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HOWARD ROSENBERG

Pat, They're All Praying For You

October 05, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG

All presidential candidates have lousy days. Only Pat Robertson, though, can heal his wounds and get his head patted on friendly TV.

When Democrats Gary Hart and Sen. Joseph R. Biden scuttled their candidacies, there were no supportive TV networks rushing in with soothing comfort. Ditto Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, another Democratic candidate, when he was recently forced to fire two aides for leaking embarrassing information about Biden.

And if one of the other Republican presidential candidates has a bad day on the campaign trail, who will be there to pick up the pieces? Not the California-based, Christian fundamentalist Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN).

It's already committed to former TV evangelist Marion Gordon (Pat) Robertson.

Robertson is more than just the only presidential candidate who was personally told by God to run. He's got another advantage, too. He may have severed formal ties with his Christian Broadcasting Network and "700 Club," but he's still the nation's only presidential candidate with an automatic TV constituency.

The loyalty test came last Thursday when one of Robertson's stops was a telephone after nearly getting shouted down by hecklers in New York's Bedford-Stuyvesant area where he had come to formally launch his drive for the GOP nomination. He then flew on to Manchester, N.H., for campaigning--and phoning.

On the other end of the line was TBN President Paul Crouch in Denver.

Their split-screen audio conversation on TBN's "Praise the Lord" program--Crouch was live on camera and Robertson represented by a still photo--was pure political stumping.

And Praise the Politician.

The anti-Robertson protesters had identified themselves to the press as members of organizations ranging from an AIDS action group to the National Organization for Women.

"They were an organized group of homosexuals," Robertson told Crouch, who frowned in disgust.

"Well, Pat, I tell you, we're certainly praying for you," Crouch said.

What followed was an even stronger political endorsement from Crouch and his studio audience in Denver, where "Praise the Lord" was originating that night.

Is playing favorites allowed?

Under a provision of the Federal Communications Act, TBN may have to give other GOP candidates equal time, should they request it. The program may also fall under the soon-to-be extinct political-editorial section of the Fairness Doctrine. Nearly all of the Fairness Doctrine was repealed by the Federal Communications Commission recently.

Legally, this is a gray area. But the TBN program does demonstrate the TV-slick Robertson's ability to mobilize some elements of the medium on his behalf, even though he may be reaching only people who would be voting for him anyway.

Crouch told Robertson of a vision he had of Robertson as a Daniel in a lion's den. "But I want you to know that there's a whole lot of us in there with you, boy," he added. "And we're gonna be praying with you, agreeing with you, supporting you, loving you and helping get that message out to the rest of the world. Amen everybody?"

The studio audience cheered and applauded.

Robertson agreed about the lions, but cited his political triumphs to date, including a presidential poll at Oklahoma county fairs.

Crouch applauded. The audience applauded.

"Paul, the moment is here, and it's starting to build," Robertson said, "and I am just absolutely persuaded that not only will the lion's mouth be shut, but we're going to see victory in the Republican nomination and victory in the general election."

"Amen!" declared Crouch, clenching his fist. "Boy, that's a good word."

Crouch and Robertson challenged the "secular press" to cover his campaign fairly and accurately. Then it was time for Robertson's pitch:

"I want all your friends on TBN to be sure and pray for me. These are gonna be critical days but remember, we've only got four months to the Iowa caucuses, 4 1/2 months to New Hampshire (the primary), five months to 'Super Tuesday' (a series of important primaries). These next few months are absolutely critical in my future and what I think may be the future of the United States."

Crouch was next. "Now what do we do?"

Robertson urged local involvement and voter registration. "Since I'm running in the Republican primary, they need to register as Republicans because if they're not registered that way, then they can't vote for me."

"All right, we hear that, and we're gonna do it," Crouch promised.

Suddenly, as if by divine intervention, the address of Robertson's national headquarters appeared on the screen.

And just as suddenly, Arch Decker, his campaign director for the Rocky Mountain area, was in front of the camera, revealing that Robertson was "head and shoulders above" other candidates.

Then everyone held hands and prayed ("We ask your blessing, Pat. . . ."), after which Crouch said good night to God's candidate and added, "Pat, we love you, we're praying for you, and let's keep in touch."

Somehow, you had the feeling that they would.

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