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Duck Dynasty Star Suspended

Aired December 19, 2013 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Great to be with you on this Thursday. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

And we today are talking about this popular TV star put on ice for these controversial comments he has made about race, about religion, about sexual orientation. It has everyone talking today and tweeting and posting and fighting over this. Really. So for the next hour, right here on the show, we're having a debate on political correctness in America. Let's talk about exactly where the line is drawn. What should happen when it's crossed?

So first, the back-story here. You have the patriarch of this entire family on the hit reality show. I'm talking 14 million viewers a week. "Duck Dynasty" gets a little too real in this magazine interview. This is "GQ" magazine. Gets put on indefinite hiatus by the network, A&E. Again, if you are not one of these 14 million viewers who tune in to "Duck Dynasty," you may have no clue who Phil Robertson is. So let me show you. This is what they call a little rap video put together as a promo for the show.


PHIL ROBERTSON, "DUCK DYNASTY": Cell phones. No Internet. Nope. Nintendo. No. Move on, nerds. Cell phones.


BALDWIN: So this guy, Phil Robertson, he has raked in a fortune making duck calls. Ergo "Duck Dynasty." Started out in a shed in Louisiana. Now he's being called out for these comments he made to "GQ." Everyone is chiming in on this. You are hearing from the likes of Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, here. We will get to all of this, this hour. But first, here is Nischelle Turner just to set this up. She gets into the nitty-gritty of this controversy that has this duck under fire.


NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The patriarch of the hit reality TV show "Duck Dynasty" sounded off.

PHIL ROBERTSON, "DUCK DYNASTY": My idea of happiness is killing things.

TURNER: But he turned the target on himself. On Wednesday, A&E suspended Phil Robertson, founder of the Duck Commander Company and head of his back woods Louisiana family from filming indefinitely for the controversial anti-gay statements he made in an interview with "GQ" magazine. In the article, Robertson says, quote, "it's not logical, my man. It's just not logical." He goes on to explain what he finds sinful, saying, "start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men," he says. Robertson then refers to a Bible passage from Corinthians, saying, "don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right."

His words angering gay rights activists.

WILSON CRUZ, GLAAD SPOKESPERSON: I was shocked and appalled really that somebody who's on A&E's highest rated show would say something along the lines of comparing homosexuality to bestiality, among other things.

TURNER: Robertson and his family are known for preaching their Christian beliefs.

ROBERTSON: We still manage to stay true to ourselves.

TURNER: Telling "GQ" they're, quote, "Bible thumpers who just happened to end up on television." But gay rights advocates say, along with the limelight comes responsibility.

CRUZ: You have the freedom of speech, absolutely, but we have the freedom to turn off all of our televisions when you say something that offends us and the people that we love.

TURNER: Robertson released this statement after the article was released saying, "I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other."


BALDWIN: So a debate rages on today. Should Phil Robertson get booted for his comments or not? Let's go there, let's talk about this with our very own Don Lemon joining me here in New York.

Hello, my friend.



Also CNN political commentators Ben Ferguson and Marc Lamont Hill.

So, welcome, gentlemen, to every single one of you. Each of you has a different opinion. So, Don Lemon, because you're sitting next to me, let's just do this round robin like. Let's just first begin with how all of you feel your reaction to this "GQ" article - I've read every single page of the seven pages just to get the full picture. LEMON: Yes.

BALDWIN: You begin.

LEMON: Well, listen, I don't condone what he says, I don't agree with any of what he says, but I am shocked that people are shocked that he said it. Having grown up in Louisiana, I hear - I've always heard people talk like that. And if you listen to fundamentalist Christians, not all of them, but many of them, they say the exact same things. They use the same Bible verses that he used, not only to subject women, but to enslave African-Americans and also to keep African- Americans segregated for Jim Crow. It is nothing new --

BALDWIN: I'm not seeing a Don Lemon shock face. This is not shock.

LEMON: It's not shock. It's - I am not shocked by it. But, you know, hey, listen, I think freedom of speech, but what he said was wrong.

BALDWIN: OK, coming back to you. Marc Lamont Hill to you next, because you are saying the whole show should be yanked, is that correct?

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not necessarily the whole show, but certainly if their - if they were to hold on to him, I would say let's yank the show. My bigger point here is that, you know, it's a tightrope that we're constantly walking between allowing people to have freedom of speech, allowing people to articulate ideas that are unpopular. God knows I say things that are unpopular. Ben Ferguson says things that are really unpopular. You know, but we still should have a right and a space to say them. But --

LEMON: Don't leave me out, Marc.

HILL: Oh, yes, well, Don, you go without saying.

But the point is, you know, just because we're saying someone should be taken off of a show, doesn't mean we're trying to compromise freedom of speech. We're saying - yes, you can say that ridiculous thing, but we, as a marketplace, have a right to say, we don't want to be a part of it. I, as a corporation or as a CEO of a corporation, don't want to stand next to somebody who represents ideals that we think are not in the interest of our business.

And that's the point here. This -- corporations don't have feelings. They have interests. And the truth is, in the long game, they would be compromised by standing next to him, so the market is winning. This isn't a compromise of free speech, this is the free market that everybody wants.

BALDWIN: Just so I'm hearing you clearly. So you're saying if A&E ultimately decides, you know, and we don't really know, they define this notion of him being suspended. We don't really know what that means at the moment.

HILL: Yes, we do.

BALDWIN: But it -- hang on. Hang on. We actually don't, at least according to A&E at the moment. But if they do not ultimately pull him, then you're saying - you're saying the show -- you're saying you absolutely wouldn't be watching this, yes?

HILL: Absolutely, because they're making a chose to side with homophobia, and that's just not something I can stand with.


Ben Ferguson, what are your thoughts, my friend?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I - well, first of all, I don't think they're worried about Marc Lamont, losing his viewership, because he wasn't going to be watching this in the first place.

HILL: Touche.

FERGUSON: But I do think, when I look at this article and I looked at the -- every page of it, to me, it brought to light something a little bit different. I think there was an aspect of this article that was a hit piece. There was some mocking of faith and Christianity in this article as well. I would have loved to have been there and seen the whole day and the interaction because I think what you see here is a guy that said something that was very politically incorrect. It's not the way it should have been said. But at the same time, I don't like how people reacting, implying that he said things or implied things that he didn't say.

For example, there's a big article today that said he said in this article that he believed all gays go to hell. That's not what he said in this article.


FERGUSON: And I want to make sure that we make it very clear. He said sins make you go to hell if you don't believe in God. And he listed a bunch of sins. He didn't say, if you do x, y, or z, then automatically you're going to hell. And I hate how people are having to turn this into their own agenda instead of looking at what he actually said, which, again, I think he said it the wrong way and I don't think most Christians would say it the way that he did say it. Growing up in the south, I did not hear the conversation that Don Lemon says he hears every day.


LEMON: But you can't - you cannot hide - Ben - Ben, you can't hide behind Christianity, you can't hide behind the Bible, you can't hide behind Jesus and God when your -

FERGUSON: I'm not hiding behind it.

LEMON: But I'm not talking about you. I just mean you in general, right, the understood you in general.

BALDWIN: In general. LEMON: You can't hide behind that and then be bigoted behind it. That is the issue. When people say, oh, I'm not racist, or I'm not this, I'm not bigoted, sometimes they're unaware of it. This man is obviously unaware of his bigotry and he is using Christianity as a shield, as a cover for his bigotry in this article.

BALDWIN: Let me just in because I want to get back to the freedom of speech issue because a lot of people are making this argument. We've heard from Bobby Jindal. We've heard from - we've heard from Ted Cruz. But let me just quote Sarah Palin, for example. And if we have the picture, guys, throw the picture up. Because here she was with her friends, the "Duck Dynasty," and she said this today. "Free speech is an endangered species. Those intolerants' hatin' and taking on the 'Duck Dynasty' patriarch (Phil Robertson) for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us." Here is what I pose to any three of you all, because, let's remember, Sarah Palin, not too long ago, called out MSNBC host Martin Bashir because of his crude remarks, said he should be fired. We now know he is no longer with that cable network. But now she says freedom of speech when it comes to this particular article and the remarks made on behalf of this man. Is that fair?

LEMON: Not only that, people were calling for - people were calling for the firing of Martin Bashir. And, listen, I don't think Martin Bashir nor Alec Baldwin nor Phil Robertson nor Paula Deen, I don't think any of them should be fired. I agree in part with what Sarah Palin is saying. Yes, free speech is under attack. How much free speech do we really have? It's only free speech until someone says something you don't like, then it's no longer free speech anyone.

BALDWIN: But what about the issue -

HILL: But -

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Ben. Go ahead. Jump in.

FERGUSON: No, go. No, I think there's another side of this, though. You have a guy that's doing an interview. And I encourage everyone watching to read the article because no one is even looking at the bias of the article and how the argument was laid out. You have a guy that obviously has disdain for faith and Christianity. You can see it in just the cuss words he uses to mock the ideas of "Duck Dynasty" and the world that "Duck Dynasty" is. So look at the contempt that the article had for faith and Christianity and then ask yourself, is there probability --

BALDWIN: I don't know if contempt is a fair word. Listen, we would love to talk to Drew (ph). I would love to talk to Drew McGarry (ph).

HILL: Inability - thank you.

FERGUSON: Oh, I think it is.

BALDWIN: Listen, I would love to talk to Drew McGarry. I thought he was an incredible writer and he puts it out there very early on in the first couple of grabs (ph) and uses some language himself. I know exactly what you're talking about. You have to read the whole piece. And he's very clear and I feel like in parts transparent as far as, you know, the background he's coming from. So I think the transparency is there. Just -- because he's not sitting here, I just want to defend this writer just a little bit. There is some transparency in his perspective.

LEMON: And he did say - he said, listen, I didn't want to be rude to this guy because I was an invited guest in his home.

BALDWIN: Yes, he was the host.

LEMON: And so therefore I did not - yes, I did not want to fight with him. But all he said was, listen, this guy is talking about, you know, the Japanese starting wars and about Islam and about all those things and he was saying without Jesus Christ, look where other countries and look where other cultures -

BALDWIN: The bloodshed.

LEMON: Have gone and the bloodshed they've had. And he forgets that even in the name of Christ, that there has been a lot of bloodshed in the name of Christ. And that's what he said in the article. If that's mocking - that's not mocking Christianity, that's just fact, Ven.

FERGUSON: No, I'm looking at specifically --

HILL: Yes, he's - what he's mocking is very -

BALDWIN: Go ahead. Marc first.

FERGUSON: Let me say this, though.

HILL: What he's mocking is a very narrow show - what he's mocking is a very narrow world view and a very myopic understanding of Christianity that allows you to use it, as Don says, an excuse to be homophobic, to be racist, to be any of these - to me, you know, misogynistic, to be all these other things.

But I have to disagree with Don's assertion here, which is that somehow we all love free speech until it offends us. I mean that part is true. But what's not true is that we - is that there's somehow a compromise of free speech when we fire people for saying things that we don't like or that are offensive to us. By that logic, no one could ever say anything that was fireable because we always have the banner of free speech. This is a free market. Networks have a right to say, we don't want to employ someone who doesn't represent our vision or our view or the spirit of our product. If someone is viciously homophobic, I have a right to say, because you said those things, I don't want you on my network.

LEMON: You said the right thing, though. Marc, think about what you said.

FERGUSON: But let me say this.

LEMON: You said, if someone is - you said, if someone is viciously homophobic. He did not say it on the air, on his show. He did not say that all gays should be killed or all black people should be killed.

BALDWIN: But it was a national magazine, Don Lemon.

LEMON: They were asking - but they were asking his opinion on something and that's what he believes.

FERGUSON: But this is -

HILL: But he compared it to bestiality.

FERGUSON: Hold on. But, Marc -

HILL: Right. He has a right to believe it.

FERGUSON: Marc, this is where - this is where I think -- let me say this. This is where I think Don and I actually have an agreement on an idea, and that is this. If you come into an interview and he sits down and he talks and he says, this is what I think is the problems of the world is all of these different things in sin. People go against the word and I think they should all come to know Christ and therefore that we would all get along better, then the reality is, look at the people today that are attacking him and they want to destroy everyone associated with the show. They want to destroy his entire family. They want to make them all into these people that literally want to destroy and kill gay people, which is not what he said.

HILL: And that's unfair.

LEMON: What he said -

FERGUSON: And Don and I agree on that.

LEMON: Ben, but listen, guys, here's what I -

HILL: That part's (ph) unfair.

LEMON: Let me say this. Let me say this. Listen, there's a lot of hypocrisy going on. I don't agree with anything he said. I just want to make sure people understand that. But there's a lot of hypocrisy going on. The same people who are defending people on other networks who are calling people blank sucking and fagots and saying someone should, you know, have defecate in their mouth, he didn't say anything like that. He's quoting the Bible and his beliefs.

FERGUSON: It - that's right.

LEMON: Many people are defending - were defending other people, and now they won't defend him. That's hypocrisy.

HILL: Right, but, Don -

BALDWIN: Hang on, hang on, hang on, hang on. On - on the Bible issue, I have to get -- let me get all of you to stand by because coming up, a lot of the A&E critics are saying that this is, you know, quite honestly this is an attack on Christianity. Does this put the spotlight here on the church's internal battle involving homosexuals. We'll hear from both sides on that.

Plus, hear from some Christian celebrities who feel just like this "Duck Dynasty" patriarch Phil Robertson. This is a CNN special discussion. Stay right here.


BALDWIN: You know, part of the lure of this show, "Duck Dynasty," is, in fact, the faith of the Robertson family. They are unabashedly Christian. And while A&E has distanced itself now from Phil Robertson's personal views, some of his religious beliefs about sin are widely held across this country. And some critics accuse the network now of declaring war on Christian values.

You have this piece today by conservative writer and radio host Todd Starnes. This is just part of what he wrote. Quote, "A&E is apparently run by a bunch of anti-Christian bigots. "Duck Dynasty" worships God. A&E worships GLAAD. If Phil had been twerking with a duck, the network probably would have given him a contract extension. But because he espoused beliefs held by many Christians, he's been silenced."

And then there's this. This is from the Southern Baptist Convention. Take a listen.


RUSSELL MOORE, SOUTHERN BAPTIST ETHICS AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY COMMISSION: And I think that suggesting that people who hold to what every branch of the Christian faith has held to for 2,000 years are somehow bigoted or hateful is not productive for speech.


BALDWIN: Clearly, especially the last year or so, this clash between homosexuality and religion is becoming more played out publicly. You have just this week, we talked about it on this show, gay rights magazine, "The Advocate," look at this, named Pope Francis its person of the year. He has not endorsed same sex marriage but he has said, who am I to judge.

Keep in mind, when not taping "Duck Dynasty," Phil Robertson and his family, they tour the country, they host Bible studies. They say they are Christians before they are reality TV stars. But can they really be both? Phil Robertson, if you read this whole article on "GQ," he told this writer, he said, "we're Bible thumpers who just happened to end up on television."

So, let me open up this discussion here to we have Wilson Cruz, he is the national spokesperson for GLAAD. And we also have Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

So, both of you, welcome. I'm glad to have both perspectives.

Al, I'd love to just begin with you. If you can, I presume you've read this articles and you've read the comments that Phil made to "GQ." Do you agree that this is crude, this is hateful stuff? ALBERT MOHLER, PRESIDENT, SOUTHERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: Well, I think you have to divide the issue between what he said and exactly how he said it. I wouldn't have put it exactly how he put it. I wouldn't have been so anatomical. But in terms of his affirmation of the historic Christian understanding of sin in general and of homosexuality in the very specific context, he was answering a question he was asked and he did so in a way that in terms of its substance was unquestionably faithful to the scripture and faithful to what most Christians around the world believe right now and what virtually all Christians, throughout the history of the Christian church have believed until this moment and continuing. And so I want to speak up and say, I wouldn't have said it the way he said it, but what he said, what is causing the offense is classic Christianity.

BALDWIN: OK. He has every right to believe what he wants to believe, but do you believe that he chose the right venue to speak in the way he did? This national magazine, "GQ."

MOHLER: Well, I've written about that, and I think we as Christians have to be very careful about the particular forums we choose to express ourselves in. I would have some grave concerns about this kind of an interview, this kind of article in a magazine like "GQ" because, quite frankly, I would know that what they're looking for is the kind of scandal or the kind of controversy, the kind of conversation we're having about it right now. So, score one for the magazine. They got what they wanted. And I think that should be - and a kind of lesson for all Christians in this context.

BALDWIN: Wilson, as the national spokesperson for GLAAD, I can only imagine, and I've seen you all over our air, I know how you feel about the words that this man chose. But how would you respond to what Al just said?

WILSON CRUZ, NATIONAL SPOKESMAN, GLAAD: Well, I would say that not all Christians are supporting the views of Phil Robertson. There are many Christians, more and more Christians actually, who support LGBT people and their families because they have LGBT people in their families. They know LGBT people. So, I invite Al, I invite Mr. Robertson to actually know us in our lives and our families and to actually meet young people who are now discovering that they are and accepting that they are LGBT and how these kind of statements affect them and their lives. I'm really concerned about the fact that people will take these statements and actually use them as an excuse to actually act violence upon LGBT people. We see it all the time. And so that's what I'm really worried about.

BALDWIN: To your point, let me just quote this writer again, this conservative writer, Todd Starnes, because in this piece he says, "if you thought feathers got ruffled over Chick-fil-A," he writes, "wait until 'Duck Dynasty' fans take to the streets. I am one of those fans."

Al, what would your message be to those fans who - you know, there's a hashtag going around on Twitter, you know, #standbyphil. This could further galvanize this group. What would your message be to them? MOHLER: Well, my message would be not only to them but to anyone who's listening, including those who are the producers and the owners, the executives of television networks and all the rest, realize that part of the reason why so many millions of Americans love "Duck Dynasty," it has very little to do with ducks and everything to do with the Christian life, the family life, the wholesomeness of that program and the fact that, quite frankly, it's a picture of family life you just don't get almost anywhere else in terms of popular television. That's why there's so much attention there. And there's a very positive depiction of a healthy biblical Christianity in the life of that family.

I would just remind them that we are to stay by the scripture and to put everything - and, by the way, I'm going to defend Phil on this very clearly. He put his context in - his comments in the context of the Gospel. He was doing exactly what a Christian should do. He was -- all throughout that article - and, by the way, the "GQ" article is very clear about this. His concern was to help people to know their need for Christ and to turn to Christ, to believe in Christ, and to find salvation in Christ. And when he was talking about that list of sins, he wasn't comparing one thing to another. He was doing what the Bible does repeatedly, and that is put out a list of sins that includes all of us so that we know our need for Christ. And so in those sins, Phil was very clear, he included himself amongst the sinners who needs Jesus. And that's what we all have to do continually.

BALDWIN: You know -- I think - I think some of this -- this is not news as far as how conservative Christians feel about homosexuality based upon, you know, the teachings in the Bible. But I sat here, just in preparing for this hour, and I started to think about, you know, just having a front row to history the last year and you think about what happened with DOMA. You think -- I think even New Mexico was the latest state to support same-sex marriage as of today. You have the pope, you know, saying that he wouldn't judge those. There's -- you have President Obama and his evolving stance on same-sex marriage.

Wilson, to you, I guess - I guess my point is more of a point and less of a question, but it seems like this is - this is bringing up an old fight in a very new way.

CRUZ: I'm sorry, I lost sound.

BALDWIN: Wilson, can you hear me?

OK. I'm guessing Wilson -

CRUZ: I can. Can you repeat the question?

BALDWIN: Yes, yes. My point is just - I feel like this isn't necessarily news the way Christians -- conservative Christians and the stance on homosexuality. But given different news events in the last year, it seems like this is an old fight, but we're seeing it through a new lens.

CRUZ: Yes. It is a new lens. And the lens is that this country has changed and that most Americans support LGBT people and are loving and committed relationships. You know, it is not a Christian thing to compare or to include homosexuality in a list that includes bestiality or slanderers. That is not what Americans think. That's not who we are. If you know us, you know that's not true. So, yes, this is an old argument that we've been having, but now more and more Americans know who we actually are and they will not put up with anyone speaking ill about us.

And here's the other thing. There was a time in our history when we couldn't actually speak up and say something about how we were being characterized. That is no longer today. When someone speaks about us in these ways, we will rise up. We will speak out. And the problem with some of these people on the other side is that they don't like that anymore. They want us to stay quiet. But we won't stay quiet when someone makes misogynists statements, when they make racist statements the way that Mr. Robertson did. That's not American. That's not Christian.

BALDWIN: Wilson Cruz, thank you. Al Mohler, thank you very much.

Coming up, moving off of that and talking about the -- isn't the point of this, this is a reality show? To be, you know, as outrageous as possible? Find out what really happens behind the scenes of these shows and the decisions that are made to get them on air.

Plus, we will take a look at other celebrities whose comments have gotten them in deep, deep trouble and whether they were able to make a comeback. Stay here.