- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2021

Pat Robertson, who started the Christian Broadcasting Network in a vandalism-prone Tidewater Virginia building 60 years ago, said Friday he’s giving up his microphone as host of “The 700 Club,” the network’s flagship daily talk show, which he has hosted since 1966. It is one of television broadcasting’s longest-running programs.

“Today’s show will be my final as host of ‘The 700 Club,’” Mr. Robertson, 91, said on air Friday. “My replacement will be my very capable son, Gordon, who will take over as full-time host of the program.”

Paul Matzko, a historian at the District-based Cato Institute, said the broadcaster’s impact was impressive in the heyday of over-the-air and cable programming.

“Pat Robertson’s CBN had an audience of 17 million at its peak in the 1980s which, for sake of comparison, is as many as Rush Limbaugh had at his peak 20 years later,” said Mr. Matzko, author of “The Radio Right,” a history of conservative-focused religious broadcasting.

Mr. Matzko said Mr. Robertson represented “a large group of religious conservatives who were alienated from what was changing about society in the 1960s and 70s, who didn’t feel represented and what they saw and heard on the airwaves, who felt alienated from America’s governing and social institutions. And he spoke to them.” 

The elder Mr. Robertson will continue to appear periodically on the CBN flagship program — whose name derived from an early CBN telethon where 700 monthly pledges of $10 apiece were solicited — offering commentary “as news warrants,” a statement said. He will also devote his efforts to training students at Regent University, the Virginia Beach, Va. school which he founded in 1977.

In 2018, Mr. Robertson was temporarily sidelined by a stroke. Gordon Robertson, 63, told The Washington Times Friday prompt treatment at a local clinic restored his father “to full function literally within two minutes.” He said health considerations didn’t figure into his father’s decision to step aside.

He‘s been doing live television now for 60 years,” Gordon Robertson said. “And he thought on the 60th anniversary, it would be good for him to lay most of that burden now.”

CBN stated the elder Mr. Robertson would also host a monthly, interactive episode of “The 700 Club” where he would respond to viewer emails.

Conservative influence

A son of the late U.S. Sen. A. Willis Robertson, who represented Virginia in the upper chamber for 20 years, Marion Gordon “Pat” Robertson has long been a standard-bearer for conservative Christian voters, having founded the Christian Coalition, which wielded great influence in American politics during the Reagan era and beyond.

As a broadcaster, Mr. Robertson has interviewed Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump; a dozen Israeli prime ministers; leaders of the Islamist Mujahadin, a group now known as al Qaeda; and Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji. Physicist Edward Teller and futurist Alvin Toffler also have been his interview subjects, CBN said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time that Mr. Robertson stepped away from the studio. In 1987, Mr. Robertson said he had garnered the support of three million volunteers for a 1988 presidential campaign, and turned the leadership of CBN over to another son, Tim. After a second-place finish in the 1988 Iowa caucus, Mr. Robertson‘s campaign failed to gain traction and he dropped out of the race, endorsing then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, who went on to win the election. 

Mr. Robertson returned to CBN and broadcasting while offering healthy doses of political commentary and insight. He swapped a live band on “The 700 Club” for a news segment. Today, CBN News is a 24-hour satellite news operation that broadcasts over cable and the internet, with bureaus in the District of Columbia and Jerusalem.

Gordon Robertson said Friday “The 700 Club” still averages 600,000 broadcast viewers daily, while internet streaming of various program segments such as testimonials of viewers’ lives touched by the show’s Christian message reach “tens of millions” daily. He noted that some 90% of the program’s audience is outside of the United States, where local and regional broadcasters present segments aimed at their target audiences.

Along with being a pioneering evangelical broadcaster, Mr. Robertson didn’t shy away from presenting controversial predictions on his program. In May 1982, he said, “I guaranteed you by the fall of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world.” On May 8, 2006, he said, “The coasts of America will be lashed by storms,” adding nine days later, “There well may be something as bad as a tsunami in the Pacific Northwest.”

None of those predictions — nor an Oct. 20, 2020 declaration, “I want to say without question Trump is going to win the election” — came to pass. He eventually said Mr. Trump should have conceded that election.

Gordon Robertson said his father does not claim the role of a biblical prophet.

“In my experience, he always prefaces these [statements] with, ‘I believe I’m hearing from God; if I’m wrong, please forgive me.’ He’s not taking, I guess, an Old Testament view of inerrancy of what he said,” the younger Mr. Robertson said.

Some critics are not sanguine about Pat Robertson’s legacy, however. 

Rob Boston, a senior adviser at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a District-based group often at odds with the Christian Coalition, titled his 1996 book on the broadcaster “The Most Dangerous Man in America?” and remains a critic.

“Although Robertson has not been as visible on the political scene in recent years, it’s worth remembering that his Christian Coalition in the 1990s held significant power in many states and was, for more than a decade, the country’s leading Religious Right organization,” Mr. Boston told The Washington Times via email Friday. “It achieved things that Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority only dreamed of. Prior to the 2000 election, Robertson worked to solidify conservative Christians around George W. Bush. Bush’s election was consequential for its impact on the federal courts and other issues, and it might not have happened if Robertson hadn’t successfully rallied his troops.”

“Someone like Pat Robertson comes along only once in a generation,” Steve Strang, founder and publisher of Charisma magazine said on his podcast Friday. 

“I have had the privilege of knowing virtually all of the major Christian leaders in the last 40 years, just in my course of my work,” Mr. Strang, who also published Mr. Robertson’s memoir, added. “And Pat Robertson is up there with them. I think he will be remembered as one of or maybe the greatest Christian leader of this generation.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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