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When Stars Spread Hate

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Once, bad-behaving celebrities routinely lost their endorsement opportunities because sponsors didn't want to be tainted by their misconduct.

Nike (NKE)NKE dropped Lance Armstrong when doping allegations destroyed the cyclist's credibility. Famed golfer Tiger Woods lost endorsement deals with Gatorade, AT&T (T)T and Accenture (ACN)ACN to a sex scandal. When celebrity chef Paula Deen admitted to having used a racial epithet years before, sponsors including J.C. Penney (JCP)JCP, Home Depot (HD)HD and Target (TGT)TGT raced to abandon her.

That's why it came as no surprise when, in December, A&E suspended Phil Robertson from its hit show Duck Dynasty for offensive remarks made in a GQ interview. Robertson's condemnation of homosexuality and cringe-worthy denial of the ugly realities of the Jim Crow South (the latter of which, for some reason, received precious little media attention) outraged LGBT and progressive viewers.

The Internet was abuzz after the suspension, with conservative leaders praising Robertson for defending traditional Christian values and free speech while gay rights organizations and liberal commentators excoriated him as an empty-headed bigot.


Robertson issued a statement shortly after his suspension, saying in part, "I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me." That's patently untrue. A recently released 2010 video shows Robertson denouncing the LBGT community as "full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant God-haters. They are heartless. They are faithless. They are senseless. They are truthless. They invent ways of doing evil."

If that isn't "disrespect," what is?

In suspending Phil Robertson, A&E seems to have made a simple financial calculation, reckoning that it would lose advertising revenue if its LGBT and liberal viewers abandoned the network. (The fact that some members of the Duck Dynasty production team were homosexual was also, reportedly, a factor in the suspension decision. A&E would have been ill-advised to force gay employees to work with a self-declared hater.)

The Cracker Barrel (CBRL)CBRL restaurant chain apparently made a similar calculation, pulling Duck Dynasty merchandise from its gift shops. A&E and Cracker Barrel both undoubtedly thought they'd put the controversy behind them ... and they couldn't have been more wrong.

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