'Duck Dynasty' controversy: Say what you want, but not on your company's dime

OPINION - Of course he has the constitutional right to say whatever he wants, but definitely not on his company’s dime!...

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It is comical to see the arguments in the latest case of foot-in-mouth disease affecting a well-followed celebrity. This time Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson has said some awfully hurtful things regarding sexual preference as well as absurd things about black people.

Of course he has the constitutional right to say whatever he wants, but definitely not on his company’s dime!

As a longtime news manager, I am a staunch supporter of the right to free speech. But as a realist, I know news is a business and the people who have worked for me had an obligation to protect the brand by not interjecting their personal opinions. But that is news and such observations are expected. But what about reality shows, movies and entertainment?  What brands do they protect? Why should they be held to such standards? The reason is simple: audience and sponsor retention and development.

If a corporate or even independent entity were to finance a venture that allowed high-profile contributors to go rogue, spouting venom or absurdities that alienate potential consumers of the product, that venture would eventually fail. If a corporate entity has particular standards that require tolerance of race, religion, and sexual preference or even to require a modicum of intelligence, then that entity has the right to demand that everyone, regardless of their celebrity or corporate rank, adhere to such standards. After all, who’s footing the bill?

Media companies have a long track record of sensitivity toward viewers and employees. Regarding employees, if you were Jewish, would you want to work in an environment that allowed neo-Nazis to create a toxic worksite? If you were a straight person and wound up in a work environment of mostly gay people, would you accept harassment based on your sexual preferences? If you ran a company that staunchly observed just one religion and demanded that you participated in their prayer at the start of each workday, would you accept that?

Media companies have equal employment declarations that follow a straight line from the newly hired intern to the CEO. Mandated by the FCC, these requirements demand a hostility free workplace environment. Even though viewers only see the Robertson family in Duck Dynasty, who do you think is behind the scenes in the production unit?

It is the sales staff, the traffic schedulers, the caterers, the bookers, the travel departments, the cable and broadcast hubs, the satellite uplinks and downlinks and so on. There are gay people, black people, Hispanics, Asians, women, men and white people and people of all religions and political persuasions.  Should they be forced to work in an environment made toxic by unthinking, ignorant, unapologetic bigots? Absolutely not!

Let’s do some name associations. What do these people have in common: Mel Gibson, former all-pro Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, Gilbert Gottfried, Don Imus, Paula Deen and Martin Bashir?

The common thread obviously is that inappropriate comments led to a loss of their job or status and social position. It is interesting that the right wing is running to the defense of Robertson. But when it was Bashir, it was “bombs away!”

So in America you do have the right to say whatever you want. But you also have to expect to accept the consequences, even if, (as Robertson claims), you grew up pickin’ cotton with black folks, as though that alone is an excuse for  making inappropriate comments.