The Spring 2008 issue of VQR features “The Christian with Four Aces,” a profile of televangelist Pat Robertson written by Bill Sizemore. Robertson’s publicist provided us with the following statement, written by Louis Isakoff, the vice president and general counsel of Regent University. It is reproduced here verbatim.
Like Victor Hugo’s Inspector Javert, Bill Sizemore has made a career of relentlessly dogging a man he perceives to be an evildoer. Mr. Sizemore’s latest article, in the Spring 2008 edition of The Virginia Quarterly Review, demonstrates what happens when a writer loses his perspective and writes to advance his predetermined conclusions. In the absence of impartiality and objectivity, facts simply don’t matter. As Mr. Sizemore’s brief biography indicates, he has had a 12-year career writing about Pat Robertson. One would think in that time he would have written at least one positive article.
In the paragraphs below, I will accomplish two tasks – debunk the myths perpetrated by Mr. Sizemore, and in a few words convey the truth surrounding Pat Robertson.
Mr. Sizemore begins his article by recounting a meeting at CBN’s headquarters. However, he neglects to give the details of what precipitated that meeting. The meeting that Mr. Sizemore describes was triggered by a report Mr. Sizemore wrote before Phil Busch, a bodybuilder and self-proclaimed strongest man in the world, sued Dr. Robertson, in a suit that was dismissed on summary judgment. As a lawyer, I will tell you that courts do not typically grant summary judgment. Summary judgment meant, in this case, that even weighing the facts most strongly in favor of the bodybuilder, he could not make out a case against Dr. Robertson or CBN. The law was against Phil Busch and the facts were against him. Mr. Sizemore’s first article about the “legal tussle worthy of a John Grisham novel” was a story in which he said that the 300-pound, 6-foot-5 bodybuilder had been threatened with physical harm and blackmail by agents of the 77-year-old Dr. Robertson. Sizemore wrote that story as if it were fact, without even bothering to check the facts with CBN or Dr. Robertson. After that first story in the series was written, Mr. Sizemore was confronted and asked what information he had to support this serious allegation. Mr. Sizemore said he had seen one letter and emails from representatives of Dr. Robertson. Those items contained no threats, express or implied, and the emails were not even from anyone claiming to be his agent. Sizemore was asked if the letter and emails were threatening, and he admitted that they were not. The reason he wrote the article, he said, was because the bodybuilder had said that the letter and emails were threatening. It did not matter to Mr. Sizemore if there was a threat. The story just made juicy gossip. You see, Mr. Sizemore didn’t care if his story was true. So long as it disparaged Dr. Robertson, it was “fit to print.”
Mr. Sizemore compounded this manipulation in a later story in which he solicited a quote from a tax expert with the intent to suggest wrongdoing on the part of Dr. Robertson. Instead of giving the expert the operative facts of this particular matter, Sizemore instead chose to create a hypothetical question in order to slant the expert’s opinion to support Sizemore’s goals – the expert was responding to a hypothetical question that had no basis in fact, yet Mr. Sizemore felt free to disclose the opinion as fact and to insert the quote from the expert, taken out of context and juxtaposed in his story about Pat Robertson. In his multiple stories in The Virginian-Pilot about Phil Busch, Mr. Sizemore also did not bother to disclose that Mr. Busch had also sued Disney, Viacom, Ross Perot, his own local church, GNC, the Vitamin Shoppe, and others over the same allegations he was asserting against Dr. Robertson. Even in the recent article in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Mr. Sizemore is misleading. While he is technically correct that the paper never retracted the story about Pat Robertson and Busch, Sizemore misleads his readers, since the paper did in fact issue a correction. Is there a difference between a retraction and a correction? A journalist may say yes. But to the public, to say that there was no retraction is to suggest that the paper stood by Sizemore’s story, which it did not.
Mr. Sizemore’s article in The Virginia Quarterly Review is very clever. He juxtaposes his tales of Dr. Robertson with recounting of the woes of fallen television ministers, Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. This is guilt by association at its worst. Somehow Mr. Sizemore is “surprised” that Gerald Straub could show little animosity for being fired by Dr. Robertson for having an affair with an employee and lying about it. Why is Mr. Sizemore surprised that CBN would have a moral standard of conduct for its employees? Why would Mr. Sizemore think that Mr. Straub would have a right to hold a grudge? According to Sizemore, having had to be deprogrammed, now Straub is free to embrace his brand of Christianity – emphasizing social justice, concern for the poor, peace and non-violence. While all those causes are worthy, implicitly, Mr. Sizemore is suggesting that Dr. Robertson does not believe in these noble causes. The poverty of Gerald Straub is compared unfavorably to the presumed riches of Pat Robertson. Sizemore would have his readers conclude that Dr. Robertson believes in that discredited “prosperity gospel.”
As will be seen in this response, nothing could be further from the truth. The simple matter is that Dr. Robertson asked Mr. Straub to leave CBN because of a moral failure. This was disclosed by Mr. Sizemore but with a great deal more sympathy to Mr. Straub than to the standards set by Dr. Robertson. He misses the point that Dr. Robertson does not want even a semblance of impropriety to touch this ministry. That notion flies in the face of Mr. Sizemore’s predetermined conclusions. In Mr. Sizemore’s world, the wrongdoer becomes the wronged, and the righteous becomes the perpetrator through guilt by association.
Let me correct just a few more of the errors and misstatements in Mr. Sizemore’s article, and then let me give you a totally different perspective on Pat Robertson, what he has accomplished and what he believes.
The first myth that must be dispelled is this notion about the “prosperity gospel.” The Bible clearly teaches giving and receiving. It says in Luke 6:38: “give and it shall be given to you, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.” That is not Pat Robertson speaking. That is the Bible. And Pat does encourage giving, most importantly tithing to one’s local church. Yet to do all the humanitarian and ministry activities that CBN does throughout the world takes money, and CBN, like every charity, solicits funds. It takes a mere $20 per month to become a member of The 700 Club. But Mr. Sizemore neglects to say that Dr. Robertson has not taken a salary from CBN or Regent University for 20 years. In fact, Dr. Robertson is the largest single contributor to CBN. Why doesn’t Mr. Sizemore let his readers know that Dr. Robertson practices what he preaches? And by the way, I don’t know if Dr. Robertson is partial to Corvettes, as Mr. Sizemore writes, but Pat drives a Chevy Tahoe (and his other car is a Chrysler). The stock that Pat Robertson received when CBN sold The Family Channel – he paid appraised value for that stock and then immediately put it into a Charitable Trust so that the value in the trust would go back to CBN when Pat dies. And the house that Mr. Sizemore writes about – why doesn’t he say that Pat built the house with his own funds (from the royalties of some of the 18 books he has written) and then donated the house to CBN. And the book royalties – the reader should know that Pat foregoes all royalties whatsoever from books he writes that are given by CBN to its donors. Mr. Sizemore’s implications that Pat Robertson has lived off the largesse of the donors to CBN is simply not the truth. The message of generosity that Pat has declared for the viewers of The 700 Club is a message that he has exemplified all his life.
Mr. Sizemore alludes to alleged financial manipulation and tax evasion. The facts are far different. Mr. Sizemore writes that CBN put its Boston TV station, WXNE, in a new company, as if this is somehow deceptive. Mr. Sizemore then does the same thing that got Dan Rather in trouble with CBS – he talks about what “some say” without attributing the remarks to the particular individuals. I would imagine that any journalist – particularly one with Mr. Sizemore’s bent – could get someone to say something about anything. The truth, though is that it is very common for a nonprofit corporation to put its for-profit business in a separate subsidiary. CBN did not try to hide anything. As Mr. Sizemore should certainly know, CBN is required to file tax returns for both its nonprofit ministry as well as for any for-profit business – a Form 990 for the non-profit and a Form 990-T for the for-profit company. This is no different than the practice of most hospitals and many other nonprofit entities.
Mr. Sizemore goes on to talk about ventures in Zaire and Liberia. In the section about Zaire, somehow Mr. Sizemore forgot to say that rather than finding financial impropriety on the part of Operation Blessing International, Virginia’s attorney general found that Dr. Robertson had made extensive payments and contributions to Operation Blessing International during the years that Mr. Sizemore writes about, which not only fully paid for the use of the aircraft, but also substantially supported the cost of the entire Operation Blessing International relief effort.
Mr. Sizemore talks about Freedom Gold’s activities in Liberia. He does not tell the reader that Freedom Gold was represented in Liberia by a Harvard-educated Liberian attorney, an attorney who also represented Firestone Tire and Rubber. He doesn’t tell the readers that a variety of US companies like Firestone operated in Liberia during the same time frame for which he criticizes Dr. Robertson. Why does Mr. Sizemore link Dr. Robertson to the brutal regime of Charles Taylor and why doesn’t he make the same link for companies like Firestone? Dr. Robertson has never even met Charles Taylor, another fact that Mr. Sizemore omits. Mr. Sizemore also does not tell his readers that the agreement with Freedom Gold was approved by the Liberian Ministry of Mines and Energy, the Minister of Finance, the chairman of the National Investment Commission and the Minister of Justice. Mr. Sizemore neglects to write about the infrastructure improvements that Freedom Gold has made to Liberia, which benefited everyone. To date, Dr. Robertson has taken no money out of Liberia and probably never will. Rather, he has invested millions of dollars through Freedom Gold to build roads and bridges to villages in the bush and has built clinics and provided other humanitarian relief. Dr. Robertson is a socially-responsible investor, and one of his many criteria is whether the investment will be a blessing to the poor, the weak, and to those in spiritual need.
A final point on the tax issue: Mr. Sizemore talks about the IRS clamping down on the “mother ship.” What he neglects to say is that the matter was resolved by a voluntary settlement between the IRS and CBN after CBN had spent considerable funds defending itself against the might of the IRS.
Mr. Sizemore then turns to a discussion of Dr. Robertson’s thoughts on the judiciary and his political beliefs. He is wrong once again. While Dr. Robertson certainly encourages people of faith to serve in government, he does not believe in some sort of theocracy. In fact, in 1988 when he ran for president he resigned his ordination as a minister in the Baptist church. Like the founding fathers of this country, it was his moral beliefs founded upon his spiritual underpinnings that led him to run for public office. He did believe that America ran the risk of spiritual and moral decay, but so do many others. He did believe in a strong military, but so do many others. He believed in restoring the moral right of America, but so do many others. He wants to make changes in the world, but he did not and does not believe in the merger of religion and politics.
In the judicial area, Dr. Robertson’s beliefs are not dissimilar to those of Thomas Jefferson, who expressed fear that if the judiciary became preeminent we would suffer under the tyranny of an oligarchy. Dr. Robertson was trained in constitutional law at Yale University, and like many constitutional law experts, he is concerned that in many cases the courts have overstepped their role in interpreting the laws and have turned to making law. His views are quite similar to those of Justices Scalia, Roberts and Alitto, and late Chief Justice Rehnquist. Dr. Robertson’s recent book on the Supreme Court contains cites to nearly 170 cases and was vetted by constitutional law scholars. Mr. Sizemore’s idea that Pat Robertson does not believe in judicial review is belied by the fact that Dr. Robertson founded The American Center for Law and Justice, which has won signal cases before the Supreme Court, cases in which laws abridging free speech and freedom of religion were struck down. That by definition is judicial review.
It is not enough to merely castigate Mr. Sizemore for his bias and his selective reporting of facts. That gives the reader a partial picture of who Pat Robertson really is, but it is equally important to put Dr. Robertson’s achievements in the proper light.
Pat Robertson is an innovator and a pioneer. While it is true that Dr. Robertson founded The Family Channel, which was the first basic cable network in the country and, at the time it was sold, was still a top-10 cable network, Dr. Robertson has founded many other organizations.
CBN itself broadcasts programming terrestrially in 105 countries, and its programming can be seen in 228 countries and territories. It produces programming in 64 languages (and over the years has created programming in 100 different languages) in its studios in Virginia, Ukraine, Cambodia, India, the Philippines, Brazil, China, Hong Kong and Indonesia. According to a 2007 study, 367,806,000 individuals have viewed at least one episode of CBN programming. In the United States, an average of over 1 million people view CBN programming on any given day. While Mr. Sizemore may not appreciate the demand for programming with a spiritual content, people in every country and in every language are desperate for the programming that CBN produces. Lives are being changed as a result of that programming. People are turning away from crime, immorality, drugs and alcohol abuse to raising their families with love and compassion. When America is concerned about the ascendancy of radical Islam, should we criticize or should we celebrate an organization like CBN that brings a message of hope and truth throughout the world? CBN is meeting the spiritual hunger of people across the world. But CBN does not stop at spiritual hunger.
Mr. Sizemore talks about all the money that CBN “raked in” over the years. He neglects to say what CBN has done with those funds. Operation Blessing International is CBN’s humanitarian arm. Founded by Pat Robertson in 1978, Operation Blessing International has touched the lives of more than 202.7 million people in more than 105 countries and all 50 states, providing goods and services valued at over $1.4 billion to date. One of the most significant charities in America, Operation Blessing International provides strategic disaster relief, medical aid, hunger relief, clean water and community development in 22 countries around the world on a daily basis including China, Kenya, the Darfur region of Sudan, Pakistan, Somalia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Mozambique, United States and the Philippines. In 2007, Operation Blessing International responded to a record 20 disasters in 14 countries, making a significant, long-term impact in the lives of 9.5 million people in this one year alone. In recent years, Operation Blessing International has also made headlines (except in Mr. Sizemore’s newspaper) as a first responder to four major U.S. hurricanes; the tsunami disaster in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, and in New Orleans where Operation Blessing International has provided nearly $60 million in cash grants, relief supplies, and over 265,000 hours of volunteer service to date. Each month in India, Operation Blessing International provides medical services for an average of 30,000 patients and also installs 50 deep-water wells that provide clean drinking water to entire communities.
When a series of deadly tornadoes tore through Arkansas and Tennessee in early February, Operation Blessing International launched a response within two hours and was on the ground providing food, water and relief supplies to survivors and rescue workers. Operation Blessing International volunteers mounted a considerable effort in response to the tornadoes, working in five counties and delivering thousands of pounds of disaster relief supplies and food, purchasing and distributing hundreds of portable heaters, distributing tens of thousands of dollars in cash grants to local nonprofit groups for their relief efforts, helping to coordinate infrastructure for relief work, deploying a fleet of equipment including shower trailers, construction/work trailers, mobile kitchens, bobcats, and operating a Mobile Command Center.
In February, Operation Blessing International responded to the snow disaster in the Hunan Province of China brought about by the worst storm in one hundred years. Upon arriving in Chenzhou, a city of four million that had been without electricity and water for twelve days, Operation Blessing International delivered food, medical supplies, diapers, and safe bed warmers to 150 children in the local orphanage in addition to supplying much needed provisions to elderly patients in the local retirement home. Aside from the Chinese government’s response, Operation Blessing International relief workers arriving in the city were told they were the only humanitarian organization in Chenzhou.
Also in February, Operation Blessing International responded to the humanitarian crisis in Kenya, arriving in the Rift Valley with a team of relief workers and doctors to help victims of deadly violence and grave human rights violations following the disputed presidential election. Operation Blessing International and partner charity Humedica treated medical patients and coordinated food distributions helping thousands of people.
In early March, Operation Blessing International helped tens of thousands in Ecuador with flood relief, teaming up with DHL to provide two water purification plants that have been delivering up to 20,000 gallons of fresh drinking water every single day.
In March, Operation Blessing International also announced a major expansion of its anti-parasite campaign that will result in an estimated 9.5 million children in Latin and South America being treated with medication in 2008. The expanded program began with an initial distribution of medication that treated an estimated 5 million children in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru. In September, Operation Blessing International will provide a second dose of the medication to those same children plus treat an additional 4.5 million children in Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico. By the end of 2008 some 9.5 million children will receive 14.5 million doses of anti-parasite medication from Operation Blessing International. Intestinal worms pose a serious health problem in Latin and South America and are one of the top ten causes of death in children under five. Operation Blessing International’s anti-parasite campaign has been in place since 2003 and has treated over 15 million children to date in countries including China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, Laos, Nigeria, Niger, Guatemala, Peru and Mexico. In February 2008, for the fourth time, Operation Blessing International treated approximately 2 million women and children in one day in Peru utilizing a network of 2,000 churches and over 42,000 volunteers. In Guatemala, Operation Blessing International has worked with the Departments of Health and Education to facilitate the de-worming of Guatemala’s entire population of over 2.1 million school age children in 2005 and 2006.
And, just this month (April), Operation Blessing International teamed up with DHL, Medical Assistance Programs International (MAP), and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals to deliver 700 doses of a life-saving hemophiliac drug to the country of Honduras. The charity received an urgent call from the First Lady of Honduras asking for the special medicine, and Operation Blessing International reached out to partner organizations to secure the drugs and provide the logistics necessary for overnight delivery under controlled climate conditions.
Has Mr. Sizemore ever written about any of these worthwhile activities? It is ironic, but at the same time Mr. Sizemore was interviewing Operation Blessing International’s public relations manager and debating whether faith-based organizations should be allowed to favor hiring people of their own faith, Operation Blessing International was unloading of tractor trailers of supplies to feed and clothe the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Sizemore is a so-called investigative reporter. But not one of these activities has warranted his investigation. Yes, Operation Blessing International has raised millions of dollars, and Operation Blessing International has spent those dollars in relieving suffering around the world. When Sizemore writes about “hitting a gold mine” or the “funneling” of funds to religious groups, when he talks about Salvation for Sale, when he talks about rivers of cash gushing through the organization, he fails to mention that over 98.7% of Operation Blessing’s expenditures go directly towards humanitarian programs. He trivializes the human suffering in the world that is Operation Blessing International’s call to ameliorate.
Let’s turn to Regent University. Like Mr. Jefferson, Pat Robertson founded a university. In the 30 years of its existence, Regent University has made its mark on the world. Regent has approximately 11,000 graduates. Its current student body of 4,400 students come from all 50 states, and 42 different countries. Regent has trained nearly 4,000 young Peruvian entrepreneurs to become business leaders and economic change agents in their country. Regent’s School of Communication and the Arts has won over 170 national and international film and television awards. Regent’s faculty, which include two Fulbright scholars, have presented at conferences all over the world, including South Korea, Dubai, Qatar, Great Britain (participating in the training of the London Metropolitan Police) and South Africa. In this era when we are rightfully concerned about violence in the classroom, drugs in schools and declining test scores, Regent is a leader in training teachers on character education. One of its graduates won the National School Board Association’s Black Caucus Educational Leadership Award. Regent’s graduates include a national middle school teacher of the year, and Virginia’s current attorney general. Its Law School has won the national ABA Moot Court and Negotiation competitions, titles previously held by Yale and Harvard. This year, the Regent appellate advocacy team won the regional championship, defeating 31 teams (including the teams at University of Virginia and William & Mary) before advancing to the national competition. In terms of diversity, Regent’s student population is 33 percent non-white, higher than most schools in this state. Regent’s Law School just won the Black American Law School Association’s 2007-2008 International Negotiations Competition.
On the issue of gender, it should be noted that 61% of the students at Regent are female, and nearly half the vice presidents are female. The 700 Club was one of the first nationally-televised daily programs to have an African-American co-host. Mr. Sizemore wants you to believe that Dr. Robertson is narrow-minded, but the truth is quite different.
Regent enjoys a tremendously diverse student body and a faculty from all denominations. Although it is unabashedly a Christian university, Regent encourages a diversity of voices on its campus. In recent years, Regent has invited to its campus a broad range of guests, from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (who was a visiting professor at Regent) to Hanan Aswari, from Jeb Bush and Karl Rove to liberal constitutional law scholar Alan Dershowitz and Barry Lynn (the head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State). Former Senator Bob Dole debated former Vice President Al Gore at Regent’s signature event, The Clash of the Titans®. While it is true that Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney spoke at Regent’s Executive Leadership Luncheon Series, Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama were also invited to speak at Regent’s Clash of the Titans debate, but declined. In fact, when Vice President Al Gore was looking for someone with conservative leanings to film a public service announcement urging Americans to help protect the environment, he turned to Pat Robertson. You may have seen the recent announcements on national television with Pat Robertson and Rev. Al Sharpton sitting on the beach discussing the environment.
Noted radio commenter, Paul Harvey, talked about “the rest of the story.” There are facts, partial truths and irrelevant statements that can be juxtaposed together to create a misleading story. Then there is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Journalists like to hold politicians and others accountable for misleading statements. Hillary Clinton is rightly criticized for exaggerating the danger when she went to Bosnia, saying she was under fire when she was not. One president resigned in disgrace because of the Watergate cover-up and another was impeached for lying about an affair (and we never criticized their respective law schools, unlike the innuendo about Monica Goodling and Regent University). The press plays a critical role in our society in weeding out falsehood and deceit. This is right and true in a free society. Yet, the press has an unprecedented power to wrongly indict, try and convict its victims. We saw this in the press’s coverage of the Duke Lacrosse case. For months, the media (the prosecutor and Duke itself for that matter) portrayed three students guilty of rape. The students did not get a chance to defend themselves. And, a gullible public took the press reports as the truth. We trust the press to present a full and accurate picture of reality. Yet by the facts that are reported, by the suspicions reported as fact, and by the facts that are omitted, the press can skew a story to reach the writer’s predetermined notion of what is right and what is wrong. As readers, we need to ask critical questions. We need to ask what the press did not say. We need to ask what the subjects of the story would say if they had the opportunity to answer the story. We need to ask why the press reported the story as they did. And, we need to seek out alternative voices.
It is ironic that Mr. Sizemore prides himself on having written about Pat Robertson for 12 years, yet he has never bothered to mention the very significant achievements of Pat Robertson in a positive light – accomplishments such as founding and operating one of the world’s largest ministries, one of the world’s most significant humanitarian organizations, a leading university, and a public advocacy group to defend religious liberties. When Sizemore talks about the accomplishments, it is never to praise and only to detract. It is ironic that many in the public take Mr. Sizemore’s and others’ reporting of Pat Robertson as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, without listening to other voices who tell all that Pat Robertson has said and accomplished.
Any one of Pat Robertson’s achievements – founding The Christian Broadcasting Network, Regent University, the American Center for Law and Justice, The Family Channel, or Operation Blessing International – would have been admirable in one lifetime. Yet Pat has done this and more. Pat does not believe it is the role of the government to meet every need. Every fiber of his being says that this is his – and our – responsibility. It is easy to see from Dr. Robertson’s achievements what motivates him – a love for God and a desire not only to bring people to a knowledge of God, but also to alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. It is far harder to see what motivates Mr. Sizemore to relentlessly pursue Dr. Robertson. What has caused him to lose a balanced perspective, to selectively report facts and to juxtapose irrelevancies in an effort to bring down Pat Robertson? Perhaps it is the same thing that motivated Inspector Javert to pursue Jean Valjean. But as with Jean Valjean, there is another side to the story that needs to be told. Perhaps this response is a first step.