Pat Robertson: Marginalized Moonbat, or Media Mogul To Be Taken Seriously?
jhutson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Jan 27, 2006 at 11:03:56 PM EST
After Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was a punishment from God for dividing the Holy Land, Robertson first denied that he made the remark, and then, after videotape proved that he had made the remark, he apologized. That's a pattern that Robertson has - making outrageous remarks, denying them, apologizing for them, and then explaining them away, only to reiterate them.

Robertson's pattern is effective, because it allows Robertson to broadcast his true thoughts and feelings, and then refuse to take full responsibility for them or stop making them. The media - and even other evangelical groups who are embarrassed and offended by Robertson's remarks -- have also gotten into a pattern of responding to Robertson by trying to minimize and marginalize his importance. But that pattern is ineffective, and even harmful, because it underestimates Robertson's power, and distracts people from undertaking more serious exposes of Robertson's international operations.

For example, Sojourners, an evangelical spiritual community that seeks progressive social change on some issues (such as concern for the poor and stewardship of the environment) but not others (such as reproductive freedom) has sought to marginalize Robertson. In its latest weekly e-mail bulletin and on its web site, Sojourners highlighted a CBS News report by Brian Montopoli, "Robertson: Out of the Club? dated January 6, 2006, which suggests wrongly that Robertson does not speak for many evangelicals - even many conservative evangelicals.

Montopoli writes:

Guest blogging on the Web site of the liberal Washington Monthly, Amy Sullivan wrote, "I try not to comment on all of the ridiculous things that come out of Pat Robertson's mouth because 1) he's a moonbat who seems to be reading a very different translation of the Bible than I am, and 2) most evangelicals, even conservative ones, don't think of him as a spokesperson who represents their views."

.... I asked "Evening News" host Bob Schieffer for his thoughts on Robertson and whether he thought there were others who better represent evangelicals.

Schieffer, who considers himself a religious person, has covered Robertson and interviewed him several times in the past, and says "at the beginning he represented a particular point of view, and articulated it quite well." But he's reluctant to cover him now.

"I think we have to be very careful about quoting Robertson, because I'm not sure who he represents anymore," he said. "His comments have gone beyond interesting and into bizarre." The "Evening News," he points out, has not covered Robertson's recent comments.

So who does he think is a better representative of evangelicals? Jim Wallis, who Schieffer calls "very compelling." (It's worth noting that many consider Wallis to be left-leaning, unlike most evangelical leaders.)

Michael Bass, the executive producer of the "Early Show," also gave me his take on the issue. "We would only try to book Pat Robertson when he's a newsmaker and we want to interview him to ask him about it," he says. "Otherwise he would not be a choice for us because there are other people who speak for many more people."

The attempt to minimize Robertson's importance and dismiss him as a "moonbat" with a small audience is not only misguided, but it's based on a mistaken premise. Name one other conservative evangelical leader who has a daily TV and satellite radio broadcast with an audience the size of the 700 Club, and who has founded an international array of businesses and nonprofits, founded a university, founded a law school, and founded a national law firm dedicated to overcoming the separation of church and state. Jim Wallis hasn't done any of that. The fact is that Robertson's audience is bigger than that of Bob Schieffer at CBS News, and much larger than that of Jim Wallis.

It's time to take Robertson seriously, to realize that he means exactly what he says, that he dissembles when he's caught, but that he not only marches ahead with his message, but he's a billionaire who has built a vast and loyal following of people who take him seriously.

Pat Robertson's strength should not be over-estimated, but neither should it be under-estimated. Effective organizing strategies must start with a clear-eyed appraisal of Robertson's career and capabilities. Calling a media mogul like Robertson a "moonbat" does nothing to inform people of what Robertson's words and actions mean. Failing to give media attention to Robertson is not helpful either. The media don't need to ignore Robertson or pretend that he's not wealthy, well-connected, influential, and powerful; they need to expose him for who he is and what he represents.

by jhutson on Fri Jan 27, 2006 at 11:09:14 PM EST
Whether Amy Sullivan thinks Pat Robertson reads from the same Bible as she does is irrelevant -- but her attitude allows her to fail to consider the serious role Robertson has played, and continues to play in public life. This episode is characteristic of the response to the religious right that has thwarted crafting more serious responses for a generation.

Indeed, I read recently -- pehaps on this site, I can't recall the source -- but the New York Times reported that Robertson has a bigger audience than several major cable networks.  How does Sullivan account for that?

These are folks who in their way are part of the problem, and have to be addressed, as you have here.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 01:23:44 AM EST

Here and here.

by Psyche on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 12:15:32 PM EST

Fred, you read about Robertson's audience in my recent essay on the Southern Baptist Convention's deal with Sirius Satellite Radio to broadcast Robertson's 700 Club. I said that before the deal with Sirius to broadcast 700 Club to a worldwide audience six days a week, Robertson already had a daily television broadcast audience that, according to the New York Times, has "more viewers than CNBC or MSNBC in prime time."

by jhutson on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 01:13:47 PM EST
Of just how much public broadcast spectrum the Christian right has gobbled up ( and is still gobbling ), and then there are many large private networks a well.

This issue is ripe for a broad view article - I'm not aware of any currently.

by Bruce Wilson on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 01:24:33 PM EST

When the outrage peaks, we can expect another phoney "apology" from Ann Coulter about her so-called "joke" suggesting the poisoning of SCOTUS Justice John Paul Stevens.  It is the same tactic you point out a la Falwell and Robertson.  Once the poison is thrown into the water, and the damage is done, they say they are sorry.  We are then expected to presume a change of heart on the part of the originating loud-mouth, and that is the deception.

by TomChicago on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 08:37:04 AM EST

It's time to take Robertson seriously, to realize that he means exactly what he says, that he dissembles when he's caught, but that he not only marches ahead with his message, but he's a billionaire who has built a vast and loyal following of people who take him seriously

It's 20 years too late....his money, his broadcast empire, and the cultists who follow his every word. Remember it was 1986 when he announced his run for the presidency. The Christian Coalition started in 1989, and the fundis really started their take over....built on the Christian principle of lying and deceiving.

As Ralph Reed, the former director honestly stated their "take no prisoners, end justifies the means" strategy: "I want to be invisible. I do guerilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know that until election night."

Then they got caught improperly using funds to promote specific candidates, and the FEC slapped them with fines.

I remember telling one of his cult members in the late 80's, "Mom, Robertson is the most dangerous man in America. " A phrase I probably picked up from Barry Lynn.

Robertson deserves, demands, and has earned credit for significant responsibility in electing this miserably immoral incompetent who sits in the White House.

by PlacitasRoy on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 10:44:14 PM EST

The Most Dangerous Man in America, by Robert Boston, who is on the staff of Americans United.

I beleive we have it on the Talk to Action recommended reading list (see the left column).

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 10:49:32 PM EST

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