In what Entertainment Weekly calls a “Hail Mary” move, reports that A&E has backed down in its confrontation with Robertson family patriarch Phil Robertson come with an announcement that the network will also be producing a series of PSAs “promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people.”
In Entertainment Weekly’s view, A&E found itself in a place where it could be accused of being hostile to both the Bible and traditional Christianity. While market forces may have ultimately won the day, clearly the public relations concerns still matter to the network; hence the portion of their announcement stressing the coming PSAs.
But what probably helped turn the tide in the Robertsons’ favor was that the debate wasn’t as clear-cut as the network and many in the media initially assumed. Robertson and his supporters argued that his anti-gay statements were an extension of his passion for the Bible. Once that frame gained a foothold — that this fight is about religion, and the freedom to endorse biblical teachings — A&E was stuck in the awkward position of appearing to advocate against both its own star and orthodox Christianity (ironic, considering A&E Networks garnered such goodwill from Christians for taking a chance on its The Bible mini-series on History this year).