Cracker Barrel pulls "Duck Dynasty" merchandise, then remembers who its customers are

If there’s been a more embarrassing example of a corporation reflexively bowing before a small pressure group, then getting its boardroom butt kicked by angry customers and reversing their decision, I don’t know what it might be.

Having apparently gone temporarily insane and forgotten who their customer base is, down-home country restaurant chain Cracker Barrel hastily decided to yank “Duck Dynasty” merchandise off the shelves, because avowed Christian Phil Robertson decided to avow his Christianity in public, and also revealed himself as a blatant out-and-proud heterosexual.  For some reason, Christians haven’t gotten the message that their religion must be practiced only in basements and remote, secluded areas; they’re not allowed to discuss it openly and retain access to the public square.  I guess they’re still hung up on all that “freedom of religion” stuff the powdered-wig guys scribbled into the Constitution with their quill pens.

There was considerable confusion on the part of both customers and Cracker Barrel store personnel on which merchandise was now verboten by Ministry of Tolerance edict.  There was talk that only items featuring the likeness of non-person Phil Robertson would be pulled – presumably the resources for a good old-fashioned Soviet-style airbrushing of his image were not available – but then others said it would be all “Duck Dynasty” items.  Some stores even reportedly pulled merchandise from Duck Commander, the company owned by the Robertson family, in addition to items from the TV network that suspended Robertson, A&E.

“We removed selected products which we were concerned might offend some of our guests while we evaluate the situation,” the company said in a statement, declaring that their corporate mission is “pleasing people,” which means they “operate within the ideals of fairness, mutual respect, and equal treatment of all people.”

Except Christians, of course.  They seem to have noticed there was no impulse to treat them with “respect,” and they weren’t happy about it.  They made their displeasure known to the company in what must have been epic volume, because just two days after ordering the Robertson family erased from its stores, Cracker Barrel issued one of the most amazing statements of apology you’ll ever read:

Dear Cracker Barrel Customer:

When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain Duck Dynasty items, we offended many of our loyal customers. Our intent was to avoid offending, but that???s just what we???ve done.

You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren???t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong.

We listened.

Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores.

And, we apologize for offending you.

We respect all individuals right to express their beliefs. We certainly did not mean to have anyone think different.

We sincerely hope you will continue to be part of our Cracker Barrel family.

Golly, Cracker Barrel, I wonder how anyone might have gotten the idea that you don’t respect all individuals’ right to express their beliefs?  Nobody in the boardroom saw this coming, huh?  That’s really the intellectual fallacy of the “Duck Dynasty” jihad in a nutshell: tolerance means respect the right of people to express ideas you disagree with, even disapprove of.  You don’t get to muzzle dissenters and posture as “tolerant” or boast about how much you respect free expression.  Either you respect that freedom, or you try to destroy a man for honestly expressing his beliefs in a magazine interview, after he was specifically asked about them.

Nothing insults the intelligence more than someone who tries to have it both ways.  There’s nothing more chilling than people who try to have it both ways – who say, “I tolerate everything except ‘hate,’ and I define everyone who disagrees with me as a ‘hater.'”  That’s an inevitable consequence of the drive to personalize political and cultural positions, insisting that one cannot criticize or dissent from an ideology without hating everyone who believes in it.  I notice that level of personal identification is never allowed for Christians, or really anyone who falls on the right side of the political spectrum.  The people who want to hound a man off the air for espousing Christian beliefs would vehemently object to their characterization as “Christian haters” or “Christophobes,” even though their rhetoric often rings hateful in precisely the way that Phil Robertson’s did not.

It turns out there was a publicist from the A&E network along for Phil Robertson’s fateful interview with GQ magazine.  It’s more than a little suspicious that the publicist didn’t have anything to say during or after the interview.  The network never even considered standing up for the star of its top program, a show with historic ratings, using the venerated language of “tolerance?”  It would be one thing if Robertson had spoken up on the network’s airwaves, in violation of agreed-upon standards, but he made his comments in an unrelated publication.  All the network ever had to do was say, “It should go without saying that he speaks for himself, not for this network, and as a media corporation, we are dedicated to the ideal of free expression.”  That’s what they would say if anyone criticized them for airing a graphically violent series about the uncomfortably close relationship between Norman Bates and his mother.

I’ve been wondering if maybe forces at the corporate level of A&E were looking for a chance to dump “Duck Dynasty,” and seized on this opportunity.  It really does beggar the imagination that anyone even passingly familiar with the Robertson family or their show would be stunned by anything Phil said; presumably A&E executives watch their own network.  It may seem odd from a business standpoint to throw away such a huge audience, but there is a coldly logical argument to be made for the greater long-term damage to their business model from a blacklist by ideologically rigid Hollywood actors and studios.

None of that icy reasoning applies to Cracker Barrel, which just discovered that a small band of Thought Police with a huge media megaphone don’t buy enough biscuits and gravy to keep a huge restaurant chain in business.

Update: Further comments from Phil Robertson at a Bible study group on Sunday, as related by the UK Daily Mail, which of course insists on describing his original controversial remarks as “homophobic.”

During Sunday???s speech, he defended himself, saying he was simply quoting from the Bible and even went so far as to say Jesus could save gay people.

???I love all men and women. I am a lover of humanity, not a hater,??? he added.

[…] Just before Sunday???s Bible study class started, one church-goer actually thanked Robertson for his comments.

Robertson replied: ???I didn???t think much of it at all, but it seems a lot of other people did???.

And at the end of the session he led a defiant prayer, which included the words, ???I will not give or back off from my path because you conquered death, Father, so we are not worried about all the repercussions.???

There’s a difference between confident faith and “defiance,” but we’ll let that one slide for the moment, because the Daily Mail has some more life advice from Phil that might sound pretty “defiant” to those who worship at the altar of pop culture, and have never heard a devout Christian express himself before:

He said: ???I have been immoral, drunk, high. I ran with the wicked people for 28 years and I have run with the Jesus people since and the contrast is astounding.

???I tell people, “You are a sinner, we all are. Do you want to hear my story before I give you the bottom line on your story?”

???We murder each other and we steal from one another, sex and immorality goes ballistic. All the diseases that just so happen to follow sexual mischief??? boy there are some microbes running around now.

???Sexual sins are numerous and many, I have a few myself. So what is your safest course of action? If you???re a man, find yourself a woman, marry them and keep your sex right there.

???You can have fun, but one thing is for sure, as long as you are both healthy in the first place, you are not going to catch some debilitating illness, there is safety there.

???Commonsense says we are not going to procreate the human race unless we have a man and a woman. From the beginning Jesus said, “It is a man and a woman.” Adam was made and Eve was made for this reason. They left their fathers and mothers and be united to become one flesh, that???s what marriage is all about.

???But we looked at it and said it was an outdated stereotype. When you look back at the human race, the sins have always been the same: We get high, we get drunk, we get laid, we steal and kill.

???Has this changed at all from the time God burnt up whole cities because their every thought was evil????

Then reading from the Bible he said, ???The acts of the sinful nature are obvious. Sexual immorality, is number one on the list. How many ways can we sin sexually? My goodness. You open up that can of worms and people will be mad at you over it.

Can’t really argue with him there.  It’s not necessary to agree with any of this to concede that it’s not arrogant or hateful… but then again, if you can safely dismiss it as hateful, you don’t have to engage with it.  A lot of self-described “tolerant” and “sophisticated” people invest a great deal of effort in barricading themselves against challenging ideas.

Update: I was a bit surprised to see Kirsten Powers – who is liberal but normally more perceptive than this – say that while she doesn’t support Phil Robertson’s firing, she wonders “why do the people who wanted Bashir fired now say firing someone is an attack on freedom.”

That’s such an obvious non sequitur that it’s almost childish.  MSNBC host Martin Bashir was fired for making a disgusting suggestion, which could be interpreted as violent without much of a stretch, toward a specific person – Sarah Palin – live on the MSNBC airwaves.  MSNBC apparently does have editorial standards (who knew?) and Bashir violated them.  It took them the better part of three weeks to make that decision, and technically Bashir accepted responsibility for what he said and resigned, rather than being fired.

It’s true that we’ll probably always be struggling with the limits of decency and public expression, but there was nothing indecent about what Phil Robertson said, and he did not abuse the airwaves of his network to say it.  He was not in any way mean-spirited in his comments, and advocated no abuse against either groups or individuals.