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‘Duck Dynasty' debacle bails out bored media

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November 7, 2013. Phil Robertson, the Duck Commander, holding the 1 millionth duck call assembled for 2013 at company's warehouse in West Monroe, La. (Associated Press)

Silly season reigns during the holidays.

Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie tied in a presidential poll? Wow, that might be meaningful if…the primaries weren’t two years away.

Jon Gosselin hates his ex Kate and boasts of pulling a gun on a paparazzo? Zzzz.

Anderson Cooper talking about his mother and…sex? (Never mind, you can Google it.)

Phil Robertson returning to “Duck Dynasty”…whoa!

Talk about a Christmas gift for the media.

From the start, there has been something about this story that hit all the hot buttons. It’s been a brief plunge back into the culture wars that feels a bit out of place in 2013, when 18 states now allow same-sex marriage.

Start with the show itself. A monster hit for A&E, “Duck Dynasty” is beloved by those following the adventures of the praying, hunting, Bible-thumping clan, while leaving the cultural elite pretty much clueless.

So when Robertson went off in that GQ interview about the sin of homosexuality, talking about orifices and bestiality—not to mention blacks who were happy and singing in the Jim Crow era—he infuriated liberal activists. And yet to the show’s religious viewers, Robertson was only echoing what was in the Bible, and was under assault by the liberal media. (But there was no mistaking his fiery assault on gays as “arrogant God-haters” in a three-year-old sermon that surfaced on TMZ.)

And when conservative pols like Sarah Palin (who later told Greta Van Susteren she hadn’t read the interview) rushed to defend Robertson, the media had a nice political overlay as well.

But what really boosted the story into the stratosphere was A&E’s own reaction, a high-minded statement that Robertson had to be put on hiatus because the company’s values, as a champion of the gay and lesbian community, required it.

Well, that lasted long.

A&E might have distanced itself with a what-he-really-meant-to-say statement without actually suspending Robertson. But faced with an uproar that threatened its most lucrative show, network executives simply reduced it to a zero-day suspension, since the program had been on hiatus anyway.

A&E insisted that Robertson had expressed regret and that his comments had been misinterpreted, which was a nice face-saving fiction.

In the end, A&E managed to tick off everyone. Liberal groups like GLAAD see the non-suspension as a shameful betrayal, while the show’s core viewers see the network persecuting Robertson for his religious belief before bowing to a pressure campaign.

And the only consolation? After what amounted to a massive free advertising campaign, “Duck Dynasty” will be an even bigger smash hit in the ratings in a couple of weeks when Phil and the gang return.

Benghazi and the New York Times

A lengthy NYT investigation of what happened in Benghazi roiled the media world yesterday with its conclusion that Al Qaeda was not involved and that the attack “was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”

Two very different views emerged on the Sunday shows. 

On “Meet the Press,” Times author David Kirkpatrick defended his months-long inquiry. 

“There is just no chance that this was an Al Qaeda attack--if, by Al Qaeda, you mean the organization founded by bin Laden,” he said. “I’ve tried to understand some of the statements coming out of Congress blaming Al Qaeda for this, and the only way they make sense to me is if you’re using the term Al Qaeda a little differently.”

Kirkpatrick deflected David Gregory’s observation that his report had supported Susan Rice’s initial account that the assault occurred spontaneously.

“We’re not bolstering that original assessment,” Kirkpatrick said. “In fact, she made some clear misstatements there. This was not a street protest and it was not a copycat of what happened in Cairo.” 

On “Fox News Sunday,” Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he did not consider the Times report “an exhaustive investigation” compared with the one done by Congress.

 “There was some level of preplanning, we know that,” the Republican said. “There was aspiration to conduct an attack by Al Qaeda and their affiliates in Libya, we know that.”

When Chris Wallace asked if the story was an attempt to “clear the deck” for Hillary Clinton, Rogers said only: “I find the timing odd.” 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.