Is Bobby Jindal anti-business?

Governor Jindal’s comments in the Duck Dynasty case provide aid and comfort for those who would handcuff American business leaders.

by Richard Hough

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal earlier this week offered some disturbing public remarks that must have come as a shock to many of his constituents in the business community. Jindal has long been an ally for American businesses of all sizes, and my organization, the American Commerce Institute, continues to regard him as a friend. However, his spirited defense of Phil Robertson in the Duck Dynasty controversy, while appearing to strike a blow on behalf of free speech, actually worked to undermine the principles upon which our free market system are based.

To briefly review, Mr. Robertson, who stars in the A&E Network’s hit series, recently made some remarks in an interview with GQ that many found offensive. A&E responded by suspending Mr. Robertson. Gov. Jindal criticized A&E executives, saying that

“I don’t agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV. In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive,” Jindal said. “But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”

What the governor seems to have forgotten is that this is an internal matter between an employer, who is providing well-paying jobs, and an employee. Specifically, the employee behaved in a way that embarrassed the employer, damaged the brand and threatened to hurt the business’s bottom line.

A&E Television Networks, LLC, which is owned by the Hearst Corporation and ABC/Disney, employs 650 and currently produces several popular channels that reach millions of American homes each day, including:

  • A&E
  • Bio
  • Crime & Investigation Network
  • History
  • H2
  • History en Español
  • Lifetime
  • LMN
  • Lifetime Real Women
  • Military History

Surely Mr. Jindal did not mean to suggest that a business owner has no right to protect his or her brand. Most readers understand that if they behave in a way that is counter to their employer’s best interests, and especially if they do so in a way that casts the company in a bad light, they will be called to account for their actions and they may face discipline or termination. Perhaps Mr. Jindal should ask himself what he would do if he runs for president in 2016 and one night his campaign manager gets drunk, gets arrested, and is overheard yelling that he’s going to vote for Hillary Clinton. Is it not likely that this person would soon be searching for a new employer?

If so, would I be out of line complaining that once upon a time the Republican Party believed in the First Amendment?

We at the American Commerce Institute, like all Americans, value freedom of speech. We also understand the sacred trust between the employer, who agrees to provide opportunity for his or her workers, and the employee, who in accepting that paycheck accepts responsibility as a representative of the brand. Further, we remind Governor Jindal of the responsibility that is owed to the shareholders, who are the foundation of America’s economy. How can he in good conscience suggest that A&E executives indulge behavior that damages the earnings of the company’s owners?

A&E Television is an outstanding business success story, as are its parent companies, Hearst and Disney. These enterprises have built their success by providing compelling content that excites and entertains without offending. Mr. Robertson chose to say things in an interview that he would have every reason to believe would embarrass A&E. His employers reacted appropriately. This should have closed the matter.

We would welcome a dialogue with Gov. Jindal and stand ready to meet with him and his staff at a time of his convenience. We do not think he has intentionally acted in an anti-business manner, but it is possible that in his zeal to defend the interests of one his state’s more prominent citizens he momentarily lost sight of the deeper issues.

As one of our great leaders once observed, “the chief business of the American people is business.” If we cherish our freedoms, then, it is imperative that we rigorously defend the rights of the business owners upon whom those liberties depend.

Richard Hough is Executive Director of the American Commerce Institute, a community of scholars and business leaders committed to fostering individual opportunity and social justice by strengthening free enterprise.

4 replies »

  1. I think your argument loses force when you compare the consequences for what Robertson actually said to the consequences of someone hypothetically saying something completely different, of a directly personal nature, in a completely different context, but you raise a good question just the same. To what extent should an employer have power to terminate for employee behaviors occurring outside the bounds of the workday?

    In this case, there seems to be a clear case for damage to the brand, sure. Their board gets to determine (as much as possible) how they want the brand perceived. Clearly they don’t mean it to be seen in the same light as Robertson’s views. Case closed, right? I’m not so sure.

    Granted, I don’t agree with Robertson’s views, but hey, they’re religious in nature and they’re his, whatever my views of the underlying theology. Putting Robertson on the sidelines while A&E figures out how to run damage control might have seemed like a good move at the time, but, irony of ironies, doing so created the appearance that they are discriminating against Robertson due to his discriminatory views (religious or otherwise) when in all reality, they’re just worried about ratings and shareholder interests.

    What if, hypothetically, it weren’t Robertson they were dealing with. What if, instead, it were a well-known noteworthy talent from their lineup who, on his or her own time, threw their clout behind something like Occupy, or NORML. Or the Church of Satan? Or the Tea Party? Or a progressive think tank? If that led to some kind of move to placate possibly pissed off investors, something like, ohhhh, suspending that activist, who would get our outrage? Does it depend on who it is, or what is said?

    Do we really mean to cede yet MORE power to corporations by deciding that they win in these arguments, almost by default, just because we disagree with the person getting sacked? Seems to me that when something like this happens the execs and their investors should be stuck with the fruits of their gamble until ratings and advertising dollars compel them to do something different with their line-up, dressed up in language that makes it absolutely not about discrimination, whatever the irony. If you make money by investing in people who say things you would never say out loud in public yourself, you probably should get soaked when the stock tanks.

  2. I am not sure what Mr. Jindal was ultimately trying to say, and I have not checked the immediate context within the interview. From just the quote above, I believe he was commenting on the the change in culture and politics within the workplace, As Mr.Balsinger points out in his comments – it’s a business decision. Think about it, folks.Just because the only views expressed in the media are negative, it doesn’t mean they will reverse the decision based only on protests to Robertson’s suspension.
    ….And, after reading the article…I’d have to agree. Even a symbolic/emotional appeal to the nature of being heard without consequences for said speech…that’s not guaranteed by the Constitution. So, while I understand that Phil was dealt with too swiftly for just one honest answer to a question very explicitly asked, it was ultimately Phil’s RESPONSIBILITY to count the costs before making any answer to the question. Ultimately, it is between a corporation and Phil, not the government or the public and Phil.

    Maybe to keep the coals red: I could care less who sticks what where, but what upsets me about the crowd so pissed off at Phil is that they’re too damn emotional about everything. Grow up! People have a problem with homosexuals. People have problems with multiple partners, simultaneous or consecutive. People have problems with the rich and poor alike. Get over it and go do something productive, sometime soon, as in now; not after you ceaselessly harass someone into agreeing to you because you can’t differentiate between the meanings of “understanding” and “agreeing.”

    • Get over it and go do something productive, sometime soon, as in now; not after you ceaselessly harass someone into agreeing to you because you can’t differentiate between the meanings of “understanding” and “agreeing.”

      Juicer: a couple things.

      First, would you say this if, instead of homosexuals, we were talking about blacks? In truth, you can substitute [black] for [gay] in just about all of the far right commentary on the issue and have, damn near word for word, what the same segments of society were saying about Civil Rights 50 years ago.

      Second, I’m not sure you understand how the marketplace of ideas, as envisioned by Milton (“the truth will out”) and the framers of the Constitution, was intended to work. In short, it was intended to operate EXACTLY like it is here. Somebody has an idea, those who disagree with it weigh in – often vigorously – and in the end the marketplace collectively decides. You’re bitching about those who disagree with Robertson when in point of fact they’re behaving precisely as Jefferson and Franklin and the rest would advise them to.

      I’m not suggesting it’s a perfect system. For instance, it works better when everyone is well educated and given to critical thought (and this whole mess would never have happened in the first place if the US really believed in education and critical thinking). You telling people to get over it is actually you telling people not to exercise their free speech rights.

      Obviously I find that curious, since you’re in a comment thread exercising your free speech rights.