'Duck Dynasty' Controversy: Conservatives Leap to Phil Robertson's Defense

Phil Robertson Rifle - H 2013

When A&E dumped Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson for anti-gay sentiments he expressed in a GQ magazine interview, the network picked a fight with conservatives and Christians, and both groups have come out swinging. Some are accusing A&E of bigotry and censorship and are threatening a boycott.

A Facebook page in defense of Robertson sprang up Wednesday night and by Thursday morning was "liked" by more than 500,000 people. "Unless Phil is reinstated to the show, we refuse to watch the A&E Channel!" says the page.

On his syndicated radio show Thursday, Rush Limbaugh read a statement from GLAAD commending A&E and accusing Robertson of bigotry, then said: "Well, excuse me for just a second here, but who is being discriminated against here except Phil Robertson, who just lost a job because of his religious beliefs? Phil Robertson. Nothing happened to anybody at GLAAD. Nothing happened to any gay people."

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Limbaugh also said: "He ends up getting fired and GLAAD starts running around talking about, 'We're not gonna put up with this kind of discrimination.' Well, then, you better start demanding he be rehired because he's the only guy who's been discriminated against."

Limbaugh also made a prediction. "It is obvious that Robertson's goose is cooked -- the Duck Dynasty goose is cooked -- at A&E," he said. "I don't know how long it will be, but some other network will pick up this show. … The gay population that's supposedly offended here is, max, 2 percent. The Christian population is 250 million people. So the market is going to reflect that at some point."

Robertson and Duck Dynasty, in fact, were the hottest topic on talk radio Thursday. Dennis Prager on his syndicated radio show, for example, said that while Robertson didn't choose his words carefully, his firing was symptomatic of a larger problem. "It is clear that only one side is not allowed to speak," Prager said. "You can say anything from the left."

Radio host Dennis Miller was vague and brief, but was presumably referring to the controversy when he tweeted, "It's time for all of us to sit down and have a talk about free spe" -- purposely ending midsentence.

And KABC Los Angeles radio host Larry Elder used the occasion to take a swipe at MSNBC. "Compare the 'offensive' words of A&E's Phil Robertson to the bigoted words and deeds of MSNBC's Al Sharpton," Elder tweeted, linking to an article he wrote about Sharpton's alleged misdeeds.

Sean Hannity on his radio show Thursday took the unusual step of giving out the phone number of A+E Networks chairman Abbe Raven and A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc and encouraging his millions of listeners to give them a call and tell the two executives what they think of the decision to punish Robertson.

Laura Ingraham addressed the issue on her radio show, but she let her guest, Camille Paglia do much of the talking.

"I speak with authority here because I was openly gay before the Stonewall Rebellion, when it cost you something to be so," Paglia said. "I personally feel, as a Libertarian, that people have the right to free thought and free speech."

Paglia said the punishment of Robertson is a "level of punitive PC, utterly fascist, utterly Stalinist, OK, that my liberal colleagues in the Democratic party and on college campuses have supported and promoted over the last several decades. It's the whole legacy of the free speech [movement] of the 1960s that has been lost by my own party."

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin weighed in with a note on her Facebook page shortly after news broke of Robertson's indefinite suspension.

"Free speech is an endangered species. Those 'intolerants' hatin' and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us," Palin wrote.

The Facebook page of Dinesh D'Souza's popular political documentary 2016: Obama's America now features a giant photo of Robertson along with one of his quotes: "I think our problem is primarily a spiritual one … where there is no Jesus, evil always reigns."

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TruthRevolt.org, a recently launched right-wing version of Media Matters for America, mounted an attack on A&E Thursday.

"A&E has demonstrated its disdain for religious Americans of all stripes. … We ask A&E to reinstate Phil Robertson rather than caving to the dictates of anti-religious bigotry, and we pledge to turn off A&E until Robertson is reinstated to Duck Dynasty," reads the petition.

Plus, a separate online petition at IStandWithPhil.com was quickly signed by some 3,000 people.

"Your rash, discriminatory, and unfair treatment toward Mr. Robertson -- a recognized symbol of the faith community -- is a slap in the face to Faith Driven Consumers and everyday Americans alike," reads the petition.

Fox News also has been all over the topic. "I have not talked to anyone in the family -- I don't know if they will stand for this," Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said Thursday.

"This is a slippery slope," said Hannity a night earlier on his Fox News TV show. "We now have an entire industry built on targeting advertisers and starting campaigns to get people fired."

Greg Gutfeld, who stars in two shows on Fox News, used multiple tweets in an effort to illustrate what he thinks was an absurd move on the part of A&E.

"I once used a duck call, & this duck showed up & was all like, 'you're not a duck.' It was super embarrassing. He felt like I wasted his time," read one tweet. He followed later with, "My point is: in this entire controversy, no one is asking about the ducks. What about the ducks?"

Even Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Robertson's home state, chimed in by comparing the television industry's embrace of a scantily clad singer who twerks to its rejection of a reality star speaking about his religious conviction.

"I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment," he wrote. "It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh and Phil Robertson gets suspended."

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com