The media in this country savor few things as lustily as a really juicy religious nut. From Jim Jones to David Koresh, self-declared prophets and messiahs have always made great copy. Remember that wacky cult whose members committed suicide convinced it would lead to a rendezvous with a waiting spaceship? How about those wild and crazy Raelians who earlier this year claimed to be cloning babies? For weeks, world events took a back seat to their shenanigans in the press.
Most of these Froot Loops look like the picture of mental health next to Pat Robertson. My question is: How is it, then, that for decades the media have all but ignored his flipped-out antics?
The discrepancy was underscored recently when the Christian Broadcasting Network founder made a rare blip on the screen after urging followers to pray for the deaths of three Supreme Court justices. In the wake of the 6-to-3 ruling that decriminalized sodomy, Robertson prevailed upon viewers of his long-running show to ask God to put a rush on the earthly exits of John Paul Stephens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O'Connor. "I think the American people are tired of this," the icon of the Religious Right told CNN. "They want conservative judges."
The media did pick up on the ex-presidential hopeful's bizarro behavior this time. But where was everybody while Robertson spewed the same brand of hate-based nuttiness for the better part of the last half-century? After all, this isn't even the first time the televangelist has publicly wished for the death of someone with whom he's differed. Here's an excerpt from the December 1, 1999, installment of this very column:
"Muslim literary critics -- or whoever makes these decisions -- have handed another writer a Salman Rushdie-style death sentence (talk about a tough audience). This time the target of righteous wrath is playwright Terrence McNally, whose latest work portrays Jesus and Judas as gay lovers. [Robertson] thought the sentence was a dandy idea. On 'The 700 Club' he repeatedly thanked his 'Muslim brothers and sisters' while reproaching the Church in the U.S. for being soft on that kind of thing. 'The Church of England is the worst,' he went on, 'I've always said that homosexuals are extremely powerful over there.'"
Now that's clearly crazy talk, right? And yet, as I pointed out then, no one else in the media seemed to feel his statements merited comment.
Robertson has been virtually Teflon-coated over the course of his curious career. On one hand, here's a guy who would appear to epitomize the all-American success story. In 1961 he started the first Christian television station in the nation. Today CBN is seen in 180 countries. The show he hosts, "The 700 Club," is one of the longest running in broadcast history -- on the air continuously since 1966.
In 1977 Robertson founded his own fully accredited college. He is president and chancellor of Regent University, located in Virginia Beach. He also has a law degree from Yale, though he never passed the bar exam. All the same, you have to admit his is a jazzier-than-average resume.
On the other hand, Robertson has been responsible for some of the most irresponsible, least enlightened pronouncements ever carried by public airwaves. Forget Howard Stern. If it's a good shock you're after, turn your dial to Pat. Here are a few of his greatest hits:
-"The people who have come into our institutions today are primarily termites. They are into destroying institutions that have been built by Christians, whether it is universities, governments, and our own traditions. The termites are in charge now and that is not the way it ought to be, and the time has arrived for a godly fumigation." (1986)
-"The Constitution of the United States, for instance, is a marvelous document for self-government by the Christian people. But the minute you turn the document into the hands of non-Christian people and atheistic people, they can use it to destroy the very foundation of our society. And that's what's been happening." (1981)
-A few days after the attack on the World Trade Center, Jerry Falwell joined Robertson on "The 700 Club" and blamed the tragedy on "the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians," adding, "I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen, all of them who have tried to secularize America.'" To which Robertson responded, "I totally concur." (2001)
-"The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." (1992)
-On the subject of Planned Parenthood: "It is teaching kids to fornicate, teaching people to have adultery, every kind of bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism -- everything that the Bible condemns." (1991)
-"I think we ought to close Halloween down. Do you want your children to dress up as witches? The Druids used to dress up like this when they were doing human sacrifice. Your children are acting out Satanic rituals and participating in it and don't even realize it." (1982)
-"Many of those people involved with Adolph Hitler were Satanists, many of them were homosexuals -- the two things seem to go together." (1993)
-"Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It's no different. It is the same thing. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians. Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history." (1993)
That's right. Christians today are on the receiving end of persecution "no different" from that inflicted on the Jews by Nazi Germany, and "more terrible" than that endured by blacks in this country for the better part of 200 years. Robertson spouted this delusional twaddle a decade ago, and I've yet to see any reference to it in the media. Have you?
September 11 the handiwork of gays? Feminism a movement that encourages women to kill their kids and practice witchcraft? Planned Parenthood an advocate of teen bestiality? My God, there's a madman in their midst and broadcasters inexplicably elect to let him run amok without comment, much less censure.
Meanwhile, look what happens to people like reporter Peter Arnett and commentator Bill Maher the minute they make one unpopular remark. When they were being handed their pink slips, I bet they wished they could trade their lot for the abuse poor multimillionaire Pat Robertson has to endure.
You'd think he would quit while he was ahead. Not our Pat. The latest target of his righteous wrath is the President. And you'll never guess what the man of God's beef is about. The rush to war? Sexed-up intelligence in the State of the Union address? Nope. Pat's mad at George W. Bush for trying to get indicted war criminal Charles Taylor to honor his promise to give up the presidency of Liberia.
"How dare the President of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, 'You've got to step down,'" raged Robertson during the July 7 episode of his show. In the course of it he also accused the administration of "undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels."
"Baptist president?" Taylor is a brutal dictator accused of crimes against humanity and is suspected of providing sanctuary to al Qaeda operatives in return for a $1 million payoff!
I guess Pat's more concerned about the $8 million he personally invested four years ago in a Liberian gold-mining venture in partnership with the thug and his goons. On top of being a delusional sociopath, Robertson is an old-fashioned hypocrite. He may not have worked his way into a seamy sex scandal as broadcast brethren Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker did, but my take is, making deals with devils like Taylor constitutes behavior infinitely more reprehensible.
The difference, of course, is that the media were all over Swaggart and Bakker. Their careers were in ruins by the time reporters finished with them. Once again, though, it appears Pat is going to be given a free pass by the press and survive to monger hate another day. Talk about moving in mysterious ways.
I have faith, however. Robertson's day of reckoning will come. The media may let him get away with murder -- or praying for it, anyway -- but the way he's going, it's just a matter of time before someone raises holy hell.