are dwindling in number people like my 69 year old father don't get the benefit of having a free hunting license after the age of 65 anymore. No one hunts actual animals with the assault weapon above. They hunt paranoia and the end of the world.

Beator 4 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for the chuckle Mike Ford. I use mine because I like it. The one I used in the Army was what peeked my interest in getting one.


by the way, your reference to the picture of the rifle as an "assault weapon" is a Liberal misnomer. Here. Let me help you with what your term actually means.

An assault rifle is a selective fire (selective between semi-automatic, fully automatic and/or burst fire) rifle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault_rifle

Julius Nolan 4 years, 2 months ago

! fact, "First Amendment protects idiocy" is what allows Foxnews, Limbaugh and the the Tea Party to exist.

John Middleton 4 years, 2 months ago

"Yeah. Because freedom of speech means you can say any asinine thing you want and nobody can call you on it or punish you for it. Right?"

Right! Especially if you are a KU professor tweeting vitriolic hate-speech.

Mike Ford 4 years, 2 months ago

actually let go smart alec on you . The picture you posted is that of an MP 44 7.92 MM rifle used by the German or Nazi military in the last two years of World War Two. It was made of pressed metal since the Nazis were almost in last ditch mode. I knew this off the top of my head because I've been identifying weapons as a hobby since I was 10 or 11 and I'm 43. You know back when the Right Wing didn't politicize the gun issue and there was an academic and historic part of weaponry. There is an M/16 or M4 and there's an AR 15. There's a semi auto version of any HK or FN-FAL or Valmet weapon which is a Finnish AK knockoff. Oh yeah Mr. Kalishnikov passed last week at 94 years of age. His weapon is on the Mozambique National flag. I heard about his passing on NPR because they cover thinking not chest beating. I would rather be a smart liberal who knows all this stuff mentioned above than someone who generalizes and uses a statement of intelligence as a slur.

Beator 4 years, 2 months ago

Thanks again. Oh, and AR stands for the company that manufactures rifles. ArmaLite. Not the favorite of some, Assault Rifle.

Bob Smith 4 years, 2 months ago

The Second Amendment is not about hunting.

Mike Ford 4 years, 2 months ago

no It's about giving the paranoid a right to misinterpret and represent their paranoia. Oh Mr. Smart Guy a man named Stoner designed the AR and AR 18 in the early 1960's. Thanks for your laughs.

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