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CBN's Pat Robertson: White House next?


The Post has for some months been hearing a rustling among the grass roots in the land. It centers on an unusual man-- a broadcaster, a lawyer, an economist, a theologian, a businessman-- named Pat Robertson, the president of a burgeoning communications-education complex grouped around the Christian Broadcasting Network.

The rustling--gentle but persistent--usually takes the form of a question, or perhaps two questions run together. They go something like this: "What is Pat Robertson going to do next? Do you think he'll one day run for president?' The Post found that, often, the questions pop up in discussions about successors to Ronald Reagan. Furthermore, the Post found that the questioners are serious.

To learn more about the substance of this rustling and about the man himself, we talked with a number of influential people who know him well, from Maine to California, Democrats, Republicans and independents alike.

"I give Pat Robertson high marks in a lot of different areas,' said Bert Lance, a Democratic kingmaker in his home state of Georgia and a man of considerable national clout since his days with the Carter administration. "I think he's a fine, fine individual.'

Lance was particularly struck by the importance of communications and television today, which he felt would be a plus for Robertson if he were to try his hand at presidential politics. "Something awfully important has happened,' he said. "One reason that political parties aren't as functional now as they used to be is that they have lost a very basic element . . . the control of the flow of information to the party members. This information used to go through the precinct organization and up and down through the state organization and so on. Well, they've lost that. It is now controlled by the media and by the Congressmen, writing their own constituencies.

"The same thing has happened to the labor unions. The unions made sure that you got your information through the union. When they lost that ability, they lost their basic power. Now the one group in the country that controls the flow of information to its constituence is the television evangelicals.

"Television is the media today and affects the political process. You have to be good on television in order to be elected. That's where we are. There's a lot of people who would vote for him [Robertson], and you know he's from the right part of the country [Virginia]. It's all very interesting. I wouldn't be surprised if you'd find positive feedback about him.'

Sam Moore, chief executive officer of the Thomas Nelson publishing empire, including Dodd, Mead of New York, was enthusiastic. "He'd make a fantastic President! He's a godly man, a smart man, a good businessman, an attorney, and has enough experience to run any business or any facet of the country. He knows how to get things done, and he's a man of integrity, too. He can have my vote any day.'

John Exter, a former vice president of the Federal Reserve and a professor of economics at Harvard, agreed. "I would vote for him,' he said. He was especially keen on Robertson's television abilities as reflected on the "700 Club' news-magazine show. But, he said, "He is a lot of other things, too. He is an extraordinary man.'

His major reservation, it appeared, was Robertson's openness regarding his faith. He concluded, however: "I am the kind of person who can swallow all that religion when I see his understanding of economics.'

Paul Weyrich, one of Washington's leading conservative movers and shakers, was quick to verify the rustling the Post had picked up. "There is literally a grass-roots movement to make this happen,' he said, "which Pat has not shown any inclination to abet. If I thought Pat wouldn't repudiate it, I'd lead a draft movement.'

He explained his enthusiasm this way: "I've never seen so much unity among such a wide variety of people who normally don't agree on a candidate. When his name was mentioned, there was just an extraordinary unity, because, first of all, Pat represents the values that I think are shared by a majority of Americans, and he lives those values. Secondly, being the son of a United States senator [the late A.W. Robertson of Virginia], he has a good understanding of how things work. Thirdly, he has an extraordinary personality, attractive to millions and millions of people. He presents sound views in a nonthreatening manner, which I think is essential.' Weyrich concluded: "Among potential candidates today, political or nonpolitical, there is no one with a higher rating in education, experience, family background, name recognition, popularity and vigor.'

Another Democrat, Woody Jenkins of Louisiana, a legislator and a publisher, was especially thoughtful in his assessment of Robertson and his multiple talents. "I think he has some unique characteristics that would make him a very formidable candidate,' he said. "First, he has the ability to raise the money to run in the primaries, and to do so in a very short period of time. Second, he would have a ready-made organization all over America and, of course, that's particularly important in the key primary states. He would have legions ready to work wherever they were needed. Third, he has tremendous name recognition. Fourth, he is probably one of the two greatest communicators in America today on television; the other one is Ronald Reagan.

"And, of course, he has the educational background. His knowledge of public affairs, the fact that he comments on it every day, really makes him one of the most knowledgeable candidates in history.

"The negative thing to overcome is the question of whether a religious man, known as a religious leader, can be elected. [Would] the media attempt to discredit him because he is known as a religious leader?'

Acknowledging the dimension of religion, a Madisom Avenue advertising executive, Tom Dunkerton, pointed quickly to the fact that Robertson "is very tough--tough because he knows all the facts and figures. He knows how to deal with tough cookies, if you will, when to speak out and when to keep quiet. And he has a keen sense of humor.'

We couldn't ignore Indiana, where politics is a way of life. So we asked Beurt Ser Vaas, an industrialist-scientist who has for many years been the president of the Indianapolis City-County Council, what he thought:

"Well,' he said, "President Eisenhower, before his election, was a nonpolitician, general, educator [president of Columbia University] and immensely popular with millions of people. He was asked by both parties to be their presidential candidate, and he chose the Republicans. He could have chosen the Democrats. Both parties wanted him.

"Pat Robertson is somewhat in the same boat. You cannot govern in this country unless you are popular, but you must have shown somewhere in your career that you can deal with complex organizations as well as with individual people, handle technology, understand economics and foreign affairs, be diplomatic yet get things done.

"So, there is no question but that Pat Robertson is presidential timber, a businessman, minister, lawyer, Marine Corps officer, boxer, Phi Beta Kappa, a popular communicator like Reagan and an organizer like Eisenhower.

"I'll say this! If Pat Robertson were a candidate for president, I would not want to be running against him.'

One of the country's most successful businessmen, Joseph Coors of Colorado, a strong conservative, said that Robertson's communication strengths would overpower potential criticism regarding religion. "Pat's no neophyte on the political scene,' he said, "although he hasn't been active himself in that field. He's never run for office, to the best of my knowledge, but I think he would just be an outstanding potential candidate, with really no scars or no negatives with which people could tear him apart.'

Coors obviously thought that such a political move by the CBN founder would be controversial. "It could be sensational,' he exclaimed. "It sure would raise a lot of eyebrows.' He went on give his opinion of Robertson: "He has many wonderful traits that qualify him. He's an outstanding person, attractive; he speaks beautifully with tremendous emphasis; and as a result of his speaking abilities he's very persuasive and would make an excellent candidate from that point of view. His personality is just beaming and outstanding. Besides, he is a very intelligent person and has a great background in education and, actually, in the political scene, through the exposure that he had during his father's tenure.'

A woman close to the inner workings of national government, Dee Jepsen, a former White House aide, believes Robertson would be a serious contender should he seek the presidency. "I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Pat Robertson, his intellect and his ability,' she said. "He's very well informed and very knowledgeable about many, many different things in this country and in the world; and if he were to enter public life and seek public office, he would certainly have a broad base of support.'

Several Virginians who have watched Robertson up close gave him high marks.

Sen. John Warner, a Republican, said, "Pat Robertson is a man whose wisdom and compassion today reflect the richness of the teachings of a devout mother and a brilliant father. It's been my privilege to know his family and share a friendship with Pat since we entered Washington and Lee University nearly four decades ago.'

Rep. William Whitehurst, also a Republican, recalls, "I've known Pat since before I came to Congress, and that was back in 1968. Thus I knew him when his operation was considerably smaller than it is now. He's one of our great assets in the Virginia Tidewater. Not only there, but I think he's an asset to the countries he has reached out to, and more especially the many, many people he has touched with his ministry. He's been an asset and a blessing to the nation itself.'

Pressed on the point of candidacy, Whitehurst said, "I think he'd be super, but if he did a thing like that, I'd think he'd lost his mind.' He added that he believed Robertson has the ability and the intelligence necessary to be President. "But just being smart isn't enough,' he said. "And wanting the job isn't enough. But if he were interested, then certainly he should make his interest known, and, indeed, his supporters in either party should prepare the way for it. It's not just going to be done by acclamation.'

Conoly Phillips, a businessman and one-time Democratic Senate candidate, emphasized the broadcaster's younger life. "Being brought up in a political family, he knows more about politics than most politicians. His dad, whom I knew, was head of the Senate Finance Committee. Pat knows domestic finance, he knows international finance. There's no question in my mind that Pat has the ability --he has everything it would take to be a most outstanding presidential candidate. He'd surely get my vote.'

A Time to Confront

The pattern was clear: first, the rustling at the grass roots; then, the enthusiasm of a significant number of influential leaders. That left the subject himself. What did Pat Robertson think about his one day running for the presidency?

We flew into lively, booming Virginia Beach for a confrontation with this man of many reputed talents. During the flight, the question seemed increasingly far-out, even off-the-wall. After all, I'd told myself, he's never run for anything. Yes, he's smart; he's attractive; yes, he runs a close race with Ronald Reagan as the great communicator. Yes, he's done just about everything there is to do--with great success. But being descended from the Harrison family that produced two American presidents, or being the son of a strong senator, or even being distantly related to that most powerful of English-speaking politicians, Winston Churchill, doesn't mean he's a politician.

Seated comfortably in his deep-brown office on a darkening winter afternoon, we posed the questions: "What's next for Pat Robertson? Do you think you'll ever run for president of the United States?'

The broadcaster broke into laughter. Obviously the questions caught him by surprise, yet one had the feeling that the idea was not completely alien to him. It had been around before.

Turning serious, Robertson responded: "Of course, I've heard of the rumor before. I don't live in a vacuum. But I've never taken it seriously.' His expression quickened again. "Good heavens, I've got the best job in the world right now. I would be crazy to want to change it. I enjoy what I do--I love it!--and on top of that, I'm serving the Lord.'

The seriousness deepened. "Of course, you always have to consider what the Lord wants. If He were to say, "Run for president,' then obviously any man of God would have to obey. The whole thing would depend on what He wanted.'

The smile returned quickly. "But right now, I'm having a lot of fun.'

A Look at the Man

One of the most immediate bits of information to become clear during the interview at his massive international communications center is related to Robertson's personality. Millions of viewers and readers have "met' this man by way of his burgeoning Christian Broadcasting Network and his five highly acclaimed books. Still other thousands have been stirred by his powerful speechmaking at rallies and conferences around the world. But the tube is indifferent, the type cold, and the public-address systems are sterile in contrast to the warmth and good humor of a man who daily carries a remarkable diversity of responsibilities on his broad shoulders. He seems able to set aside multimillion-dollar issues and move to other matters with ease. He deals directly with numerous top executives on questions ranging from TV production to book publishing to fund raising. And he does a 90-minute live television program five days a week, along with innumerable delayed tapings and recordings. Through it all, he laughs quickly-- frequently at himself.

As the various political figures noted when interviewed, Robertson comes from a long line of socially responsible and politically active people. His ancestral lines can be traced back to the presidents William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison and to Churchill.

More directly, his father, A. Willis, was one of the century's most powerful Virginia politicians, having been chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and his grandfather was a hard-working Baptist minister. Pat himself was born near Lexington, in a region that has long taken its national responsibilities seriously.

Following four years at Washington and Lee University, where he was a junior Phi Beta Kappa, he graduated magna cum laude, entered the Marine Corps and served in the Korean War as a lieutenant. Then came a jurisdoctorate at the prestigious Yale Law School and a trek into New York City "to make my fortune.'

A budding career in business --including the W.R. Grace & Co. in Manhattan and a brief stint in his own company--was interrupted by none other than God Himself. Pat, raised in a Christian environment but lacking a personal experience with the Lord, underwent a conversion that was to alter the course of his life.

The first order of business after the turnabout was a return to school to earn a master of divinity degree from the New York Theological Seminary and then to minister in the ghetto of Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant district.

Perhaps one preparation for such an intimidating ministry was Pat's experience as a Golden Gloves boxer, a role that his colleagues today still have trouble fitting into his unusual background. "It's hard to think of Pat whaling away at somebody in the boxing ring,' said one company executive. "He spends most of his time praying for people these days.'

Undeterred by doubters, he fought in the novice heavyweight division, at 185 pounds, making it all the way to the finals. "I got a TKO in the semifinals because my opponent was out of shape,' he confides. "I hit him once in the stomach and he began to get sick.' With a smile, he adds "But I lost in the finals.' One easily reaches the conclusion that Dr. Marion Gordon (Pat) Robertson has not lost a decision since.

However, the outlook was not particularly bright the day in 1959 when he, his wife and their three children set out, much like the early pioneers, from Brooklyn bound for the Virginia Tidewater to launch a television ministry. Other than faith, their assets consisted of an old car and $70. But they were convinced that "nowhere was Christian influence needed more than in the television industry,' which was bursting into American life with unprecedented power. So, with a miracle here and a miracle there, Robertson bought a dilapidated UHF station and eventually got it on the air--launching the first phase of a story that led to the multifaceted outreach of CBN.

The Scope of CBN

Today the Christian Broadcasting Network is the umbrella for the following components:

--A cable network that is the second or third (depending on when one counts) largest satellite-to-cable service in America, more than 30 million households being wired in. That translates into a potential audience of 70 million.

--A daily, 90-minute news-magazine program, "The 700 Club,' that is carried on more than 190 television stations in this country and abroad, as well as on the cable network.

--A fully accredited graduate university offering degree programs in five schools plus an institute of journalism.

--Three owned-and-operated television stations in Dallas, Boston, and the Virginia Tidewater, plus a radio station in Tidewater.

--A major television station situated in southern Lebanon and serving the nations of the Middle East.

--Specially adapted programing currently broadcast in 60 countries, including mainland China.

--Telephone-counseling centers in 60 American and 25 foreign cities.

--The Freedom Council, with grass-roots involvement around the country, designed to help protect religious liberty.

A Surprise to All

Who could have envisioned such growth at the time of CBN's first broadcast on October 1, 1961, over a one-kilowatt UHF station housed in a run-down garage in Portsmouth, Virginia? Not Pat Robertson. "I never dreamed we would do anything like this,' he said with a smile.

The dramatic expansion caused one media observer to calculate that CBN, with the cable network alone, reaches more people every week than Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune combined.

A man who has accomplished so much is predictably very busy. We asked about his daily schedule. The answer came quickly.

Pat's Schedule

"I get up somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 and spend an hour or so studying the Bible and praying. Then, I work on the format for my morning show and study the material I have to be dealing with. After that, I try to get out and run a mile or two. Then I may have some letters or memos to write. About 9:00 or 9:15, we go in for make-up and review of the clips. We have news pieces and all the items of the day that we'll be doing on the show.

We do the show live at 10 o'clock. After 11:30, from time to time I have foreign programs for which I do some insert pieces. At 12 noon, we have a prayer meeting for the entire staff. Sometimes on Fridays, I lead the whole thing for 600 or 700 people; otherwise I'm just a participant. At 12:30, I usually have a working lunch --today it involved a new salary-compensation system about which I've been concerned. Yesterday, it was to plan with architects and builders for a new conference center. I get away from here sometimes by 7:00 at night, sometimes 6:30, once in a while by 6:00. But, there are many times when my night work goes home with me,' he said.

Although work alone might keep him in boxing trim, Pat Robertson takes no chances. Besides his usual morning run and a game of tennis whenever time permits it, he says he has changed to a low-fat diet that includes mostly chicken and fish, grains, fruits and vegetables.

Supposedly, behind every successful man there is a woman. In rare cases the woman isn't behind him, she's right alongside. To hear this successful man tell about the woman who struggled with him when the going was tough, there is no doubt that theirs is a side-by-side relationship. Also a graduate of Yale, with a master's degree in nursing, Dede Robertson was appointed by the secretary of state as the U.S. delegate to the Woman's Organization of the Organization of American States. She has many talents. She lectures. She writes. And, more than anything else--says her husband--"She is a housewife.'

And the Four Children

"The youngest is now 21, the oldest is 30. He is a group vice president of CBN, in charge of our cable network. A daughter lives in Dallas, Texas. Our third child is a lawyer in Norfolk, having just passed his bar exam. And our baby, who just graduated from college, is planning to get married at the end of summer. So, they're all grown up.'

In addition to his wife and family, his many fruitful endeavors, his numerous honors, citations and awards, what so far in his career has given Pat Robertson the most satisfaction?

"We have something now called Operation Blessing. Last year we fed, clothed, housed and assisted probably between 4 and 5 million poor people in the United States and 5 million more overseas.

Of all the things that bring satisfaction, the most satisfying is to help people who have needs materially and to help those who have needs spiritually. To see the joy in their faces and to know their gratitude has to top the list!'

Photo: Pat Robertson, the founder and chancellor of CBN University, now accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, accepts the key to its new library.

Photo: Pat Robertson's robust health is testimony to the finding of another hale-and-hearty horse lover named Ronald Reagan that sitting "on the outside of a horse does wonders for the inside of a man.' To maintain his Golden Gloves fighting weight of 185 pounds, Robertson also plays tennis whenever his schedule allows.

Photo: "Give a man a horse he can ride,' says the poet. And this is the horse that fills the bill for Pat Robertson (left). ". . . He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.' A hungry Pat Robertson feasts whenever he can on wife Dede's bran muffins and her famous soybean recipes (right).

Photo: Pat the patriarch presides over the immediate clan, known throughout the Tidewater for their closeness and reliance on each member to carry his own load. From left to right are Ann, Tim, Lisa (Tim's wife), Dede, Pat, Elizabeth, Charles Robinson (Elizabeth's husband) and Gordon.

Photo: In Manilia for a rally, Pat also takes a firsthand look at CBN's counseling facilities.

Photo: Politics runs in the Robertson blood, all the way from the great English statesman Winston Churchill and United States presidents William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison to Pat's father, the late A. Willis Robertson (above), a U.S. senator and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Photo: (Top) A CBN camera crew in Afghanistan. (Above) Early concern for the world's injustices brings Pat Robertson to the Berlin Wall.

Photo: Conducting an international tour in 1974 that included the Holy Land gave Pat Robertson an opportunity not only to survey Jerusalem's historic Wailing Wall but also to interview Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's prime minister at that time.

Photo: Looking down, things are looking up for CBN. The 1959 stake of $70 has become a burgeoning building program on nearly 700 acres of real estate.

Photo: "Dedicated' projects: (Lets) Pat Robertson welcomes Billy Graham to the podium at the October '79 opening of CBN Center. (Right) Presidential advisor Ed Meese helps dedicate the $13.2 million CBN University Library, while a proud Robert Slosser, president, and Pat Robertson, chancellor, look on.

Photo: From the Christian Broadcasting Network's expansive Virginia Beach studios, declared by those in the know to be "more elaborate than anything in New York or Hollywood,' Pat Robertson's popular 90-minute news magazine, "The 700 Club,' broadcasts news and comment to millions around the world.
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Title Annotation:Christian Broadcasting Network
Author:SerVaas, Cory; Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:Mar 1, 1985
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