IFAS | Freedom Writer | July 1996 | profile.html

A CTIVIST P ROFILE
Paula Xanthoupoulou

Ralph Reed, executive director of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, presents a polished image when making his frequent television appearances. Constructed to appeal to the broadest audience possible, his rhetoric is carefully chosen and well-rehearsed.

Nevertheless, as P.T. Barnum said, "You can fool some of the people some of the time...." When Reed appeared on C-Span from the National Press Club on October 12, 1994, at least one viewer saw through his carefully crafted image. With total incredulity, Paula Xanthoupoulou watched intently. "His slickness made me think he was hiding something," Paula explained to Freedom Writer.

At the time, Paula had never heard of Ralph Reed or the Christian Coalition. "I tried to find out what was going on, what this was all about," she said. She went to some newsstands in hopes of finding some magazine articles about Reed and the Christian Coalition. Unable to find anything, Paula made a concerted effort to learn all she could. She went to libraries, churches, and Christian bookstores.

Before long Paula discovered "The 700 Club" television program on the Family Channel. Pat Robertson, the program's primary host, she learned, also headed the Christian Coalition. Appalled after watching several days of "The 700 Club," Paula could no longer contain her outrage. It wasn't that Robertson didn't have a right to speak his mind; it was Robertson's rhetoric of intolerance that Paula found so disturbing.

Over time, Paula observed numerous examples of Robertson's intolerance. (For specific examples, see Dr. Mel White's video, "An open letter/video to Pat Robertson," on page 18 of this issue.) Robertson frequently attacked the religious beliefs of those who do not embrace his brand of Christianity. He called America a Christian nation and assailed the separation between church and state. Robertson also maligned Planned Parenthood and castigated gays and lesbians.

As a lesbian, Paula knew she had to do something to counter Robertson's uncharitable agenda. Having been a reporter in college, and having had experience in publishing newsletters, Paula, with her companion, Wendy, decided to publish a newsletter exposing the Christian Coalition. The first issue of c.c.watch was published in March 1995.

Paula brought skills, experience and political involvement to the creation of c.c.watch, for which she serves as full-time editor on a pro bono basis. Paula was born and educated in California. As news editor of her college newspaper (at University of the Pacific where she majored in international affairs), she edited a ground-breaking supplement on the Vietnam War, wrote numerous investigative pieces, and earned an award for being the outstanding senior journalist.

She then lived and worked for ten years as a teacher and administrator at the American Farm School in Thessaloniki, Greece. Her work in Greece led to successful endeavors in consulting for nonprofit organizations, and artist management when she returned to the United States.

While living in New York City, Paula was also involved in community organizing and other local political efforts. In 1992, as a result of her community work in Greenwich Village, Mayor David Dinkins appointed her to the Mayor's Police Advisory Council for Lesbian and Gay Issues.

Over the years Paula has created, edited, and written for four newsletters. Anyone who has ever been involved in publishing knows the difficulties of staying afloat. In the beginning, Paula and Wendy both worked full-time on c.c.watch. Eventually, Wendy went back into the corporate world so they could pay their bills and keep publishing. When not on her job, Wendy still helps with c.c.watch.

After almost a year of publishing and building their mailing list, the all-volunteer staff decided to take the electronic route and offer a unique news service via the Internet. Now, anyone with a computer and modem can receive the most up-to-date information on Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition viac.c.watch online.

Paula Xanthoupoulou's reporting is familiar to those who read the Freedom Writer, where several of her articles have appeared in the past year. In one article, Paula scooped the national press in her report on the split in the Pennsylvania Christian Coalition. Her letters to the editor have also been printed in The New York Times. Online, though, is where Paula excels. Her writing is both witty and substantive.

While information gathering still includes daily viewing of "The 700 Club," it also includes material from the Internet, various databases, and a nationwide network of "c.c.watchers" who help keep a tab on things. A number of organizations, including the Institute for First Amendment Studies, People for the American Way, and The Interfaith Alliance, exchange information with c.c.watch.

Still, Paula feels that "The 700 Club" remains her most important source of information. Robertson's daily chat session on "The 700 Club" is unrehearsed and off-the-cuff. It is during this segment that Robertson frequently makes outrageous comments that go unreported by the mainstream press.

"I know why people don't watch 'The 700 Club' because it's hell!" she said. "And that's why they can get away with so much, because people outside of Robertson's circle don't watch it."

Paula said that she is concerned that the media does not deal with Robertson and the Christian Coalition in any depth. "They are inclined to simply accept what the Christian Coalition's press office tells them," she said. For example, the media never questions the Coalition's claim of having 1.8 million members. Proof of this has never been offered, and postal records show the circulation of the group's magazine, Christian American, at less than 350,000.

"We keep calling the media and sending them stuff," she said. The list of reporters and journalists receiving c.c.watch online is growing. Subscribers receive news, special reports, and media alerts four to six times a week. "I want the information I put out to be instructive and useful," she told Freedom Writer.

The Christian Coalition's partisan political activities on behalf of the Republican Party is another area of concern to c.c.watch. "It is practically an accepted fact that the Christian Coalition is part of the GOP now," Paula said. She has collected documentation supporting her allegations of the group's partisan activities and turned the material over to the Internal Revenue Service.

In March, Paula accepted a special assignment from the Freedom Writer to report on the Council for National Policy's secret meeting at the Buena Vista Palace in Orlando. While it was impossible for her to gain admittance to the closed-door sessions, she was nevertheless able to collect plenty of valuable information.

Unsuspecting CNP members talked openly with one another in the public areas of the luxury hotel. Scribbling furiously, Paula jotted down many conversations verbatim. One brief conversation underscored her belief that the Christian Coalition conducts partisan political activities.

Just outside of the main conference room, someone introduced Ralph Reed to Ray Clatworthy. Clatworthy, a Republican, is a candidate for the U.S. Senate, running against Joe Biden of Delaware.

"I want you to meet Ray Clatworthy," an unidentified person said to Ralph Reed.

"Oh yes," Reed responded, "I know you met with Pat. We're looking forward to helping you."

Clatworthy remarked that he wanted the Christian Coalition and its Catholic Alliance to "make Biden look like a non-practicing Catholic."

"Let's try it," Reed stated. "I'll help you anyway I can."

Acknowledging the fact that activism can get pretty discouraging at times, Paula shared the secret that keeps her going. To prevent burnout, Paula feels it is important to strike a balance in c.c.watch and in her talks around the country. "I don't want to make my message too outrageous; I don't want to sound paranoid. I like to talk to people and groups; I just tell my story and tell what I see happening. I don't want to sound like a crazy anti-Robertson cult member."

"The best way to avoid discouragement is to have a life," Paula said. "I don't do this twenty-four hours a day. I could do it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, but to keep up my energy I need a balance."

Paula and Wendy and others have devoted a lot of time and money to launch c.c.watch and keep it going. "We've put a lot into this," she said. "We've accepted the challenge, and we're going to make a difference, and we're not going to let go."

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.