‘Duck Dynasty’ Scramble Leaves A&E With Egg On Its Face

Brian Lowry

TV Columnist


A&E put itself between a “Duck” and a hard place. And having backtracked from its temporary lack of quack, let the public-relations scrambling begin.

The network might have acted precipitously in suspending Phil Robertsonfor his inflammatory remarks regarding gays (and equally insensitive ones about African-Americans in the Jim Crow-era South), but it clearly didn’t have an end game in mind. And once the network demonstrated that it was displeased with Robertson’s statements, unless it was truly willing to strangle its golden goose, there was really nowhere to go from there.

So the network issued a mealy-mouthed statement Friday, promising to run a public-service campaign about tolerance and inclusiveness. One suspects the network will also be less eager to arrange interview opportunities for Robertson, which of course won’t prevent him from going out and speaking his mind, especially now that he’s a hero to many conservatives.

After all, if this episode proves anything, it’s that faced with the possibility of derailing its top-rated series, the channel has webbed feet of clay.

To reiterate the obvious, those who turned this into a free speech crusade clearly had a political agenda. Robertson had every right to express his opinions, and the network was free to distance itself from those remarks – and from him – if they felt his statements, as someone affiliated with A&E, damaged its brand and image.

That said, there are a few lessons here, beginning with the fact that networks responsible for reality TV shows get into bed with people of questionable beliefs and character all the time. Witness CBS’ embarrassment this summer over racist comments made by contestants on “Big Brother.”

A&E also appeared not to anticipate the blowback from those who share Robertson’s views, and how suspending him would be perceived among religious conservatives who already feel besieged by popular culture. Beyond making up a disproportionate share of the “Duck Dynasty” audience, such people also regularly complain about having relatively few options on TV where the “characters” profess to share their values.

Of course, reinstating Robertson won’t put the issue to rest. Indeed, advocacy groups who object to his participation in the program will no doubt have a word or two to share with A&E’s advertisers. And that, too, is their right.

While the impact of such campaigns is generally limited, time is not on “Duck Dynasty’s” side – or for that matter, on Robertson’s. People grow tired of reality shows sooner or later, and the tide of social conservatism Robertson espoused in regard to gays is also in gradual retreat, particularly if the views of younger people are any guide.

As for A&E, the network clearly misjudged the volatility of the culture wars — as well as the intoxicating media allure of mixing a popular TV show with political controversy — while demonstrating the tension that can exist between picking your friends and picking your reality-TV stars.

Because once A&E decided to do more than simply say “We do not share Phil’s views,” there was almost no way to escape this mess without winding up with egg on its face.

FILED UNDER: A&EBig BrotherCBSDuck DynastyPhil Robertson

Christmas 2013

Merry Christmas
American News Broadcasting!

Wildlife Experts Perplexed Over Dozen Dead Bald Eagles

SALT LAKE CITY, UT (CBS Las Vegas) – Wildlife experts cannot seem to figure out why so many bald eagles have been dying in Utah.
There have been 12 reported cases so far this month, with the latest coming this past weekend.
“It’s frustrating and heart breaking,” Leslie McFarlane, wildlife disease coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, told KSL-TV. “It’s really hard because you want to be able to do something right now and we just can’t.”
“It’s hard to watch,” DaLyn Erickson-Marthaler, an employee at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, told KSL. “It’s really frustrating to not be able to know what we’re treating, what we’re seeing, if we can even treat it at all.”
The only thing the experts know for sure is that all the eagles were experiencing the same symptoms.
“They were showing signs of body tremors, they would have seizures, they appeared to be paralyzed, and they had weakness in their feet and in their legs,” Erickson-Marthaler added to KSL.
The Division of Wildlife says this is the time of year eagles migrate from other states to Utah and are usually seen near the Great Salt Lake.
It is concerning to them that the dead birds were all discovered in one area.
“Usually if you have something, say like a poisoning or something like that, usually you find them in small geographical areas or something along those lines,” McFarlane told KSL.
The wildlife experts have sent the dead eagles off to be tested but do not expect the results back until the end of the year.
“Even then, even when we do find out what it is, it may be something that we can do nothing about,” McFarlane added.

Network quiet amid petitions calling for boycott over 'Duck Dynasty' move

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
(CNN) -- While boycott petitions against "Duck Dynasty" home A&E take off, the network itself is staying quiet.

Since its Wednesday decision to "indefinitely" suspend Phil Robertson, one of the stars of its highly rated reality series, A&E has yet to publicly clarify what the future of the show might be, what they'll do with their block of reruns, or even what it really means to be "indefinitely" suspended.

The network's lack of communication has done nothing to stem the tide of detractors who strongly disagree with its decision to put Robertson on the bench over remarks quoted in GQ magazine, in which he called homosexuality a sin, citing the Bible. A Change.org petition demanding that Robertson be reinstated and the network issue an apology was steadily climbing toward 100,000 signatures Friday.

A separate petition at a website called IStandWithPhil.com makes a similar appeal. Hosted by the online community Faith Driven Consumers, the website helps its members spend their money with companies that fall in line with their spiritual beliefs. The petition on IStandWithPhil.com had surpassed 130,000 signatures by Friday evening.

Those who've signed the IStandWithPhil.com petition are asking for their "views (to) be treated with equality and respect in America's rich rainbow of diversity," and for the "network to immediately reinstate Mr. Robertson to 'Duck Dynasty,' and to formally apologize to him, his family, and the millions of viewers who tune in every week, stand by him, and share his worldview."

"While the LGBT community may be offended by his opposing viewpoint," that webstite continues, "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."

Both websites are urging people not to watch A&E programming in the meantime.

So far, the number of petitioners doesn't compare with the millions that "Duck Dynasty" has drawn to A&E -- its fourth-season premiere in August set a record with 11.8 million watching, and the season finale in October brought in 8.4 million -- but those signatures would give any network exec flop sweat. Especially when the rest of the Robertson family has stoked the fire with a statement that suggests the future of the show might be in jeopardy.

"We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm," the family said in a statement. "We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of 'Duck Dynasty.'"

According to CNN Senior Media Correspondent Brian Stelter, conventional wisdom in the industry holds that this current disagreement between A&E and the family will resolve itself in time, in part because the two sides benefit so much from being in business with the other. A person with close ties to A&E noted that the Robertson family is under contract, thereby reducing the chances that the family will show up on another channel anytime soon.

An A&E executive who spoke to Stelter on condition of anonymity, because the channel was avoiding any new public comments about the controversy, said that conversations with the Robertson family would likely resume after the Christmas holiday.

"Everybody just needs to take a breath," the executive said.

The A&E executive insisted that there has been no second-guessing at the channel about the decision to suspend Phil Robertson.

All of which gives rise to the question: What would happen to A&E were "Duck Dynasty" to go away? This is, after all, the show that helped the network to raise its total viewership 10% this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Stelter can't see the Robertsons or A&E wanting to end the televised hunting-business fun so soon, but if it were to happen, it would undoubtedly be a blow to the network, he said.

"There's just nothing else on the channel that's nearly as popular as new episodes of 'Duck Dynasty,'" Stelter said. "It would be like AMC losing new episodes of 'The Walking Dead' or like Fox losing 'American Idol.' That's why it is very, very unlikely. The show is hugely important for the channel and for the family. Not just Phil, but the whole family," which, Stelter notes, isn't affected by the suspension.

Given that Robertson is "a main character" on the fifth season, which is scheduled to premiere January 15, Stelter believes the increased attention thanks to the uproar might even give "Duck Dynasty" a ratings boost in 2014.

But if something were to happen to the show in the long run, then yes, A&E would certainly need to regroup.

On the other hand, it's not like the network hasn't bounced back before -- and it's never been a one-show network. Over the past 10 years alone, it's transitioned from being the prime place to find a rerun of "Biography" to the home of the Emmy-winning "Intervention," to the site of reality shows like 

"Storage Wars" as well as original programming like "Bates Motel."

In October, A&E unveiled a new branding strategy centered around the tagline "Be Original." The campaign, The Hollywood Reporter noted at the time, was scheduled to debut during -- what else? -- a "Duck Dynasty" special on December 11.

And yet, as industry trade Variety emphasizes, it is not unusual for a network to make a bold move in severing ties with a controversial figure, no matter how popular. MSNBC bid adieu to Alec Baldwinafter the actor fired off another unprintable outburst at a photographer, and the Food Network declined to renew its contract with one of its most well-known personalities, Paula Deen, after she admitted to using the "N" word in the past.

A&E itself previously put another fan-favorite reality star, Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman, on hiatus after he used a racial slur.

With its response to the "Duck Dynasty" situation, the network "has been able to establish its progressive corporate values, maintain its relationship with advertisers, and not collapse an entire reality show in the process," Variety TV reporter AJ Marechal observes. "The bullet wasn't entirely dodged, but it at least didn't hit a main artery."

Merry Christmas from Dazey North Dakota!

California Reaches Beyond Its Borders With Rules, From Ethanol To Eggs

Daniel Fisher, Forbes Staff
Tharaldson Ethanol Plant No. 1 sits just west of Casselton, N.D., population 2,329, a gleaming collection of silver fermentation vats and grain-storage silos with capacity to produce 153 million gallons of alcohol a year.
The $250 million plant was built with California’s strict fuel regulations in mind. It’s close to rail lines leading straight to the Golden State, and for the first two years of its existence, Tharaldson No. 1 sent 25% of its output to refineries operated by BP BP +0.54%, Shell and Valero.
Then California decided it didn’t like North Dakota ethanol. Under the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard that went into effect in 2010, Tharaldson was judged according to its “lifecyle” greenhouse-gas emissions and penalized for the high amount of coal burned in local power plants. California ethanol producers, who use electricity from gas and hydropower, had an edge. Tharaldson now sells less than 1% of its ethanol to California.
“California was our whole business model,” says Ryan Thorpe, manager of the Tharaldson plant. “We’re on the Burlington Northern railroad. We’re a westward-facing plant.”
Normally, the Constitution prohibits such shenanigans. Under the Interstate Commerce Clause, states aren’t allowed to erect barriers to the free flow of goods, and the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down state laws that give advantages to local producers of everything from milk to garbage.
But so far, California seems to be getting a pass. A three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals approved the state’s ethanol regulations in September, and a month earlier the same court upheld a California law that prohibits the sale of foie gras from force-fed ducks (there’s no other kind). Out-of-state egg producers are fighting another law that bans the importation of eggs from hens that haven’t been kept in California-compliant cages (apparently, the state’s voters were disturbed by videos showing hens in cramped quarters).
There’s no question states can ban products they think are unhealthy or dangerous. But it’s a stretch for California to effectively ban ethanol from the Midwest because the diesel burned in a farmer’s tractor in North Dakota contributes to the global warming that one day will threaten multimillion-dollar beach houses in Malibu.
“You are allowed to regulate within your borders,” says Jonathan Adler, an expert on interstate commerce law at Case Western University Law School. Courts are supposed to distinguish between legitimate safety regulations and disguised trade barriers, however, “and California seems to be crossing that line.”
California argues that since all ethanol is chemically identical, it has to look beyond the molecule to how it is produced in order to address the problem of global warming. To do that, it has a complex formula that accounts for everything from how far the grain fields are from the silo to how much fuel locomotives burn hauling the ethanol to California. Under that formula, Brazilian ethanol produced from sugar-cane waste scores better than Midwest ethanol from coal-burning states.
“They’re not going to take my ethanol that’s only a few hundred miles away by train, but they’ll take it from thousands of miles away by ship,” Thorpe says.
California also reached beyond its borders with the foie gras law, passed under stiff pressure from animal-rights activists alarmed by the centuries-old practice of force-feeding ducks for the 21 days before they are slaughtered in order to expand their livers.
“Our point is pretty simple: You can’t induce a disease in an animal just to make it taste better,” says Carter Dillard, a lawyer for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, who says the ducks suffer progressive liver failure in the three weeks before they are killed.
Foie gras producers in New York and Canada counter that they are selling a safe and federally-approved product that is still legal even in California. Unlike child pornography or machine guns, Californians can still ship all the foie gras into the state they want. The law just prohibits California businesses – read: expensive restaurants – from selling it to consumers. Even the California Food and Agriculture Dept. found the procedure isn’t cruel and urged then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to veto the bill (he didn’t).
“What is the legitimate local interest here?” asks Michael Tenenbaum, a Santa Monica lawyer who is pressing the Ninth Circuit to rehear a challenge to the foie gras law. “California doesn’t have a legitimate interest in getting New York farmers to change their methods.”
California voters, again outraged by undercover videos, passed Proposition 2in 2008 requiring veal calves, hens and pregnant pigs to be raised in cages or pens large enough for the animals to “lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.” Fair enough: Californians are entitled to tell their farmers how to raise animals within state borders.
But California egg producers complained they’d be at an economic disadvantage with their suddenly more expensive, free-range cages. The California Legislature came to the rescue in 2010 by passing a law banning retailers in the state from selling non-California-compliant eggs, no matter where they came from. Then-Gov. Schwarzenegger signed that law, too. Suddenly farmers across the country were being forced to choose between paying to upgrade their operations to California standards or withdrawing from interstate commerce. Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) has sparked a battle in Washington by trying to pass a federal law prohibiting states from regulating farming practices across their borders, and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is thinking about suing.
Legal scholars who oppose the California laws note that if California can ban products based on how and where they are produced, not the characteristics of the products themselves, there is no reason it can’t ban automotive fuel produced from Canadian tar-sands crude, or slap a global-warming tax on Florida oranges that have to be shipped into the state. Worried about low manufacturing costs driving jobs to Alabama? Ban products produced with wages below the California minimum.
Midwestern ethanol producers and duck farmers got some good news recently when the Ninth Circuit ordered California to submit its legal justifications for both laws as the court considers an en banc appeal before all of the judges. The oft-overturned Ninth would be wise to consider the Supreme Court’s many previous rulings in this area, including a decision last year striking down a California law banning the sale of meat from “downer” animals that can’t walk into the slaughterhouse under their own steam. (That one, like the egg ban, was inspired by undercover videos.)
“I think I can lower my score,” he says. But the bigger question is, why?
Meanwhile Thorpe is overseeing a $5 million project to make Tharaldson Ethanol Plant No. 1 more California-friendly, including a switch to continuous to batch fermentation and installing more efficient driers to reduce natural gas consumption.
Written by Daniel Fisher, Forbes Staff


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- The latest scion of one of America's most powerful political dynasties is trying to convince voters he's something other than what his famous surname suggests.

George P. Bush, Jeb Bush's 37-year-old son who is a grandson of one former president and nephew of another, is launching his political career by running for Texas' little-known but powerful land commissioner post.

But rather than campaigning on the mainstream Republicanism embodied by the family name, Bush says he's "a movement conservative" more in line with the tea party. 

As if to underscore the point, he says he draws the most inspiration not from the administrations of his grandfather, George H. W. Bush, or his uncle, George W. Bush, but from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who engineered the 1994 Republican takeover of that chamber.

"On social questions, national defense, economic issues, I'm a strong conservative," Bush told The Associated Press. That kind of statement helps make him the latest - and perhaps one of the more unlikely - faces in the parade of Republicans marching even farther to the right in already fiercely conservative Texas. As he takes baby steps away from the Bush legacy, George P. could struggle to convince the party's far right that he's really more conservative than either of his elders who have occupied the Oval Office.

"A Bush can't be a true conservative," said Morgan McComb, a North Texas tea party activist and organizer.

Bush insists that he's up to the challenge, noting that he was an early supporter of tea party hero Sen. Ted Cruz, who after less than a year in the Senate has rocketed from relative political unknown to ruler of the Texas GOP.

"That's something that we bring to the table that's different," Bush said. "We're a mainstream conservative that appeals to all Republicans."

James Bernsen, Cruz's former campaign spokesman, said the Bushes "walk in certain circles, and some of those people might put their nose up at Ted sometimes, but George P. tries to cross that divide."

"George recognizes that it's a blessing and a curse to have that last name," Bernsen said. "There's a reason he's not really being challenged on the ballot. But he also realizes there's a lot of people who will be very skeptical of him."

The Texas land commissioner administers state-owned lands and mineral resources that help pay for public education statewide. The position can be a springboard to higher office. The incumbent commissioner, Jerry Patterson, is running for lieutenant governor. And the incumbent lieutenant governor he's challenging, David Dewhurst, served as land commissioner before winning his current job.
Squaring off against Bush are former El Paso Democratic Mayor John Cook and Republican East Texas businessman David Watts. But Bush has raked in more than $3.3 million and is expected to cruise to victory both in the Republican primary in March and the November general election.

Republicans have not lost a statewide race in Texas since 1994.

But Bush's rightward drift comes with risks. It might hurt his image as a next-generation Republican who could reach out to Texas' booming Hispanic population. Bush is a fluent Spanish speaker whose mother, Columba, was born in Mexico.

Hispanics vote overwhelmingly Democratic, but Bush said many also agree with the GOP on social issues, opposing abortion and large government.

"I'm willing to stand behind this concept, that as conservatives we can win the Hispanic vote without selling out the values," Bush said. "I don't think we need to compromise."

Bush says he wants to embody conservative activism while still leaving room to govern. He refused to endorse the Cruz-led effort to defund the White House's health care overhaul, which sparked a partial government shutdown. Bush called the measure "a monstrosity" but also said the only option left was to look for market-based solutions to reform it.

"We need to get back to being the party of solutions," Bush said. Gingrich's leadership in 1994 "was the last great case study where you saw a conservative party that came forward with solutions on the big issues of the day."

Born in Houston, Bush grew up in Florida, where his father, Jeb, was governor from 1998 until 2007. After college, he taught school in inner-city Miami, worked on his uncle's presidential campaign and earned a law degree from the University of Texas. He also clerked for a federal judge and founded a capital company in Fort Worth, where he now lives. In 2010, he served an eight-month tour in Afghanistan with naval intelligence under an assumed name for security reasons.

Those close to the Bushes shrugged off any suggestion that some family members might be irked to see George P. distancing himself from the clan.

"The only thing the Bush family cares about is that George P. follow his convictions, whatever they are," said Mark McKinnon, a GOP strategist and former advisor to George W. Bush's presidential campaigns.

Karen Hughes, a former spokeswoman and diplomat for the George W. Bush White House, said any candidate runs "based on his or her fundamental values and priorities, and that is true regardless of your last name."

Others who know the family said Gingrich's "Contract With America," which was on the cutting edge of activist conservatism in 1994, is now far more mainstream for the GOP as a 
whole - including the Bushes.

Still, Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, a socially conservative activist group, said Bush's claiming of the movement conservative mantle isn't credible given the shadow his family has cast over state and national politics for so long.

However, while many tea party backers remain enraged that Bush's uncle ran up enormous federal deficits and oversaw the bank bailout, they are unwilling to turn their back on the family, Adams acknowledged.

"I think Texans are very respectful of the gentlemen in politics, the kindness and compassion that the family has earned over a long period of time," she said.

Those sentiments will probably extend to George P. too, she added, "even though it should not be that way."