Thursday, December 19, 2013

Has A&E Crippled "Duck Dynasty"? (Updated)

The Daily Mail reports that A&E has decided to indefinitely suspending Phil Robertson--the head of the "Duck Dynasty" family. The reason is that Robertson had the temerity to speak his mind as a Christian, and decry homosexuality as a sin. Gay groups were in a tizzy over Robertson's comments:
GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz told E! News: 'Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.

'He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans - and Americans - who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.

'Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.'
Mr Cruz later praised A&E for their swift actions to combat this, and said: 'What's clear is that such hateful anti-gay comments are unacceptable to fans, viewers, and networks alike. By taking quick action and removing Robertson from future filming, A&E has sent a strong message that discrimination is neither a Christian nor an American value.'
Cruz can say all he wants about the Bible, but I've read it and it clearly condemns homosexuality as a sin--in both the Old and New Testaments.

I've noted before that free speech comes with responsibility and accountability; that your employer or customers may not like what you have done. For instance, Guns & Ammo magazine recently terminated two of its editors for publishing an anti-gun editorial that angered many readers and potentially could have led to a serious drop in revenue. And many of us remember the Dixie Chicks' naive belief that they could insult their audience, yet still sell their music.

The potential difference I see here is that it is not at all clear that A&E's reaction has anything to do with viewers. I'll admit that I've never looked into the show's demographics, and never watched the show myself, but it seems self-evident that Duck Dynasty is not a program that draws a large part of its audience from the gay and lesbian demographic, or even from so-called liberals in general. I suspect that the majority of its audience probably have beliefs that coincide with Robertson's--as Obama described them, those "bitter clingers" with their guns and religion. A&E's decision may well alienate Duck Dynasty viewers.

So this brings us to the question of whether A&E acted correctly. Milton Friedman maintained that the duty of management of a company was to maximize the value of their shareholders. In other words, businesses (at least publicly traded corporations) exist to generate profits, not advance or retard social causes. The question is whether A&E's executives are advancing the interests of their shareholders, or their personal viewpoints. If A&E's management is merely acting on its personal viewpoints, and causes a drop in viewership (and, thus, revenue), then its executives acted improperly and, in my opinion, breached their fiduciary duty to the company's shareholders.

Update: Matthew Yglesias at Slate also recognizes the general principle that you don't have a Constitutional right to have your television show produced. Let's hope he remembers this when the winds blow the other direction.

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