The Oprah of Christian TV?

700ClubSplashNew2During that dizzying rush of recent Pat Robertson headlines, more than a few GetReligion readers protested that I was wrong to say the MSM should “excommunicate” him as a mainstream Christian, or even “evangelical,” news source. After all, said these readers, the czar of The 700 Club was still the czar of The 700 Club.

Well, you just knew that at some point a major newspaper or network was going to rise up to defend — sort of — the honor of the Religious Right leader that mainstream journalists most love to hate. As it turns out, the Los Angeles Times has taken up that challenge. Sort of. To tell you the truth, the article by reporter Faye Fiore (headline: “A Wholly Controversial Holy Man”) is pretty good.

The bottom line: He still has lots of viewers and he may have more freedom to speak out now because he has little or no political clout at all. What he has right now is a camera and a satellite. Who does he speak for? Good question.

His evangelical peers have branded him “arrogant” for his comments, and students at the Christian university he founded worry that his candor could damage their school’s credibility. The political left eagerly monitors his appearances on his spirits-raising morning show. What they find becomes fodder for talk-show monologues.

“Pat Robertson said that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke was God’s punishment for him giving up Israeli territory. … If you are playing along at home, this is Pat’s first idiotic statement of the New Year,” Jay Leno quipped. …

(At) age 75, and freed from the need to marshal political capital, Robertson seems even less restrained than ever. His verbal grenades sound more like bombs, and even those in the evangelical community are noticing.

The key word there is “even.” In reality, Robertson’s clout among evangelical Protestants has been fading since he was all but invisible during the 2000 Bush campaign for the White House.

So what power does he have? As it turns out, Fiore reports that Robertson does have clout in one major corner of the Christian marketplace — public relations. He has the ability to threaten the companies that produce products for shelves in Christian stores.

Yes, Robertson is a mini-Oprah.

… Robertson’s reach is vast. “The 700 Club’s” average daily audience exceeded 830,000 this season, according to Nielsen Media Research, down from 1 million a decade ago but formidable enough that some dare not incur his notorious wrath.

“He’s like a little bitty Oprah among evangelicals,” said Doug Wead, an author and former advisor to President George H.W. Bush. “He’s got a talk show, so if someone comes out and says Pat’s a little goofy, he is going to have to accept the fact he won’t be on Pat Robertson’s show when his book comes out.”

There’s much more to read, but I think I had better be quiet. After all, I have a book out right now.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    What’s the university Pat founded? I know Jarry Falwell founded Liberty University and Oral Roberts the self-named Oral Roberts University but I was unaware Pat started a college/university.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Pat Robertson founded Regent University (not to be confused with Regent College in Vancouver).

  • http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester Jeff Miller

    I believe that was a 1988 run not 2000.

    I was stationed in Virginia Beach at the time where they are headquartered and I often saw bumper stickers like

    Pat Robertston 1988
    Pray he doesn’t win.

  • tmatt

    JEFF:

    I meant his no-role, no-profile status in the Bush run for the White House in 2000. PR was locked way, way, away.

    I didn’t say HIS 2000 race for the White House. But I see how my wording was confusing and I will clarify it.

    Thanks!

  • Michael

    I think Terry can kiss that sit-down on the 700 Club goodbye.

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