“Duck Dynasty,” the hit reality show on A&E, was always destined to become a flashpoint in the culture wars. Phil Robertson, the series’ eccentric backwoods star, has a history of saying impolitic things. It just took an interview with GQ — in which he demeaned gay people in graphic terms and suggested black people were happier before the civil rights era — for the broader world to take notice. When A&E suspended Robertson, 67, the backlash from devoted fans and opportunistic politicians came quickly. While Robertson’s defenders are claiming religious discrimination, no one disputes his right to his own views. The issue is whether the network should feel obliged to keep putting him on the air.
A&E should recognize that reality TV is a two-way mirror; viewers get a glimpse into a little-seen subculture, and its denizens, such as Robertson, get exposed to the the wider world. A little respect — and restraint — is required on each side. But Robertson, who has loudly proclaimed his victimhood, is unwilling to backtrack an inch. Until he does, neither should A&E. A reality star can draw big ratings and sell gobs of merchandise — and connect with rural and conservative audiences who rarely see themselves depicted on television. But he also reflects on the network that gives him a national forum.