What on earth is televangelist Pat Robertson going to do with the troubled news agency United Press International (UPI)? Robertson recently bid $6 million dollars for the heavily indebted news organization. Until the deal is closed around the end of June — he's doling out $10,000 a day to keep the organization afloat. In a scant one-paragraph article, Newsweek magazine called Robertson's motives "mysterious."
To Robertson observers, there's nothing mysterious about it at all. Marion Gordon "Pat" Robertson is a man with a mission. That incredible mission is nothing less than seeing the "Kingdom of God" established on the earth.
In the mid-1950's, having just failed the New York State bar exam, Pat Robertson turned to Jesus for solace and became born again. A short time later, he learned of a defunct television station in Portsmouth, Virginia. Robertson claims that the "voice of God" told him to offer its owner $37,000 for the failed business. A deal was worked out, and Robertson purchased the property and turned it into a money-making gospel station. Ever since, he's done extremely well with distressed properties — turning them into gold mines.
Cleverly, a few years ago Robertson dropped his Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and replaced it with the Family Channel. CBN still produces the "700 Club," his popular evangelical news/talk show, shown daily on the Family Channel and other cable outlets. Then, by offering popular shows from the fifties — like "Father Knows Best," and "Zorro" — Robertson's Family Channel increased its reach to 54.1 million homes, and has attracted a solid base of advertisers, producing an annual revenue of nearly $114 million. Robertson is now trading Family Channel shares on Wall Street.
The voice of God comes to Robertson in different ways. At a prayer meeting in 1968, a fellow preacher "prophesied" to Robertson saying, "I have chosen you to usher in the coming of my Son." Robertson accepted this as further evidence of his divinely appointed mission.
What exactly is that mission? On the day the media announced Robertson's winning bid for UPI, Robertson, on his "700 Club" TV program, commented on the pending sale. "Back in the 70's," he said, "we began praying for all aspects of life — the religious life, the governmental life, the education, the media, arts and entertainment, etc." With the theocratic Christian Right, "prayer" is always a first step leading to action. The philosophy is that people will work for, and give money to, the agenda for which they pray.
That agenda, simply put, is to Christianize America. Now, they don't come out and say that, of course, but that's exactly what it boils down to. While the theocrats claim that their agenda of turning America into a Christian-nation status would not take away the freedoms of non-believers, that is doubtful. In any case, Robertson is working hand-in-hand with a large number of Christian leaders to establish the Bible as the foundation of our society.
"All of these facets are part of what God wants to touch; he wants to touch them with his truth and his love," Robertson continued on the recent broadcast. "I think it's important to have an alternate voice for news," he added. In reference to the liberal media, Robertson went on to say that people are "disgusted with slanted news, or news that's not being reported accurately and competently."
As a remedy, he suggested that graduates of his fundamentalist Regent University would make superb journalists. The Virginia Beach-based school has a current enrollment of 1,400, with 96 students majoring in communications. He also mentioned that his friend, evangelist Loren Cunningham, has a journalism school in his missionary organization, Youth With A Mission (YWAM). This is why Robertson called the UPI purchase "a tremendous opportunity." Through simple attrition, it wouldn't take Robertson very long to replace UPI's 500 employees with Bible-believing editors and reporters.
In the fall of 1989, Robertson launched his grass-roots political organization called the Christian Coalition. A year later, in the fall of 1990, the Coalition backed 90 candidates for a diversity of offices in San Diego County, California. By and large, their candidates avoided the spotlight by shunning public forums and debates. Many voters didn't even know these people were running. Utilizing a massive Christian phone bank, and by placing "voter guides" on car windshields in church parking lots on the Sunday before the Tuesday elections, they got out the conservative Christian vote. When the smoke cleared, 60 of the Religious Right candidates won. This has come to be known as the "San Diego model." This year, and in the years to come, they hope to replicate this and other strategies in communities across the United States.
Last November, the Christian Coalition held a political seminar called the Road to Victory conference in Virginia. About 800 activists attended the two-day conference and workshop. At the time, the Coalition counted about 220 chapters across the country. Now, with over 400 chapters, they have doubled in six months.
The emergence of the Christian Coalition marked the Religious Right's shift from national politics to local politics. This is an important step, for they realized that they can have far more influence if they work from the local level on up. That is why they are running candidates for school boards, city councils, state representatives, etc. While national elections are important to them, they are content with taking over school boards and county boards of commissioners.
The Christian Coalition publishes a USA Today-style national tabloid called Christian American. At the Road to Victory conference, Robertson said, "The goal of the newspaper called the Christian American is to make it the biggest newspaper in the United States of America with a circulation of at least 10 million copies a month." Ads promoting the paper appear on 900 radio stations, including the nationally syndicated Rush Limbaugh Show. Currently, the paper's articles are written by staff members or freelancers; nothing appearing in it indicates the presence of an established news-gathering organization.
In order to gain any kind of credibility, Robertson's newspaper needs a secular news service. If it's one he can control, all the better. With Robertson's history of turning failing businesses around, UPI should serve him well.
As if that's not enough, at the Road to Victory conference, Robertson elaborated on his agenda. "We want regular daily one-minute commentaries on at least 2,000 radio stations," he said, "and we want similar one-minute commentaries on at least the top 200 radio and TV stations in the top 200 markets in America." Incidentally, Robertson already has a string of radio stations, but not nearly enough to accomplish this monumental goal. However, with a once-again flourishing UPI, this objective is within the realm of possibility.
Emotions ran high at the Road to Victory conference. At times, the applause drowned out Robertson's words. At one point, reveling in glory, Robertson said, "I had a call this morning from our VP for public relations, who said, 'I wanted to have one day when I called you and said all the press was favorable.'" He indicated that that day was one of those days. For sure, Pat Robertson wants favorable press. With UPI under his belt, maybe he can create it.
Under Pat Robertson, will UPI present an unbiased version of the news? That's like asking the same question about the Washington Times, the ultra-conservative newspaper backed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. To really answer that question, though, all one has to do is watch several episodes of the "700 Club." Make no mistake about it, everything on the program is carefully framed to carry the message of the one who believes he is sent from God.
For example, the November 7, 1990 broadcast of the "700 Club" ran a news clip about a devastating fire at Universal Studios in Hollywood. When the segment ended, Robertson and his co-host, Shelia Walsh, discussed the meaning of the fire. In a dramatically serious tone, Robertson suggested that the fire was divine retribution for the Universal film he considered blasphemous, The Last Temptation of Christ.