Media fail to question Giuliani on Robertson's controversial remarks

In the question-and-answer portion of the November 7 press conference in which Pat Robertson announced his endorsement of Rudy Giuliani, no reporters asked Giuliani to comment on Robertson's history of controversial statements. Further, a Nexis database search shows only two news outlets that, in their reports on the endorsement, appeared to have questioned Giuliani or his campaign about Robertson's past remarks.

At a November 7 press conference in which Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, and host of the Christian Broadcast Network's (CBN) 700 Club, endorsed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) for president, Giuliani called Robertson “a person of great, well-deserved reputation,” and someone who “understands, I think to a large extent, what America is all about; and has very well articulated what are the overriding issues of our time.” Giuliani's comments came despite Robertson's numerous controversial statements, including his claim that God told him that He would “remove judges from the Supreme Court quickly” ; his call for the assassination of a foreign head of state; and his endorsement of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's assertion that “the abortionists,” “the feminists,” and the American Civil Liberties Union “helped this [the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks] happen.” Yet, in the question-and-answer portion of the November 7 press conference, no reporters asked Giuliani to comment on Robertson's controversial remarks or asked how they squared with Giulaini's praise of Robertson. Furthermore, a Media Matters for America search of the Nexis database* found only two news outlets that, in their reports on the endorsement, appeared to have questioned Giuliani or his campaign about Robertson's past statements. As the blogger Greg Sargent noted on November 8, The State of Columbia, South Carolina, quoted Giuliani addressing Robertson's past comments: “I think the comments he explained a long time ago.” Giuliani added: “I've had to explain lots of comments of mine.” And on the same day, The New York Sun reported, “Asked for comment about Mr. Robertson's various controversies, a spokeswoman for the Giuliani campaign, Maria Comella, said: 'There are areas of difference between the two, but shared goals.' ”

Robertson has a history of making controversial remarks, many of which have been documented by Media Matters for America:

  • In 1998, Robertson issued a warning to Orlando, Florida, after city officials voted to fly rainbow flags from city lampposts during the annual Gay Days event at Disney World. Robertson stated: “I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you. ... [A] condition like this will bring about the destruction of your nation. It'll bring about terrorist bombs, it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor.”
  • During a September 13, 2001, appearance on The 700 Club, Falwell reportedly said of the 9-11 attacks: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the A.C.L.U., People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.' '' Robertson, as reported by The New York Times, replied: ''Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government.'' Robertson later called Falwell's comments "[t]otally inappropriate."
  • According to CNN, later on that September 13, 2001, program, Robertson offered the following prayer: “We have sinned against Almighty God, at the highest level of our government, we've stuck our finger in your eye ... The Supreme Court has insulted you over and over again, Lord. They've taken your Bible away from the schools. They've forbidden little children to pray. They've taken the knowledge of God as best they can, and organizations have come into court to take the knowledge of God out of the public square of America.”
  • On the January 3, 2005, edition of The 700 Club, Robertson claimed that God told him: “I will remove judges from the Supreme Court quickly, and their successors will refuse to sanction the attacks on religious faith.” Two months later, Robertson again predicted that “before the end of this year there will be another vacancy” on the Supreme Court.
  • On the August 22, 2005, 700 Club, Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying: “You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. ... We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.” Robertson later claimed, falsely, that he “didn't say 'assassinate,' ” and then apologized, claiming he “spoke in frustration.” He most recently addressed the issue on June 25, 2007, stating that “more and more people are saying to me, 'I think you were right.' ”
  • On the September 12, 2005, 700 Club, Robertson linked legalized abortion to Hurricane Katrina, which had made landfall just two weeks earlier, saying: “But have we found we are unable somehow to defend ourselves against some of the attacks that are coming against us, either by terrorists or now by natural disaster? Could they be connected in some way?”
  • On the January 5, 2006, 700 Club, Robertson suggested that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was the result of Sharon's policy, which he claimed was “dividing God's land.” Robertson called the 1995 assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin “the same thing.” Robertson reportedly issued a subsequent apology to Sharon's son. And in an appearance on the August 9, 2006, edition of CNN's The Situation Room, Robertson claimed that he had been “misquoted.”
  • Robertson has described Islam as a “bloody, brutal type of religion” and claimed that “Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination.”

From the November 8 article in The State:

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday's endorsement by Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson would boost efforts to win over socially conservative South Carolina voters.


Giuliani defended Robertson's past controversies, including statements after the Sept. 11 attacks that God was “lifting his protection” because the U.S. was allowing abortion and removed prayer and the Ten Commandments from public schools.

“I think the comments he explained a long time ago,” Giuliani said. “I've had to explain lots of comments of mine.”

From the November 8 New York Sun article:

For Mr. Giuliani, the endorsement will help him in the Republican primary, but it is not without risk. Mr. Robertson has drawn the ire of an array of interest groups in recent years with outlandish statements that have angered women, homosexuals, and Jews, among others.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he appeared to agree with the comments of another prominent evangelist, Jerry Falwell, who blamed the attacks on “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way.”

In 2005, he was forced to retreat from a remark suggesting that the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, be assassinated. “I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it,” Mr. Robertson said on a broadcast of “The 700 Club.”

And last year, Mr. Robertson suggested that Prime Minister Sharon's stroke had been punishment from God for his willingness to give up land to the Palestinian Arabs. Jewish groups were infuriated, and the remark drew a rebuke from the White House before Mr. Robertson apologized.

He has also criticized Islam as a violent religion, going much further than many American politicians, who are careful to distinguish between “Islamic extremists” and a majority of Muslims who are peaceful.

Asked for comment about Mr. Robertson's various controversies, a spokeswoman for the Giuliani campaign, Maria Comella, said: “There are areas of difference between the two, but shared goals.”

From the 9 a.m. ET hour of the November 7 edition of MSNBC Live:

GIULIANI: Thank you very, very much, Pat. I am very, very honored by this endorsement. Pat Robertson is a very well-known leader; a person of great, well-deserved reputation; someone who has, as Ted pointed out, run for president of the United States; been all across this country; understands, I think, to a very large extent what America is all about; and has very well articulated what are the overriding issues of our time: dealing with the Islamic terrorist war against us, dealing with that in a way in which we are safe, or as safe as we can be, and we conclude it with victory and success as quickly as it reasonably can be done.

From the transcript of the November 7 press conference provided by the Federal News Service:

STAFF: A couple questions?

Q Mr. Robertson?

STAFF: Here.

Q Are you confident from your conversations with Mayor Giuliani that he would appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade?

ROBERTSON: I don't know if the question of Roe versus Wade has come up. The idea is judicial philosophy and as I said, it's John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito. We have some patterns that he said he will follow.

That's what he's told the American people, and I believe him.

Q Mr. Robertson, how do you answer to your own community that they're saying, you know, Mayor Giuliani is pro-abortion rights? I mean, you say that his judicial philosophy is -- (inaudible) -- judicial philosophy, but what about his personal philosophy?

ROBERTSON: Well, I think he's articulated the philosophy that he really is for the life of the unborn. He has fostered adoption in New York. As a matter of fact, the number of abortions went down during his tenure and the number of adoptions went up dramatically. So he believes in states rights, he believes in leaving this to the decision of the state, but beyond that I think the most important thing to social conservatives, as I said, is the selection of judges. As long as the Supreme Court has ruled as it has, there's very little that any politician can do on either the national or the state level. But with a different judiciary -- and not just Supreme Court, but circuit courts and district courts -- there can be a tremendous shift for family values and the things that I care about.

Q Mr. Robertson, how important was electability in your decision to endorse -- (inaudible) -- Mayor Giuliani?

ROBERTSON: (Laughs.) As this gentleman said, I ran for president and I came in third in the Republican primary a few years ago, so I know how the game is played. And I -- this isn't some calculated decision to see who's most electable, but that question -- I think we do want a front-runner from the Republican Party who can win the general election.

Q Mr. Mayor, you recently made some comments about survivability and cancer statistics that I can't seem to figure how they add up. Can you explain that?

GIULIANI: Sure. You go back to the study done by the OECD, which I think is in 2000, and that would give you those statistics.

I think the confusion that was created is I was talking about when I had prostate cancer, which was in 2000. And if you look at the OECD study, you will see that those are the literally accurate statement of the percentages then. And the bigger point is really a clear one, which is, even now, where the statistics are somewhat different, they still show considerably higher survivability rate from prostate cancer, breast cancer and other cancers in the United States as compared to England, even France -- although France fares better than England -- and Italy. There was an article in The Wall Street Journal pointing that out about a month ago that you should go look at.

STAFF: Last question. Last question.

ROBERTSON: I'd like to interject here that we're both prostate cancer survivors.

GIULIANI: (Laughs.)

ROBERTSON: Rudy called me when I was in the hospital waiting for surgery on my prostate and he said I'm healthy as a horse, and so am I. So we both survived.

Q Mr. Robertson?

ROBERTSON: Yes, sir.

Q Mr. Robertson, at the same time that you're endorsing Rudy Giuliani, [Sen.] Sam Brownback [R-KS] is saying he's backing [Sen.] John McCain [R-AZ], [Free Congress Foundation chairman and CEO] Paul Weyrich is saying he's supporting [former Massachusetts Gov.] Mitt Romney. Are you concerned that the influence of social conservatives could diminish this election because its leaders are really supporting all the different candidates?

ROBERTSON: I don't think evangelicals have coalesced against any -- around any candidate. Sam Brownback's a dear friend, but I do think that his experience serving as a colleague with John McCain in the Senate is what's influenced his decision.

I just believe that I needed to make a statement, and I am speaking for myself, that in my opinion as a -- what would be considered a leader of the evangelicals, that Rudy Giuliani is without question an acceptable candidate because of the reasons I stated. I think the overriding issue that we face in this nation is Islamic terrorism, and I think that if we don't realize that -- America must be kept safe, and I think we want a leader who is strong against this threat of terror.

Q Mayor, what --

STAFF: Thank you all.

GIULIANI: Pardon me?

Q What message do you hope this sends to Republicans?

GIULIANI: I hope it sends the message that we have the same goals, all of us in the Republican Party. There are always some disagreements about means, but the reality is I think this underscores the point that I made right from the very beginning of my candidacy, I think speaking in California, you know, Ronald Reagan's advice to us that my 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy. I think it's a lot better and bigger than 80 percent, and I think we have very much the same goals.

Of course, there are always some disagreements. And I think it's a healthy thing in the Republican Party that we have a primary that different people support different candidates, and then ultimately the Republicans will make the decision.

I also would like to tell you that I called two members of the Congress today who I work with very, very closely and asked them to consider introducing legislation that would prohibit a state from giving licenses or identification that would be similar to a license that would be confusing to people who are illegal immigrants. It seems to me that that confusion should be -- should be, you know, solved. There seems to be, at least some people perceive, a loophole that allows states not to give a license that would be real ID, but some other form of a license. That would make things hopelessly confusing for the immigration service.

Q Who did you call?

GIULIANI: I called [Rep.] Pete King [R-NY] and [Rep.] Pete Sessions [R-TX], because both of them I work closely with them, and they're both -- and Pete -- of course, Pete was the -- is the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee in the House and one of the experts on security. And I think Pete understands this issue. And Pete Sessions is someone who's been very active in this area.

I don't know what they're going to do. I mean, they have to look at is the legislation feasible, can it work. but I think it would help to solve this problem. Part of the reason I did it was it's -- now, you know, we're going to have -- Hillary Clinton is now calling for different standards in different states, and although I never thought of Hillary as a federalist before -- (laughter) -- I think this may be the one are in which federalism is really not the answer.

The idea is that the federal government is supposed to secure the borders. The federal government is supposed to regulate immigration. If we had 50 different regulations for immigration in the United States, it would become -- the picture that we have right now, which is a very, very confusing picture, could be hopelessly confusing, and it would really seriously obstruct the ability of the federal government to carry out what is its primary -- primary responsibility of the federal government, which is to secure our borders, to enforce employer sanctions. Just think of how complicated it'd become if there were multiple forms of official identification and then you're trying to hold employers responsible for, you know, lawfully employing people. Employers would have an absolutely valid defense that the various states have made it so confusing that they couldn't possibly verify.

So I think this is a serious are that Congress should consider, you know, clearing up this loophole, and it might kind of move us on to a much more sensible policy. Thank you.

STAFF: Thank you all.

ROBERTSON: Thank you, Mayor Giuliani.

* A Nexis search of “All News” for search terms “Giuliani and Robertson” between 11/7/07 and 11/9/07 yielded these results.