The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) is the most established media empire in an ecosystem of conservative evangelical outlets, and it often gives anti-LGBTQ groups a platform to push their bigoted narratives to a large audience. It is unique in the evangelical media landscape for including radio, internet, and TV properties, and -- through its large budget and well-known founder Pat Robertson -- it has access to high-profile conservative officials, including figures in the Trump-Pence administration and influential anti-LGBTQ groups.
CBN works as broad, multi-issue infrastructure for the conservative evangelical media apparatus. CBN provides credibility and material -- including exclusive, on-the-record interviews with high-level political officials and evangelical figures -- for more extreme actors in right-wing media. Its large scale and multiple platforms reach a broad audience with conservative religious narratives that portray issues like LGBTQ equality and abortion as at odds with Christian faith.
Key findings about CBN include:
- The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) has a wide network of properties to disseminate video and written online content, television, radio, and other types of programming. This includes its long-running The 700 Club program, CBN News Channel, CBN Radio, CBN.com website, Faithwire.com, and others.
- At least 14 Trump-Pence administration officials have given more than two dozen interviews to CBN during their time in office, including Vice President Mike Pence, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, among others. In contrast, those officials have appeared on MSNBC weekday programming 11 times since August 2017.
- Other conservative and evangelical media -- such as The Christian Post, LifeSiteNews, American Family Association’s OneNewsNow, The Stream, Christianity Today, PJ Media, and Fox News -- rely on CBN as an established outlet with access to high-level officials and regularly cite CBN in their own coverage, including republishing quotes given to CBN from world leaders, Trump-Pence administration officials and advisers, and anti-LGBTQ figures.
- CBN has ties to extreme anti-LGBTQ groups -- including Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, and the American College of Pediatricians -- and it gives those groups a platform to push their bigoted narratives to a large audience by regularly quoting their press releases and featuring exclusive comments from the groups in their content.
CBN has broad reach, millions in revenue, and an international audience
Since Pat Robertson founded CBN on January 11, 1960, it has evolved from a small Virginia television station into a worldwide nonprofit organization with radio stations, TV programming, multiple websites, and several spin-off organizations. CBN boasts a massive reach “to 156 nations and territories, with programs and content translated into 76 languages,” and it earned nearly $580 million in revenue in 2018. The network includes multiple divisions that provide cable, broadcast, and satellite programming, and even a telephone prayer line. Pat Robertson is currently the chairman of CBN, and his son Gordon Robertson is the CEO.
CBN has a wide network of properties to disseminate video and written online content, television, radio, and other types of programming. This includes its long-running The 700 Club program, CBN News Channel, CBN Radio, CBN.com website, Faithwire.com, and others.
More information about CBN’s programming can be found here.
CBN is crucial infrastructure for the broader conservative evangelical media ecosystem
The conservative evangelical media ecosystem is a broad network of explicitly religious outlets that work closely with other right-wing media to publish generally partisan, conservative content that often includes misinformation -- including on issues like LGBTQ equality and abortion. CBN is conservative but less extreme than other right-wing evangelical outlets; however, its wide reach, several media properties, and legitimacy -- including access to important figures from the Trump-Pence administration and influential anti-LGBTQ groups -- make it an important player in the broader ecosystem.
For example, CBN shows have interviewed President Donald Trump since at least 2011, long before he ran for president. In early interviews, Trump discussed political views important to evangelical voters, including his opposition to same-sex marriage, his support for anti-abortion policies, and what he called the “Muslim problem.” During the 2016 election, Trump continued to espouse these views in other CBN interviews while professing his faith as a Christian and portraying his opponent Hillary Clinton as anti-Christian. The network offered Trump an integral platform to build up his credibility with evangelical voters, which helped launch him into office, and to move his ideology more in line with CBN’s audience.
Additionally, CBN’s coverage primes its audience to accept its conservative tilt on issues like LGBTQ equality and abortion, presenting them as unacceptable or at odds with Christianity. In a review of Facebook posts linking to CBN.com from April 1, 2018, to March 31, 2019, Media Matters found that approximately 6% of the Facebook posts with more than 10,000 interactions (likes, comments, shares) were LGBTQ-related. More than 90% of CBN’s LGBTQ-related posts with more than 2,000 interactions -- 130 out of 142 in total -- exclusively or repeatedly quoted anti-LGBTQ figures, promoted discriminatory policy positions, or used rhetoric that demeaned the LGBTQ community.
On Instagram, CBN’s posts are considerably more innocuous. They mostly consist of images with inspirational messages from the Bible or religious leaders, though some do include anti-abortion quotes. This messaging gives CBN a broad appeal to Christian audiences and allows the network to draw viewers to its content on different platforms, which collect and share data with each other to further influence what users see across platforms. In 2018, Mashable reported that “Facebook activity influences what appears in your Instagram feed,” and Bustle reported, “Facebook can use the data collected via Instagram — your posts, your likes, the accounts you're following, and more — to target ads to you seamlessly across both platforms.”
The result is that users consuming CBN’s largely innocuous religious messages on Instagram may be increasingly exposed to more substantive issue coverage on Facebook. Continuing to engage with content from CBN could also increase users’ odds of encountering more extreme aspects of the conservative evangelical media ecosystem, such as conservative evangelical websites LifeSiteNews and The Christian Post.
This exposure primes audiences to increasingly view religion as at odds with LGBTQ equality, and it may even affect how they consume mainstream news coverage that does not perpetuate that narrative.
CBN is a friendly platform to the Trump-Pence administration
CBN has long been a friendly platform to President Donald Trump, and the network regularly publishes favorable posts about the administration and its policies. CBN has also interviewed several high-profile Trump-Pence administration officials.
Trump has appeared on CBN since at least 2011 to discuss evangelical-friendly conservative political views, including opposing same-sex marriage, opposing the right to an abortion, and going after what he called the “Muslim problem.” During the 2016 election, Trump appeared with CBN News chief political correspondent David Brody and CBN founder Pat Robertson in interviews in which he portrayed Hillary Clinton as “a disaster” for Christians.
According to CBN News, Brody has interviewed Trump “more than a dozen times, including 9 times during the 2016 presidential campaign.” While in office, Trump has continued to give interviews to CBN discussing a range of issues such as foreign policy, his Supreme Court nominees, the media, and giving priority to persecuted Christian refugees.
Trump-Pence administration and campaign officials find strategic value in appearing on friendly right-wing outlets to spread messages and shape the narrative about their policies without facing strong questionings or pushback, and CBN plays an important role in this strategy. At least 14 officials have given more than two dozen interviews to CBN during their time in office. In contrast, those nine officials have appeared on MSNBC only 11 times on weekdays since August 2017. Some examples of Trump-Pence officials appearing on CBN include:
- Vice President Mike Pence
- Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
- Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
- Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders
- Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley
- Former Secretary of Energy Rick Perry
- Former campaign managers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie
Other evangelical and right-wing media sources rely on CBN
Other conservative evangelical media rely on CBN, as it is an established outlet with access to high-level officials. Those outlets regularly cite CBN in their own coverage, such as using quotes given to CBN from world leaders, Trump-Pence administration officials and advisers, and anti-LGBTQ figures. This access makes the outlet crucial for other evangelical media outlets. For example, similar publications such as LifeSiteNews, Baptist Press, and OneNewsNow have cited CBN's interviews with Trump-Pence administration officials.
The Christian Post
The Christian Post is a right-wing evangelical website that earns high engagement and cites CBN in its content. Its Facebook page has over 679,000 page likes, and Media Matters analysis found that the page earned nearly 1.5 million interactions on more than 6,500 posts from April 1, 2018, through March 31, 2019.
The Christian Post reports on CBN as an institution and on CBN leaders like Pat Robertson. The outlet relies on CBN’s high-profile interviews for its own content, such as using quotes that were given to CBN from evangelical leaders in content about a meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, reporting on statements that Trump spiritual adviser Paula White -- who now works in the White House Office of Public Liaison -- gave to CBN News about Trump’s immigration policies, and using quotes that Vice President Mike Pence gave CBN in content about Trump’s prayer habits.
Evangelical media publication LifeSiteNews is an explictly anti-abortion outlet that also produces LGBTQ-related content. The outlet often cites CBN News content or interviews in its own reporting.
LifeSiteNews relies on CBN’s access to influential right-wing figures for its content, such as using quotes from Vice President Mike Pence that were given to CBN News’ David Brody in content about Pence’s anti-abortion views, repeating CBN quotes from Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver in content about ADF’s National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra case before the Supreme Court, using quotes given to CBN News by ADF client Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition, in content about his case, and repeating Franklin Graham’s statements to CBN News in content about the Trump-Pence administration creating the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.
American Family Association’s OneNewsNow
The American Family Association is an extreme anti-LGBTQ group that has a prominent media production arm, including radio network American Family Radio and online news platform OneNewsNow. OneNewsNow often cites CBN in its reporting, including using quotes given to CBN by figures such as Trump spiritual adviser Paula White, Dr. Dobson Family Policy Institute’s Jenna Ellis (now a member of Trump’s 2020 advisory board), and ADF attorney Greg Baylor. The outlet also relies on CBN reporting for its own content.
Other right-wing and evangelical media outlets
Other right-wing and evangelical media outlets also cite CBN, including its reporting and interviews with influential figures. These outlets include The Stream, Christianity Today, PJ Media, and Fox News’ online content.
Additional examples of evangelical and right-wing media citing CBN can be found here.
CBN’s programming is aired on other similar Christian TV networks
Several other Christian TV networks have launched following CBN’s successful model, including:
- Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN)
- Praise the Lord (PTL Network)
- Daystar Television Network
- Christian Television Network
- Angel One
- Eternal Word Television Network
CBN TV programs are also rebroadcast on some of these other networks:
- TBN airs The 700 Club each weekday and Superbook and Christian World News on Saturdays
- TBN, Daystar, and Angel One all air the weekly program for American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal group founded by CBN’s Pat Robertson
- TBN also airs special programs for ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow’s books: Jay Sekulow: The Unholy Alliance and Jerusalem
CBN provides a major platform for anti-LGBTQ groups to spread their views
Alliance Defending Freedom
CBN News writes often about Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) cases, which are perfect fodder to push the narrative that LGBTQ rights are at odds with religion. In fact, more than half of CBN.com stories about LGBTQ-related litigation in Media Matters' analysis were specifically about ADF cases. CBN also regularly quotes ADF press releases and gets exclusive comments from its lawyers.
Additionally, CBN’s TV programming has interviewed several ADF figures. ADF attorneys Greg Baylor, Jeremy Tedesco, Jim Campbell, and Matt Sharp, as well as ADF client Jack Phillips, have all appeared on CBN News to discuss various court cases, legislation, and other LGBTQ-related issues.
Family Research Council
CBN News regularly writes about FRC’s activities and policy positions in its content, and it has also quoted FRC staff. The evangelical news outlet has published articles on FRC events like its annual Values Voter Summit and pastors conference, reported on FRC President Tony Perkins, and interviewed FRC staff members like Peter Sprigg and Mary Beth Waddell.
CBN TV programming has interviewed FRC staff for years. Perkins has appeared on CBN since at least 2011, including at least five times in 2018. Other FRC figures like Peter Sprigg and Ken Blackwell have also appeared on the network, and Executive Vice President Jerry Boykin has appeared on CBN News for over a decade.
CBN.com often writes about Liberty Counsel, its cases, and its policy positions. It regularly quotes Liberty Counsel press releases and publishes exclusive comments from its founder, Mat Staver. Staver has frequently appeared on CBN’s TV programming, including to defend Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore against reports of sexual misconduct, and Liberty Counsel Assistant Vice President of Legal Affairs Roger Gannam went on CBN to spread misinformation about the dangers of conversion therapy.
American College of Pediatricians
The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) is a small and extreme anti-LGBTQ group of physicians who work to discredit trans-affirming science. The organization is sometimes mistaken for the legitimate American Academy of Pediatrics. CBN.com has cited ACPeds and its executive director, Michelle Cretella, when discussing LGBTQ youth. Cretella has also appeared on CBN’s TV programming to push misinformation and defend anti-LGBTQ people.
Examples of CBN News quoting and interviewing anti-LGBTQ groups can be found here.
Pat Robertson has official ties to ADF
CBN is tied to extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) through the network’s founder, Pat Robertson. His college, Regent University, is a major feeder school to ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship. According to the university, about 100 of its law students have been ADF Blackstone Legal Fellows since the fellowship program started in 2000. The fellowship’s alumni now hold influential positions in federal, state, and local governments across the country.
Regent’s Center for Global Justice also employs student staff who do volunteer work “on legal projects, including writing articles and reports, drafting amicus briefs, and conducting research” for organizations around the world, including ADF. The Center reported that “twenty-three student staff members provided 2,155 man hours – or $161,625.00 – of pro bono legal work” in 2017.
Additionally, several Regent alumni currently work in influential positions at ADF. ADF allied attorneys William Magee and John Stepanovich work as Regent University law school faculty, and several other Regent alumni also work at ADF: attorney Kristen Waggoner works as an ADF senior vice president, and Caleb Dalton works as an ADF legal counsel.
Robertson’s legal group, American Center for Law and Justice, is also officially allied with ADF. ADF has listed ACLJ as one of its allied legal organizations, and the two groups supported or collaborated on several cases that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. For example, ACLJ submitted an amicus brief for Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case in which ADF argued that a university should be required to give “registered student organization” status to a religious group even if it did not comply with the school’s nondiscrimination policy that required student groups be open to LGBTQ students. ADF and ACLJ also submitted a joint amicus brief, together with Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver and other conservative groups, in Perdue v. Kenny, a case regarding payments to private civil rights attorneys. There are also at least two other instances of ADF and ACLJ separately submitting amicus briefs in support of the same party in a U.S. Supreme Court case.
At ACLJ’s founding, Robertson hired Jay Sekulow, who still works at ACLJ as chief counsel and is one of President Donald Trump’s personal attorneys. Sekulow had experience in religious litigation prior to joining ACLJ, but his work there -- including his daily radio program and weekly television program -- has made him one of the most visible evangelical Christian attorneys.
CBN’s LGBTQ-related coverage largely relies on just a few reporters
CBN has a variety of reporters that cover LGBTQ-related stories, but none who exclusively cover LGBTQ issues. A Media Matters analysis found that nearly 60% of CBN’s LGBTQ-related articles shared on Facebook from April 2018 through March 2019 were written by Steve Warren, Charlene Aaron, Benjamin Gill, or Emily Jones.
Warren rejoined CBN in 2017 as a multimedia journalist and producer. Gill started working at CBN in 2000 and is a multimedia manager for web content. He has nearly 3,800 followers on Twitter. Jones is a CBN multimedia news producer in Jerusalem, and she writes and produces for CBN’s website, broadcasting, and social media and also co-anchors the Christian World News program airing on Trinity Broadcasting Network. She has appeared on one of extreme anti-LGBTQ group American Family Association’s radio shows and has written for an AFA state chapter’s website. She has also written for right-wing publication The Federalist. Aaron has worked for CBN since 2003 and is a general assignment reporter, anchor for CBN News Channel, and host for The Prayer Link. Before working at CBN News, she “was a personal letter writer for Dr. Pat Robertson.” She has over 3,400 followers on Twitter.
Will Maule and Tré Goins-Phillips wrote 75% of the LGBTQ-related Faithwire articles shared on Facebook in the same time frame. Most of the Faithwire reporters frequently writing about LGBTQ issues do not have a significant social media presence or notable associations to organizations or outlets outside of CBN.