Thursday, June 08, 2023

Pat Robertson (1930-2023)

Broadcasting powerhouse Pat Robertson died today at the age of 93. He had originally intended to go into politics (his father was a Democratic Senator), but then had an evangelical conversion and told his startled wife Dede that God had told him to enter the ministry; after getting his degree to become a Southern Baptist minister, he bought a failing UHF television station, despite having almost no money, by wrangling up enough investors. From this, CBN was born as a religious non-profit organization in 1961; it is certainly a candidate for being one of the most influential events in the history of television broadcasting. Robertson pioneered dozens of new formats and modified others to the religious function of the network, which increased in popularity until it was making literally hundreds of millions a year. He was also the founder of the private college, Regent University, and of the entertainment componay IFE, whose flagship cable channel was The Family Channel. He was a major figure in the Protestant Charismatic movement in the 1980s. He also ran for President on the Republican ticket in 1988; while he never actually had a chance of winning (and didn't make it through the primaries), in his short campaign he again came up with a number of innovations (like church tours in Iowa leading up to the Iowa caucus) that ended up sticking -- Republican candidates, and occasionally Democratic candidates trying to shave off Republican support, still attempt to copy and adapt them every presidential election.

There are a great many people who have what can only be called a visceral and vituperative hatred of Pat Robertson, in great measure occasioned by things he said over his more than half-century as host of the very popular talk show, The 700 Club, but the hatred itself often arises not from the things he has said but from the fact that they couldn't be treated as insignificant: many of his projects were extremely effective, and over the course of a sixty-year career, the creativity with which he developed them repeatedly led to successes, sometimes extraordinary, sometimes modest, that took people completely by surprise. At the height of his career, you certainly could not ignore him as fringe regardless of what he said or did, because he was too obviously not at the fringe at all. Even after his peak, his pull could still be quite considerable; to take just one example, he was certainly one of the reasons for the weakening of the Evangelical resistance to the legalization of marijuana after he started arguing in favor the latter. We often say that someone's death is the end of an era, but it is certainly true in the case of Robertson, who was perhaps the most astounding juggernaut of the broadcast television era and probably the most successful televangelist in history.