Commentary: Recent faux pas not about free speech


By John Krull

INDIANAPOLIS – Bless “Duck Dynasty” and Justine Sacco.

Together, they’ve created an opportunity for an important civic education lesson.

John Krull, publisher,

John Krull, publisher,

For those of you who don’t know what the twin furors over “Duck Dynasty” and Sacco are – presumably because you have been wasting your time focusing on things that matter – allow me to explain.

Commentary button in JPG - no shadow“Duck Dynasty” is a reality show airing on A&E about a Louisiana family named Robertson that has made a fortune, which likely has been enhanced by the show, by making duck calls and other products for duck hunters. The show celebrates the Robertson family’s success and decidedly evangelical Christian faith.

To help promote the show, Phil Robertson sat for an interview with GQ magazine. In the interview, Robertson made comments that struck many readers as homophobic. Those offenders took to Twitter, Facebook and other social media to express their outrage.

The story crossed over to mainstream media and, pretty quickly, A&E decided to suspend Robertson from the show.

Robertson, his family and his fans tried to cast him as a martyr for the First Amendment.

He isn’t, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

While the “Duck Dynasty” controversy was raging, Sacco, director of corporate communications for media giant IAC, issued a tweet before boarding a plane.

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white,” Sacco tweeted.

Once again, Twitter exploded. Tweets flew back and forth exploring, in 140 or fewer characters, whether Sacco was more insensitive to issues of race or the global AIDS crisis. On whichever side Twitter users landed, they were outraged.

When Sacco landed in South Africa, she in short order lost her job. Even an abject apology from her didn’t stop Sacco from being established as a new poster child for cultural cluelessness.

And, again, her relatively defenders tried to depict her fall as an assault on her First Amendment rights.

Again, they were wrong.

The First Amendment protects us from government suppression of our right to express ourselves, whether in speech, writing or art. It doesn’t protect us from having someone get angry or offended by something we have said or written.

No government entity – and, for that matter, no one I know of – has tried to prevent Robertson or Sacco from saying what either believes. No one has said that they can’t stand on a street corner to speak their minds, preach in the church or post something on the blog of their choice.

If someone did try to prevent either Sacco or Robertson from doing any of those things, I – as a former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and true believer when it comes to the First Amendment – would line up with Sacco and Robertson to prevent their rights from being violated.

But those rights weren’t violated here.

What happened was that two private companies decided that Robertson’s and Sacco’s comments were likely to drive away customers, so the companies opted to put some distance between them and those offensive comments.

It wasn’t a constitutional question in either case. In each situation, it was a business decision.

(And it is worth noting that the folks who complain that Robertson’s and Sacco’s views are being demeaned seem not have realized that Robertson and Sacco themselves were doing some demeaning.)

The First Amendment offers us many protections. Perhaps the most basic of those protections is the one that allows – no, demands – that we be the keepers of our own consciences.

The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee that we never will upset anyone else by standing up for what we believe. It also doesn’t guarantee that we never will suffer professional consequences for saying something that angers people – just ask the Dixie Chicks about that – or that we won’t suffer social ostracism for offending others.

What the First Amendment does guarantee is that the decision about what to believe or where to make a stand in defense of those beliefs is ours – and ours alone.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.


  1. For them to make it a first amendment argument only proves how dumb they and their viewers are. Let the dumb remain dumb. The areas where this show is popular already hated gays and blacks anyway, so it’s not like much has changed.

  2. It’s definitely not about free speech, but, rather about trying to humiliate a Christian when he gives answers to “gotcha” questions.

    SURPRISE!!! It didn’t work!

    Now GLAAD and Jesse have taken a beating and who stands to profit most from the tempest in a teapot? A&E, of course. How much would all of this free advertising for DD and their more sleazy shows have cost if they had to pay for it?

    The special interest groups played into A&E’s hand and the one thing that didn’t change was Mr. Robertson’s words and beliefs.


  3. I also find it hilarious that these fans of the show act like ‘murican patriots by rushing out to show their support by buying chinese made shirts and can cozies with their faces on them.

  4. Agree that both stories are not a 1st amendment issue. They are however a PC police issue. They both prove that if you say something the PC cops dislike they will try to destroy you. Worked in one case but not the other, the PC crowd will have to try again and I am sure they will.

  5. “Dumbed…UP!” Have ole Phil demonstrate the Mallard duck feeding call, chuckle.chuckle..chuckle.”bang,splat,fetch’um.

    I somehow always knew all the worlds problems could be easily solved in a duck blind,the blind does usually build successes on consensus of its occupants,really with no matter to ones social,or political background at all.

    Arkansas duck hunting at Winthrop farms,and other clubs way back in the day,boy did those days conversations play out…… 🙂


      • Aye,Morehouse parish, pretty far down the migration path. Hunting might be good but they have oversized economic exodus with the employment numbers for the locals.
        Probably conversation spark in the bayou between the shooting.
        That area is prime for some planet smart business to root in. The Delta outflows are a good place to start working back up stream,real good,and they do have a work force at the beckoning so to speak.

        The stormwater management thing I’m working with climate change sequestration and the 2012 Clean Water Act is a shoe in fit down there. I have spoken with some people closer in the land use developments around Pontchartrain.

        I’ve hunted along the Quachita,but in southern Arkansas. as well. The Spring bayou area. I have an invitation to hunt a private project,east of Monroe,south of I20 close to the black bayou area,haven’t been yet.

        The place down close to Covington is a local Country club development near the Tchefuncta river,thats one of those “blind” conversation things as well. They are really “all ears” right now,just short of being “all in” I think.

        (Grandpas rule IE:) Duck blind “conversations”are relative to Vegas,”whats said in the duck blind,stays in the duck blind.”

        That was an courteous standing rule observed in Arkansas also,especially, if one was talking about “That Woman” whom might be in concern of the nature of the said “conversations”in a given “Duck blind” Arkansas,or anywhere else,as well. 😉

  6. Thank you, John Krull, for the factual observations.
    I still think the DD guy did all of this for publicity for his new season. He is not ignorant, but his reality TV persona is. I think A&E and he planned this as a big publicity stunt. I even suspect that GQ was complicit in it, although that really would present a problem with journalistic ethics.
    You will take note that neither Paula Deen nor Ms. Sacco have been re-hired, probably because those situations are real.
    The promos for the new season of Honey Boo-Boo look particularly offensive, so DD had to do something to try to stay on top of the heap.

  7. I fear for the next generation with the Krulls of the world twisting away at their minds.

    So if Robertson was gay and made anti Christian remarks, assuming that Robertson’s comments were actually hateful rather than crude, would the ACLU Krull be claiming his free speech was not violated? Is Krull saying that corporations have a right to act as speak police and penalize its employees for exercising their Constitutional right to free speech? Yes, our free speech has consequences, but how does that justify a corporation enacting those consequences. A&E’s concern was not who Robertson’s comments would affect their bottom line, but their concerns were with what he said. Expecting Robertson to not say something crude is like IU expecting Knight to not throw chairs.

    Should Robertson also be denied hotel rooms and service at restaurants for what he said?

    And how does Robertson, a Louisiana red-neck, honestly answering a question he was asked rise to the same level of scrutiny as what Sacco, a PR executive, tweeted?

    The only reason I can see for the CCO, who has dismissed the DD controversy as a cleverly manufactured promotional stunt, to give Krull space on its site is to create a controversy to drive up their own unique hits. If the DD issue is only news for the cognitively simple, then why give Krull space to twist his views?

    • Maybe you should do a little research on how many Christians the ACLU has defended, and then you might want to pay dues, like me. I’ll be renewing my membership in mid-January, just like I always do. I love the fact that we have an organization that defends everyone’s right to believe what they believe. Sometimes, I have to overcome my own prejudices (NAMBLA, for example) to support the ACLU, but I will continue doing so. I will even maintain my membership from my planned ex-pat home.

      • You paying them dues is your foolishness, but I don’t need or support groups that play both ends against each other. I doubt you have overcome all of your prejudices, but I especially would not support a group that aids pedophiles. I guess my values don’t come cheap.

  8. Why do we keep separating the government from the public when it is the public that put the government in place? How can we expect the government to respect Amendment rights but not the general public? While we’re supporting private companies punishing people for “free speech”, what other Amendments in the Bill of Rights do we allow the private sector to decide whether or not we can practice. My biggest observation with all these stories is that it seems the people who are offended are often times nastier than the ones doing the offending. But I guess it’s o.k. if you belong to an accepted group of people. People really need to get over themselves and learn that there is a difference between tolerance and acceptance. Agree to disagree and move on.

  9. It’s funny to see people on here agree with this summation when the same reasoning was used by the Courier and Press on their blogs when people were violating the rules. In that case, most bloggers were screaming it was THEIR 1st Amendment right to say whatever they wanted on the Courier site.
    But since they don’t agree with Phil’s statements, it is not a 1st amendment issue for him. There is the big CCO double standard again.
    The PR person refered to not gettings aids in Africa because she is white.
    Phil said he believes the bible says being gay is a sin and sinners don’t get into heaven. He then said the black people he worked the cotton fields with as a young man did not seem unhappy.
    I don’t think holding a religious belief, which is protected by the constitution, and giving an observation about the people you worked with day in and day out is anywhere near the samething as Succo’s tweet. That is why they had different outcomes.

  10. I tend to agree with your observation on Sacco’s tweet being “worse than” the Duke of Duck’s “observations.” The pro-DD ranters didn’t think voicing his “beliefs(?)” should have resulted in his firing, but that was really not the legal issue. It had nothing to do with “First Amendment rights” and everything to do with his contract with A&E and “at will” employment.
    Of course, it was all pre-arranged and those who don’t believe in reality TV understood that.

    • Really LKB? Robertson is just a persona and reality TV is not real? Next thing you will be telling me that Santa is not real.

      Corporations can fire at will but they can not strip you of your constitutional rights. They suspended him because they did not like what he said not because it caused them financial harm.

      A Colorado baker just lost a law suit because he declined baking a same sex couple a wedding cake. So are you going to tell me the baker does not have right to deny service due to his views, but A&E has a right to deny employment due to their views?

      And I am still waiting to hear how Wilton Cruz and GLAAD fits into this great marketing scam.

      • I really don’t get your hang-up on GLAAD. It is just one of any number of organizations that support gay rights, and it isn’t one I support. I guess you have to claim your “victories” where you can get them.
        Btw, how do you like the near-pedophile You Tube post that Phil made? It showed up this morning.

    • Drats LKB. I just found your 10:26 comment. I would have hated missing you say I was right. 🙂

  11. Laura can overcome her “prejudices” against NAMBLA, but not Christians and their beliefs?

    Really don’t need to know anymore about her, do we?

    • I was speaking of the fact that I have trouble supporting an organization that defended them. Your comment is really stupid, because I obviously overcame my prejudices about Christianity. I support ACLU, and they defend both Christians and NAMBLA. Do some research, and try to deal with ideas, not personalities.

    • Btw, what is YOUR name, so we can be on an equal first-name basis? I guess you don’t have the courage of your convictions.

        • What does that have to do with it? I did run in a primary for County Council many years ago, but it was not a serious run. It was a “stalking horse” thing. Btw, it should be, “what office have you RUN for?”

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