A&E Does A Cracker Barrel

spine poster

The fecklessness and lack of core principles exhibited by our corporations is often breathtaking.

A&E has now, like Cracker Barrel, stuck its pusillanimous finger in the air and  decided that their “strong sense of integrity and deep commitment” to principle means that they do what whatever interest group has the most profit potential for them down the line wants them to do. Thus Phil Robertson is back on “Duck Dynasty,” and his “indefinite suspension” has been disclaimed by his employers. You can read A&E’s nauseating statement here…I considered posting it, but I don’t have the heart.

Everything I wrote previously about Cracker Barrel’s reversal on this same incident applies to A&E, but let me add this.

An organization with no core principles distinct from the profit motive is capable of anything, including outright evil. It is not worthy of trust. I would not and could not work for such an organization, and this episode makes me wonder if the entire concept of corporate ethics is a lie.


Pointer: ablativmeatshld

Facts: Hollywood Reporter


31 thoughts on “A&E Does A Cracker Barrel

  1. I read their comment, Jack. Just more phoney moralizing with handwringing references to “tolerance”. The concept of “virtue” and “faith” is nowhere mentioned. Nor is freedom of speech. Phil Robertson merely stated his contention that homosexuality is wrong… not that such people should be rounded up and shot, as Islamists said have continually. There is no question of actualy tolerance here. Merely that of political correctness in the minds of A&E’s governors.

  2. I am more cynical than you on this one, Jack. I don’t think A&E tested the waters in any way: they decided this strategy, with buy-in from Phil Robertson, long before the suspension was announced. “Go say something controversial, and we’ll pretend to be upset and suspend you for a few days when we aren’t filming, anyway. We’ll get lots of free publicity; every conservative in the country will want to watch you, and half the liberals who had never heard of the show will be curious. And we’ll sell lots of tchotchkes right before Christmas. So we’ll all make pots of money because none of us actually have any ethical sense at all.”

  3. ” wonder if the entire concept of corporate ethics is a lie”

    Yes it is. When an individual owner no longer allows his/her individual discipline (the only source of truly ethical behavior) to guide business decisions but a faceless body of investors then yes, ethics goes out the window in favor of an ethic of profit (not bad) at any cost (bad)

    • Tex, you make a good point that I agree with. And that (un)ethical reality about corporations is exactly why I think corporations should not be “persons,” in any sense of the word. But, since they are persons, then I think some of them should get the death penalty, like some “natural persons” get. And all the “cells” – all the stockholders, board members, officers and other investors in those “executed” corporations, along with their morally unlucky customers, should suffer the fullness of their share of the death of the criminal “body” of which they were part.

      I might sound like I am for the latest government-run health care economy. I am not. I am against individuals’ criminality and unethical behavior being unaccountable behind a corporate shield (and other, unaccountable human shields) in the “person” of a corporation.

  4. Gosh, it’s almost as if the television executives who make hollow exploitative programming devoid of any intellectual nutrition, making money hand-over-hoof while robbing people of basic autonomy and their very names out of some twisted desire for fame… might not have a lot of integrity.

  5. An organization with no core principles distinct from the profit motive is capable of anything, including outright evil.

    You’re describing many of the businesses in the US today, and nearly all the big ones. Management has been taught that their only duty is to their stockholders. In that sense, they are highly ethical, many of them, seeing any dilution of this principle, however small, as against their duty.

    (Sting warning) Just as it’s a defence lawyer’s sole duty to act in the best interests of their client, within the law.

      • I totally agree with ablativmeatshld on this one. There was no other result that could have been anticipated. A & E acted unethically at the outset by suspending Phil Robertson because of this personal opinions and beliefs, as Jack pointed out in this first comments. A & E bowed to political pressure and threw around buzz words like tolerance and diversity and were ‘shocked’ that the ‘Duck Dynasty’ family members hold such bigoted and backwards opinions, the very same ones they were hired and paid handsomely to state on television. Was A & E’s response ethical? Nope, but neither was its suspension. Was A & E’s response an exercise of better business judgment? Yep. I suspect the ‘aggrieved’ parties never watched the show.

        A & E totally misinterpreted and misunderstood DD’s viewers and the show’s sponsors/advertisers. The viewers and the advertisers took a play out of the activists’ playbook and shoved it right back down the activists’ collective (collectivist?) throats. They, in essence, said, “If you suspend or cancel the show, we will pull our advertizing dollars from your network and go someplace else”. A & E, facing a huge onslaught, acted the only way it could. That result was telegraphed by its hollow suspension when the new season was already finished and scheduled for the Spring, and its running of the already planned Christmas DD marathon. Assuming its ethics and integrity were guiding factors, it would have canceled the Christmas marathon at the very least. It also reacted to the family’s comments that DD was a family business – ‘all for one and one for all’, or a suspension of one is a suspension of all. The DD family held true to its family ethics, I would bet that other networks were actively recruiting the show for their programming. Who would want to pass up a $500,000,000.00 show?

        GLAAD, the HRC and Jesse Jackson overplayed their respective hands on this incident and appear to be the biggest losers. Jackson demanded a meeting but was outright rejected as A & E issued its statement the day after he made his demand. Could this spell the end of the grievance industry? I hope so.


  6. Jack- last week I posted Cracker Barrel’s core principles.

    A&E doesn’t seem to have any. They do have a wishy washy mission statement….

    At A+E Networks, we are passionate about bringing human stories to life, knowing that it is in life itself that those stories originate. We are committed to empowering our employees, strengthening our partnerships and engaging audiences across the globe.

    Life is what you make it. We make it entertaining.

    And there you have it. A company with no core principles, doesn’t have any (core principles) to follow (or not).

  7. Hi, Jack. I just discovered your blog. (Thought-provoking reading — it’ll take a while to get caught up. But it’ll be fun.)

    One thing I’d point out on the subject of A&E (and corporate ethics in general) is that their management is compelled by law to let the bottom line determine their actions because of their fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders. They can actually be sued if they fail to do that.

    You said that you couldn’t work for a corporation which has no core principles beyond the profit motive. The consequence of that is that you couldn’t work for any corporation, ever.

    I think what you actually mean is that you couldn’t work for a corporation whose actions taken in service of the profit movement conflict with your values. But just because your values and and a corporation’s actions align does not mean that the profit motive has gone away — it just means that they find it more profitable to agree with you rather than somebody else.

    A&E made a financially-based marketing decision. Just like Microsoft made a decision to support employment non-discrimination for LGBT people and marriage equality.

    Do I agree with A&E’s decision? No.

    As a gay man, I don’t agree with it even one little bit. As a lawyer (non-practicing these days)I know that they had to do whatever would make them the most money.

    As a television viewer, I don’t watch Duck Dynasty and won’t.

    Lucky for me, I don’t have to. Because, as a Louisianian, I don’t need to watch TV to see that.

    All I have to do is go to the grocery store.

    • Having worked for quite a while for the US Chamber of Commerce and taken, badly, Corporate Law in law school, and having the frequent opportunity to talk to business executives about their ethics, I am of course aware of their fiduciary duties. But there is nothing in the need to turn a profit that compels corporate executives to be heartless jerks, anti-social corruptors, or just below-the-line frauds and criminals. Nothing at all. Companies can turn a profit and be ethical too. True, they will never satisfy the likes of anti-capitalists who feel that they should hire employees they don”t need and pay wages they can’t afford without charging prices consumers will reject. But the way you state it—that corporations have no choice but to eschew integrity, honesty, decency and core values in pursuit of maximum profits is just untrue. John Kenneth Galbreath’s theories have taken some hits, but his basic premise that people do not want to invest in, work for and do business with corporate entities they can’t be proud of remains largely true for most Americans, I believe. One of the responsibilities that flows from corporations being treated as legal entities with rights is that they are obligated to be good citizens, beyond what the law requires. And there are good corporate citizens, as well as many companies that will never throw their principles out the window for fear of a stockholder rebellion. If Disney had a chance to make billions making and selling legal child porn abroad, would it? Would it have to?

      You have outlined a false dichotomy, a common one, and one that encourages unethical corporate conduct by suggesting that it is mandatory. I worked as a contractor in ethics for five years with Altria, then the owners of Phillip Morris. I found the leadership there genuinely concerned with the ethical issues raised by their product, deeply conflicted, and striving hard for a balance that was open, fair, and reasonable. Ultimately, it got rid of its tobacco business, but the company had values, and worked hard to stay true to them. it’s not impossible, and it certainly isn’t inherently a betrayal of the obligation to be profitable.

      • Sorry, Jack, but you’re overstating my point. It’s not that people working for corporations have no ethics — they do. It’s just that they’re bound by the legal constraints of their fiduciary duty. They can do anything that they want, but that’s the bottom line they have to observe. And I’m not saying that everything they do has to be a revenue generator — charitable giving is a pretty integral part of most major corporations’ endeavors.

        You can see it right there — in their advertising budgets.

        (Oh, and the Disney/child porn thing is a red herring, and you know it. Of course they wouldn’t do that. Even if they temporarily made money off of it, the hit to their corporate image would be devastating. Not to mention that half, if not all, of the people who work there would quit.)

        Interesting that you worked at the Chamber of Commerce. Tom Donohue is one of my favorite people, but I understand it can be a different story if you work for the guy. 🙂

        • My point is that the Disney situation hold, less dramatically, for all corporations. The Pinto calculation made perfect sense, but the callousness it communicated hurt Ford badly—ditto McDonald’s coffee calculations. Being ethical, or, more to the point, being seen as ethical is good business, as well as good ethics.

          I overstated your point because I thought it was overstated. This version isn’t.

          Tom Donohue was a terrific boss, a mentor, and a fascinating, if challenging, man to work for. I consider myself lucky to have had the honor. He’s also ethical, and balances the demands of parenthood and a high pressure job as well as it can be done.

      • From AP’s archives:
        “Philip Morris Chairman William Campbell, along with six other tobacco chiefs, told Congress under oath that cigarette smoking is not addictive, his company’s research never established it was addictive and his firm doesn’t change nicotine levels in its products.”

        Of course, that’s from the board of directors. I’m perfectly willing to believe the executives you worked with were ethical and weren’t part of the carefully planned and long-running PR campaign to sow doubt about the dangers of tobacco through front groups (see APCO, TASSC).

        Your main point remains, of course. There used to be an idea of a “good corporate citizen”. How long since we’ve heard that phrase?

        • Yikes, how old do you think I AM? That was almost a decade before I worked for Altria–indeed, that was one of the events that led them to hiring me. Altria had no ethics and compliance officer in 1995. Ethics as a field and business was just getting started. I was just beginning to get into the field. The Red Sox had Mo Vaughn playing first! My son had just been born!

  8. It seems all of this “noise” has done nothing but increase the show’s awareness factor, and act as a giant publicity generator for A&E, the Duck Dynasty family and the groups complaining publicly. I wouldn’t doubt it being a set-up from the beginning, even a ploy by GQ to get people to remember they still exist. GQ interviewing Phil Robertson, really?

    • Could be—I don’t believe it, for reasons I cited elsewhere in the thread. This turned out to be a big Streisand Effect display, and GLAAD walked right into it. I would have never known what Phil said without the protest–who reads GQ???

    • Well, if the noise was a stunt to boost viewership, it failed with me. I watched DD only once, after a family member cajoled me. It interested me less than watching dog scat dry – or reading a “gentlemen’s” magazine interviewing a guy who contrasts sexual enjoyment involving male vs. female body parts. They could kidnap Barack Obama or Vlad Putin and make him fart through one of those duck-callers, and I still wouldn’t watch.

  9. If corporations are as risk averse as this thread seems to indicate it would be foolish of them to risk the integrity of the whole entity just to get publicity for one show. No matter how popular it is. A&E should want us to watch their other offerings as well. Why would we do that after the inevitable conclusion that A&E is a bunch of grubby bootlickers who just alienated both sides of a pretty polarizing issue?

    • This demonstrates what?

      Other than Phil Robertson is comfortable making fun of his own demographic using a stereotype often associated with his demographic?

      Or is this another one of your mis characterized “oopsie” moments?

  10. From what I’ve heard and seen, A&E took a 22% drop in their 25-54 demographics in one week. That’s epic. I really don’t read this as a ‘hmmm, we’ll make more money if do this…’ kind of a policy as much as a ‘Our previous plan of sticking our face in the wood chipper has turned out to have had some… unforeseen consequences. We’re re-evaluating that policy now.”

    In one short week, they pissed off conservatives, Christians, libertarians, classical liberals, and the talent, which is making them money hand over fist largely for amusement purposes. Yeah, there’s a lot of overlap in those groups. Fixing that damage is going to piss off a lot of people who aren’t those things. The good plan would have been to not stick their face in the wood chipper to begin with, but it’s a bit late for ‘I told you so’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.