Robertson Called for Assassinations Before
Richard Ostling points out that this week’s calls for assassinating Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez were nothing new for Pat Robertson.
Robertson Assassinations Remarks Not New (AP – LAT)
The Rev. Pat Robertson’s suggestion that the United States assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was the latest in a long line of incendiary remarks by the religious broadcaster, including at least one other call to “take out” oppressive world leaders. Six years ago, Robertson said the U.S. could send agents to kill Osama bin Laden, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein. “Isn’t it better to do something like that … to take out Saddam Hussein, rather than to spend billions of dollars on a war that harms innocent civilians and destroys the infrastructure of a country?”
The comment mirrored what Robertson said Monday about Chavez, creating a firestorm in the United States and abroad. Robertson initially denied Wednesday that he had called for Chavez to be assassinated, saying his comments were misinterpreted. But he reversed course a few hours later and apologized. On his Christian Broadcasting Network show “The 700 Club,” Robertson said of Chavez: “You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.” He continued: “We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.”
It wasn’t the first time Robertson has made eyebrow-raising remarks. Last year, he said President Bush told him before the Iraq invasion, “We’re not going to have any casualties,” but that “the Lord told me it was going to be (a) a disaster and (b) messy.” The White House issued denials.
Following the Sept. 11 attacks, he said that “God Almighty is lifting his protection from us” because “we have insulted God at the highest level of our government,” allowing things like abortion and pornography and barring school prayer.
And in launching a 21-day “prayer offensive” in 2003 to pray for three justices to leave the U.S. Supreme Court after it had decriminalized sodomy, Robertson said: “We ask for miracles in regard to the Supreme Court.” One justice was 83 years old and two others had serious ailments, he noted.
Religious leaders were universal in denouncing Robertson’s latest remarks, and his fellow evangelical Protestants worried he could harm their movement’s image in Latin America. “It’s painful for me to see the Christian community miscast through these comments,” said J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine. “It’s also painful to me because I have friends who are ministers in Venezuela.”
Evangelical analysts question how much influence Robertson retains. A 2004 poll for PBS’s “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” and U.S. News & World Report found that only half of white evangelicals viewed Robertson favorably, compared with 75 percent for Focus on the Family leader James Dobson.
Of course, calling for the assassination of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, enemies of the United States against whom we were at war, is quite different from calling for the assassination of the merely annoying. One presumes that “miracles” could take the form other than the sudden death of a Supreme Court Justice, too.
Still, that Robertson is outside the mainstream of the Christian Evangelical movement is hardly news.
Update (1123): Byron York argues that Robertson is not quite as marginal as some on the Right believe, even if he’s not nearly as central to conservatism as the Left contends.
To many on the right, Robertson’s most important role today seems to be as the maker of those crackpot comments, which give liberals the opportunity to hang the offending words Ã¢€” and Robertson himself Ã¢€” around conservatives’ necks.
There is some truth to that, but there is also some evidence to suggest that Robertson is not quite as marginalized a figure as conservatives would like to believe. His main forum, the television program The 700 Club, is available in nearly all of the country on the ABC Family Channel, FamilyNet, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and some broadcast stations. According to Nielsen Media Research, The 700 Club, aired each weekday, has averaged 863,000 viewers in the last year. While that is not enough to call it a popular program, it is still a significant audience. It is, for example, more than the average primetime audience for CNN last month Ã¢€” 713,000 viewers Ã¢€” or MSNBC, which averaged 280,000 viewers in prime time. It is also greater than the viewership of CNBC and Headline News.
Of course, CNBC and Headline News are constantly rejuggling their formats to stave off moribund viewership. Still, 863,000 viewers is a lot. My suspicion is that it’s mostly old folks who watch nothing but religious programming.
The question, though, is how influential is Robertson in matters of public policy? How much do his exhortations to vote for Republican candidates or his involvements in various lobbying activities matter? I’m not sure where one finds the data on such things.
Matt Yglesias adds,
Robertson is far less influential than he once was, and isn’t in a position to pull strings among conservative elites in Washington, but he’s good a big audience and can’t just be written off as meaningless. Certainly in a world where rightwingers seem to think it’s fair to attribute Michael Moore’s movies to the leadership of the Democratic Party, it’s worth being a bit concerned about the Rev. Robinson’s views.
At least Robertson is not invited to sit with former presidents at the Republican Convention. But, yes, both sides have their extremists.