In 1996, I wrote a book titled The Most Dangerous Man in America?: Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition.
At that time, the Christian Coalition was going great guns. Led by the young and media-savvy Ralph Reed, the organization claimed two million members and would routinely bring 4,000 people to Washington for meetings.
A lot has happened since then. Reed left the Coalition, opened a political consulting firm, got too close to Jack Abramoff and saw his own political hopes go up in smoke. Robertson cut the Christian Coalition loose in December of 2001, and the group went into decline. (It turns out it never had anywhere near two million members.)
The Most Dangerous Man in America? was my attempt to catalog some of the more outrageous things Robertson has said over the years. While writing it, I pored over dusty newspaper clippings in the basement of AU's building and watched a lot of Pat ranting on the "700 Club" via video. (Remember, this was prior to the rise of the World Wide Web and DVDs.)
I used to joke that I would put out an annual supplement to the book – a wrap-up of every crazy thing Robertson said and did that year. To some extent, we tried to do that in the pages of Church & State. But the task is too daunting. Writing down the nutty stuff Robertson said in just a few weeks would fill an entire issue.
Thankfully, Bill Sizemore, an investigative reporter at the Virginian-Pilot, Robertson's hometown newspaper in Norfolk/Virginia Beach, has been picking up the slack. Over the years, Sizemore has produced enough ink on Robertson to fill his own book. Personally, I think the man should get hazardous-duty pay.
Recently, Sizemore wrote an overview of Robertson's checkered career in The Virginia Quarterly Review, a publication of the University of Virginia. It's the best summary of Robertson's sleaze-filled career that I've seen. It's well worth your time.
It's all here: Robertson's rise as a televangelist, his run for the presidency in 1988, his creation of the Christian Coalition, his questionable business deals in Africa (including his use of airplanes intended for charitable use to ferry diamond-mining equipment in Zaire), his relationship with Liberian dictator Charles Taylor and others.
Sizemore broke a lot of stories about Robertson – and that usually did not please the volatile TV preacher. Sizemore begins his article by recounting a stormy 2007 meeting during which Robertson attacked Sizemore for ruining his birthday by running a story about yet another Robertson business deal gone sour – this one concerning a diet shake Robertson was marketing.
Robertson huffed and puffed and threatened to sue.
"You guys are as crooked as a snake," he told Sizemore, Virginian-Pilot editors and two of the paper's lawyers. "I'll have you all in depositions for the rest of your life."
It was typical Robertson bluster, and he never did sue. But it later came to light that Robertson may be pursuing a different type of revenge: In January, Landmark Communications, which owns the Virginian-Pilot and other media companies, announced it was interested in selling off its properties. Robertson promptly announced he'd like to put in a bid for the Virginian-Pilot.
I feel certain that if Robertson were to become owner of the Virginian-Pilot, the first thing he would do is hand Bill Sizemore his walking papers. Sizemore is a talented writer and a dogged investigator. I don't think he'd have any trouble finding a new job. The residents of southeastern Virginia, however, would definitely come up losers.