(Updates with statements from GLAAD and Robertson supporters.)
“Duck Dynasty” supporters have won their standoff with A&E: The network has reversed its suspension of star Phil Robertson for making anti-gay comments, and he will not miss a single episode of the upcoming season.
Shooting will resume in the spring, and will be accompanied by a series of public service announcements “promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company, and the values found in ‘Duck Dynasty,'” the network said.
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A&E suspended Robertson last Wednesday after he compared homosexuality to beastiality, grouping gays with “drunks” and “terrorists” in a GQ interview in which he also said African-Americans were perfectly happy before Civil Rights.
But the network suffered a huge backlash from “Duck Dynasty” fans and social conservatives, who said it had limited Robertson’s right to free speech.
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A&E may face another backlash for the decision to cave on the suspension — but it tried to minimize it by dropping the news on the slow Friday evening between Christmas and New Year’s.
In a statement late Friday, GLAAD said Robertson should have to meet with the people he offended.
“If dialogue with Phil is not part of next steps then A+E has chosen profits over African American and gay people – especially its employees and viewers,” the group said.
Robertson’s supporters weren’t satisfied either. Faith Driven Consumer, the group behind a pro-Robertson petition that yielded 260,000 signatures, said it wanted to know whether A&E had met with religious groups and “considers us to be a part of America’s rich rainbow of diversity.”
Robertson’s remarks created a tough catch-22 for A&E: “Duck Dynasty” is the most popular reality show on cable, but ignoring Robertson’s comments would have made it appear insensitive. After Robertson was suspended, the rest of the cast put A&E in a bind by saying they couldn’t imagine doing the series without their patriarch.
Also read: ‘Duck Dynasty’ Pastor Says Phil Robertson Knows Gays: ‘We’ve Had People… That Struggle With That Sin’
When A&E suspended Robertson, it said in a statement that it was “extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series ‘Duck Dynasty.'”
“His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community,” A&E added. “The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”
On Friday, it explained why it had abandoned that decision.
“While Phil’s comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs, and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the ‘coarse language’ he used and the misinterpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article,” the network said. “He also made it clear he would ‘never incite or encourage hate.’ We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article, and reiterate that they are not views we hold.
“But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man’s views,” A&E added. “It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family… a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about.”
A&E spoke with both GLAAD and the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, both of which objected to Robertson’s remarks. Jackson said Monday that Robertson’s statements were more offensive than those of the Montgomery, Ala. bus driver who ordered Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a white passenger, a moment that launched the Civil Rights Movement.
Here’s the full statement from A&E:
As a global media content company, A+E Networks’ core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect. We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people’s home and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principals.
That is why we reacted so quickly and strongly to a recent interview with Phil Robertson. While Phil’s comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs, and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the “coarse language” he used and the mis-interpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would “never incite or encourage hate.” We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article, and reiterate that they are not views we hold.
But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man’s views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family… a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about.
So after discussions with the Robertson family, 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.
We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company, and the values found in Duck Dynasty. These PSAs will air across our entire portfolio.