How far should media companies go when one of its stars speaks or behaves in inflammatory or unpopular ways?
“The Bachelor” star Juan Pablo Galavis’ anti-gay statements invoke not-so-distant memories of the uproar over similar anti-gay and racial comments made by “Duck Dynasty” and “Big Brother” stars — even as way, way back as Paula Deen.
And it’s not just their apologies we’re parsing. The question of television networks’ culpability — and requisite response — has become central to the discussion, too.
In the case of Galavis, ABC speedily condemned his anti-gay statements on Saturday afternoon, calling them “careless, thoughtless, and insensitive.” It had not addressed whether there would be any disciplinary action, or whether the flap would be addressed on the telecast, which completed shooting.
A&E cycled through its options during an uproar over Robertson’s quotes during an interview for GQ magazine in December. As a result of a public outcry and, as TheWrap reported first, in respect for the feelings of its own employees, A&E first suspended Phil Robertson because of his views on homosexuality, saying they “in no way reflect those of A&E Network.”
Robertson’s fans took to petitions en masse asking that A&E rescind the suspension, and the Robertson family presented a publicly united front, saying they couldn’t go forward on the network’s top-rated show without their patriarch. About a week later, A&E flip-flopped.
“After discussions with the Robertson family,” the network’s later statement read, “as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming ‘Duck Dynasty’ later this spring with the entire Robertson family.”
Both situations beg the question: How responsible is a network when one of its stars holds and expresses unpopular or inflammatory opinions?
Earlier this week, CBS entertainment chief Nina Tassler addressed a related issue in a Television Critics Association panel in response to one reporter’s question, which referenced several racist comments last year, including those by Texas model Aaryn Gries.
“I sit in those auditions and I sit in those interviews and you’re talking to people and you get one perspective on their personality,” she said.
Tassler said she was “mortified” by Gries’ comments, noting that they came amid an intense focus on racism because of the Paula Deen “N-word” debate, which cost the host her Food Network show, and the Trayvon Martin case. She went on to say that CBS CEO Les Moonves had also found the “Big Brother” comments “absolutely appalling.”
She explained that the show’s producers interview all the applicants multiple times and run a battery of background checks. The network was assured that “the producers handled it responsibly, dealt with it as well as they could.”
So, what is the responsibility of a network in policing possibly unpopular or inflammatory beliefs from being expressed among its stars? Weigh in below.