Piling on Pat Robertson

Having apparently exhausted discussion of one octogenarian, The Huffington Post appears to have turned its attention to a second aged religious leader this week and published a hit piece on Pat Robertson. “Pat Robertson Claims Islam Is ‘Demonic’ And ‘Not A Religion’ But An Economic System” is a lazy, badly written story. What it reports is not news, and the tone it uses to report this non-news story is unprofessional.

Let me say at the outset that I am not seeking to examine the claims put forward by Pat Robertson in a recent episode of his television show, The 700 Club, rather I am concerned with quality of the reporting in this article. It begins:

Controversial conservative Christian Pat Robertson doubled down Tuesday on claims that Islam is not a religion. According to Right Wing Watch, Robertson, an elder statesman of the evangelical movement, made the inflammatory claim during an episode of his TV program, “The 700 Club.”

I too love alliteration. But this love is not shared by all. The repetition of consonants as an artifice of newspaper writing goes in and out of fashion. While the New York Daily News would have to fold up shop if it could not use alliteration in its headlines, Fowler’s The King’s English discourages it as a “novice’s toy” — yet The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage has no strictures against its use. In modern writing, alliteration is judged on how well it works in setting a mood, tone or in creating resonance or echoes of other works. William Safire’s Political Dictionary cites good, “evil empire,” and bad, “nattering nabobs of negativism”, examples of its usage.

Is a “controversial conservative Christian”  who “doubles down” Reaganesque? Or is The Huffington Post channeling Spiro Agnew? While not quite in the same circle of writer’s hell as “vicars of vacillation” or “pusillanimous pussyfooters”, the tone it creates is a bit too much. Rather than having fun with language the author is giving voice to her contempt for the subject of the article. An editor also should have stricken out “controversial”. Where his word’s controversial or is he controversial? Also this silly syntactical start sadly slips in substantiating its statements of fact.

What Pat Robertson said is not new. According to the article, he stated:

“Every time you look up — these are angry people, it’s almost like it’s demonic that is driving them to kill and to maim and to destroy and to blow themselves up,” Robertson said of Islam. “It’s a religion of chaos.” He went on to say, “I hardly think to call it a religion, it’s more of — well, it’s an economic and political system with a religious veneer.”


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The story notes Mr. Robertson shared his opinion that Islam was not a religion in a 2009 comment in a discussion of the Fort Hood shooting. A Google search reveals the most recent comments to be in line with what he has been saying for a number of years. Media Matters reported him having said in 2007.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to recognize that Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world. And it is meant to subjugate all people under Islamic law. In the Quran, it says it very clearly. There are two spheres. One is the Dar al-Harb, which is the realm of war. The other is Dar al-Islam, which is that part that’s under submission to Islam. There is no middle ground. You’re either at war or you’re under submission. Now, that’s the way they think.

Why then are the comments made this week newsworthy? His words in 2007 were even stronger yet no conflagration ensued. How many times can you make “inflammatory” comments before they no longer become “inflammatory” — do they become combustible, explosive, or after the passage of time — and when no fire ensues — do they simply become rude?

The tone of offended outrage adopted by the article, that Pat Robertson has said a terrible thing, is not explored. The Huffington Post believes these sentiments are outrageous, but it does not say why. A long time ago I studied Arabic and Farsi as an undergraduate and took a number of courses in Islam. I have not kept up my studies and have lost my facilities in these languages, but I do recall the academic debates over Islam — whether it was a religion in the sense that Christianity or Judaism understood itself to be a religion, or whether it was a religio-political movement that did not bear a one to one comparison with the other Abrahamic faiths. I offer no answer to these questions. But given the unlimited space available to a Huffington Post author for an article, to denounce him without substantiation is sloppy reporting.

And please note, Pat Robertson is not an “elder statesman of the evangelical movement. ” He is a Pentecostal Christian. There is a difference. TMatt has discussed this point at GetReligion before. In a story about voodoo that included a reference to Pat Robertson, he wrote:

Also, Pat Robertson — last time I checked — was a Pentecostal leader, not an evangelical, which is important distinction to make when one is dealing with Haiti and its growing Protestant churches.

Also, out of all of the critics of voodoo in the Christian world, how does Robertson rise, once again, to the top of the list? Why is an American from TV land the authority on this complex and emotional subject, as opposed to Haitian Pentecostals or Catholics who are actually involved in these debates in Haiti and in Haitian communities in North America?

Cynics will say that the answer is simply: Robertson is a straw man, beloved by lazy journalists.

This is another lazy Pat Robertson story that is not worthy of the name news.

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  • Daniel

    In fact, Islam is not a mere religion. If it were, there would be far less of a problem. Why is it that accourding to its own documents, Islam was spread at the tip of a sword, while several other of the world religions spread principlly by means of books and monasteries? No matter how distasteful it may be to make this admission, those who deny it are logically impaired! Hanging Robertson out to dry because he made this statement is, as you say, old news if it is news at all. So what! He made a factual claim! Let’s double down on that with the fact that I’m surprised those who deny it are so dumb!

    Mollie’s recent statement that journalism is losing credibility because of such hot-aired nonsense is exemplified here. In my opinion such writers aren’t journalists but poor polemical essayists.

    Perhaps GetReligion should change its focus from journalism to advertising copy. When lobbyists and political hacks write in the same way, its called political claptrap, not journalism. The difference is that this appears in major newspapers and magazines. But that’s one of the only differences.

    I think I’ll cool off now and go take a swig of nice cold water.

  • Darrell Turner

    Playing up controversial comments by Pat Robertson is a pastime that the mainstream media have enjoyed for decades. The same thing used to happen with Jerry Falwell. And as with the current story, it’s both an easy and lazy game to play. If the person in question says something that he’s said before — and that has been reported before — present it as something new.
    Next news flashes: Fred Phelps says gay people are going to hell.
    Vatican says women can’t be priests.
    Evangelicals get involved in politics.

  • agricola

    I think he’s an ‘evangelical’ because he ‘evangelizes’ – or, rather, preaches on TV – the ‘evangelical’ word doesn’t seem to have much connection to any particular theology beyond vaguely Protestant. Even Billy Graham couldn’t define the term. Whatever it may have meant at some point, it is clearly shifting, just like ‘fundamentalist’.

    Off topic a bit –
    The best or at least (certainly) most memorable headline I’ve ever seen was in the Daily News – 1980′s Sick Transit’s Glorious Monday. I kept my copy of that for the longest time – haven’t seen it in decades, though.

    • rumitoid

      Lol, that is my favorite as well. Had it for awhile in my papers but somewhere along the line it was lost. I wept. (Not really but you get the point.)

  • FW Ken

    Evangelizing makes Pat Robertson an “evangelist”, not an evangelical. I recognize the difficulty of defining “evangelical”, but the differences with pentecostalism are significant, theologically and culturally. It’s a useful and real distinction.

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  • Frank

    Why bother writing a story like this? Why not just have a form titled “Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.” Have a check box each of the usual subjects (e.g. Pat Robertson). Wouldn’t this cover most of the stories at Get Religion?

    • Darren Blair

      The idea behind the website is to take incidents of the media being inaccurate and explain *why* whatever it is isn’t quite correct so that everyone can see it and understand what’s going on.

      For example, in the aftermath of the shootings in Newton, the media paid lip service to some of the various local ministers that were appearing to help out those affected by what took place. Thing is, there was a bit of a “religion ghost” in that the family of one of the deceased was hinted to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (that is, us Mormons) but that the media seemed to just be glossing over the issue… especially since there didn’t seem to be any LDS clergy afoot.

      In reality, this perception was due to the media not doing their homework.

      Had the media done a little bit of digging, they’d have realized that there’s an LDS congregation in Newton *and* two more congregations in the surrounding communities. In other words, there was a Mormon presence in the town.

      So then where was the local Mormon minister? Probably right there in plain sight. You see, the LDS faith uses a “lay” clergy, meaning that the ministers are called from the body of believers. Because the media didn’t think to look for one, they didn’t see one. Instead, they likely saw the local LDS minister coming and going *several* times, but mistook him for yet another local well-wisher.

      The lesson? “When doing an article on the religious groups within a region, account for all of the various denominations and religions that have a presence in the community. If any of these groups does not appear to have at least one individual representing them to the public, ask around instead of presuming that none exists.”

  • rumitoid

    It seems that most “news reporting” has taken on a more gossipy style meant primarily to entertain rather than inform; a folksy, over-the-backyard-fence retelling of an event. I like how Daniel put it: “poor polemic essayists.” But in keeping with the blog, might not poor polemic poopsayers have been better? Just a thought.

    I work at a local Christian TV station. My job for awhile was to monitor four hours of broadcasting that included the 700 Club. Nearly everyday Pat Robertson would say some of the most darndest things. I duly noted these statements in my report and a decision was quickly reached to drop his show from our schedule. I should also add that on occasion he would return the next show with either an apology about comment or a deeper explanation that made it less “darndest.”

  • Justin Whitaker

    While it might not be news that Robertson has made yet more offensive and inaccurate comments about another religion, what might be newsworthy is the fact that people still listen to him. He shows up in my Comparative World Religions textbook only as a case in point in a short aside on how many views of Vodou are “superficial and dismissive.” (Robert Van Voorst, World RELG, p.55)

    • Darren Blair

      I don’t recall his being mentioned in my intro to world religions book at all.

      I could check if I could find it, though.


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