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David Ding

Author's Bio

Alec Foege was born in New York City on April 24, 1970. He has written for various magazines on the subject of contemporary culture. His views on media have been showcase on The New York Times, Rolling Stones, Spin, People, Mediaweek, Adweek, Vogue, and Variety. He has written books including: Confusion is Next: the Sonic Youth, and The Empire God Built: Inside Pat Robertson's Media Machine. Foege is currently working on a book regarding the Clear Water Communications Corp. which is the largest radio broadcast company in the world.

The Genius of Pat Robertson

     Beginning in the 1980's, the Christian Right has held a large majority in the United States. Most historians trace the beginning of this conservative movement to Jerry Falwell, who in 1979 urged the citizens of the United States to create a moral majority. After Jimmy Falwell, many other religious--mostly evangelical Christians--leaders rose up to advocate an ethical ruling class. These new leaders utilized television to reach the public mass, and to spread what Christians believed to be the good word--the idea that Jesus Christ came to this world and saved the human race from its own sin. Of these leaders Pat Robertson may have been one of, if not the most influential televangelists to ever advocate a "right" way of thinking.1 In Alec Foege's The Empire God Built: Inside Pat Robertson's Media Machine, Foege unveils the mystery of the man who can be seen today on the 700 club. In Foege's book, Robertson, who constructed a Christian kingdom, is seen as a lucrative business man, but his actions, which Robertson claims as holy, suspicious. Foege attempts to write this book without his personal bias, and creates a book that uses much factual data to support the idea that; Robertson is a better businessman than he is a moral authority.
     Television has created a way for people to receive massive amounts of information. Many entrepreneurs realize that television will eventually become profitable business, but more importantly a venue for businessmen to gain power by influencing the public. Foege begins his book with his views on television. He comments that television could be the single-handedly "most influential," but potentially the "most dangerous" invention ever.1 The danger of the tube includes not only the amount of information that is being surged through house to house, but the speed at which it travels from coast to coast. After his extensive philosophy on television, Foege turns his sights on Pat Robertson. Pat Robertson, a multi-millionaire who's job is "to prepare the world of the coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth," is a televangelist who has created the widely viewed show The 700 Club.2 According to Foege, if someone "say[s] the name Pat Robertson to ten different people...you will get ten different reactions."3 Foege, however does not clearly offer an opinion of Robertson in the first quarter of his book. Foege wants his book to be "an examination of Roberts by...taking religion out of the equation," and one that is "unencumbered by...strong emotions."4 After establishing his ideology, and his tactic for speaking of Robertson, Foege introduces The 700 Club in detail. He explains how the club is a "time for Robertson to tell his 'fellow brothers' to band together, and fight against," various moral issues.5 Foege also explains how The 700 Club promotes itself in Robertson's projects. Robertson advocates for his listeners to donate money to Regent University, and the Christian Broadcasting Network. Both groups are under companies that Robertson owns or has partial ownership in. Foege ends the first quarter of the book with a review of Robertson's empire as a whole. Robertson owned Regent's School which Foege claims has the purpose of "training a fundamentalist 'generation-x'."6 All these ventures brought Robertson money. The channel in which The 700 Club aired was on, The Family Channel, is owned by Robertson this makes him the "number three cable operator, behind Ted Turner and HBO."7 Not only does Robertson earn a lot of money, he also has a lot of power in Washington. Robertson is in charge of the Christian Coalition. The Christian Coalition is the largest religious lobbying group in America. Not only are they the largest, but one of the most important as well. Foege continues to write about the profitability and power gained from Robertson's differing organizations including how the Christian Coalition almost won him a place on the 1986 presidential elections. Foege writes about how amazed he feels about the accomplishments Robertson made, but Foege does not understand why he chose the path that he did. This leads Foege to investigate people, and events that may have influenced Robertson.
     Beginning with Robertson's past, Foege tries to trace Robertson's childhood, and those who could have possibly influenced him. Foege first explains that upon investigation Robertson "was extremely difficult to track."8 Robertson grew up in West Virginia, as a son of a Baptist minister. However, ever since he could, Robertson would strive to find a job and earn money. Robertson often looked for jobs that were high paying, and had prestige like a military man. Enlisting in the military during the Korean War, Robertson went to Korea as a non-combatant soldier. Upon his return home, Robertson went to Yale University to pursue a law degree, additionally Robertson also received a degree in history. Many of those who remember him as a young kid always recalled that "[Robertson] was always looking for a way to make a maximum profit," and that he was often "respectful of others."9 His passion to earn money was not lost when he grew older as he became a very wealthy man. In his maturation, many people bared an influence on Robertson. Of the many, Absalom Willis Robertson--Pat Robertson's father--was probably the key to Pat Robertson's success. Robertson Sr. was the person that funded Robertson's television station. Without his father's connections and money, Pat Robertson would not have risen to fame. The support of his father lead to the establishment of The Family Channel, the Christian Coalition, and the 700 Club. With the support of the Christian Coalition, Robertson ran for president in 1986. Foege retells the events that occurred at the nominating convention as Robertson ran as a very "conservative" candidate.10 Robertson came in second to George H.W. Bush, and also broke the law since Robertson collected campaign money prior to announcing his decision of running for president. After this incident, Robertson experienced a crumble in his Kingdom due to various controversies like Jimmy Swaggart.
     Foege retells the various controversies within Robertson's different corporations. Jimmy Swaggart is probably one of the most famous scandals that occurred within Pat Robertson's group of close associates. Twice Swaggart was caught with a "prostitute" which is strongly looked down upon in Christianity.11 After this incident, the dogmatic conservatives began to cool down. The members of the Christian Coalition declined, and "CBN viewers took a plummet of nearly 36 percent."12 After Foege writes about the scandals, he uses the opportunity to dwell deeper into the Christian Coalition. Foege claims that the Christian Coalitions intents are "harmless," but their actions prove to be "harmful."13 The reason the Coalition is hazardous is due to the extremism that it advocates. The Coalition, which Robertson helped establish, fight against the "evil" ideologies which the Coalition believe will ruin America.14 Some of these "evil" ideas include "abortion, gay marriage, and pornography," consequently Robertson's platform for presidency was also in opposition to these things.14 After writing about the effect of the Coalition, Foege switches back to the 700 Club. Foege retells of the time in which he went to a filming of the show. Foege distinctly remembers that all the audience members were ushered into a room prior to the shooting to be preached to by a separate minister. During the show Foege examined how the whole set seemed so pristine, and classy. Claiming that "the aesthetic perfections," are an effect to draw viewers, Foege is taken aback at how much influence the show has on the lives of people all around the world.15 Robertson answers prayers and heals various people through his prayer, and in one circumstance Robertson allegedly redirected a tornado from potentially destroying a whole city. Foege being very skeptical concludes his book with his ideas, and how working on the research for his book caused his opinions to change.
     Foege claims that Robertson is a classic businessman. Comparing him to Woody Allen's Zelig, Foege claims that Robertson is a "chameleon-like celebrity who pops up at the borders of major world events, appearing totally at home and yet strangely unrecognizable."16 Foege asserts his opinion that Robertson is a very good businessman, and ironically achieves his wealth by pretending do be a holy sage, while actually acting in ways in which could be considered apprehensive. Robertson used the Christian Coalition to gain support in politics, Robertson used the 700 Club to get famous, and Robertson used God to get rich. These are all actions that any smart businessman would do, however these are also actions that any wise man would never do.
     Foege makes it clear that he is writing The Empire God Built: Inside Pat Robertson's Media Machine not to criticize Robertson, but to effectively show him as a business man rather than a religious figure. Foege brings up valid arguments that successfully show how Robertson's past actions are shady, and how his business dealings are even more apprehensive. While writing this book Foege tries to take on the point of view of a conservative Christian, however in the end he breaks out of it as he claims to be a "neoliberal."17 A neoliberal is someone who tries to advocate free trade, and public liberties. This would be contrary to Robertson's beliefs as Robertson utilizes his resources to control the information that the nation receives. Foege's personal opinions seep out when he compares the conservative movement to McCarthyism. Although Foege claims to not be biased, the book is biased in showing Robertson as a good man. Throughout the book Robertson's bad deeds are made more evident then the good he has done as well. Robertson's scandals are highlighted and retold in specificity, while Robertson's humanitarian and kind acts are left out to bite the dust. Though Robertson's motives may have been wrong, some of his actions were still admirable.
     Critics of the book claim that Foege should stick with Magazine writing since Foege's writing style is "jarring"18 and "detracting."18 This could be due to Foege's lack of focus. Foege never focus's on one aspect of Robertson but rather focuses on all aspects of Robertson. This offers a vary vague and unsophisticated answer to many questions that would be asked about Pat Robertson. Both Publisher's Weekly and Booklist agree with the fact that Foege does not "cast as many stones as [Foege] could,"19 and that Foege "praises Pat Robertson as a "media mogul"20. From the beginning, Foege continuously claims that from a business perspective Robertson is one of the smartest men. However, Robertson does not claim to be doing it for business, but for God. According to Richard Watts from The Library Journal, "[Foege] points out Robertson's inconsistencies and apparent hypocrisies with...enthusiasm,"21 but Foege--much like his fellow "neoliberals"17--also agrees that Robertson is a successful man in starting from a small television station and turning his company into the third largest cable provider. Throughout the book Foege tries to make it very clear that he believes Pat Robertson is a very good business man. Most critics also believe that Foege stresses on Robertson's business dealings more than the moral issue. Foege is "downright admiring of Robertson, who started with one small television station and built an empire."22
     Alec Foege's The Empire God Built: Inside Pat Robertson's Media Machine attempts to be unbiased. This is commendable as it is very difficult to write without having the ability to add personal opinion. Foege eventually succumbs to his own beliefs, and explains his disapproval towards the end. Compared to other books about Pat Robertson who deem him to be "the most dangerous man in America"23 Foege does a good job not demonizing Robertson. However, the book could have been more informative if it focused more on Pat Robertson's effect on the media. Foege tends to be very sporadic in telling his point of view about Regents University, The 700 Club, Robertson's political career, and Robertson's past. All this information crammed into two-hundred fifty-three pages provide for a very lackadaisical work.
     Since Foege is a liberal, he most assuredly does not approve of the religious movement in the modern era. Foege probably believes that the religious right is too dogmatic, and would hamper progress in American society. Some things that may be delayed from a conservative controlled government involve: a lower amount of spending on scientific research, a lowering in taxes, and a less active government in the affairs of business. Foege would probably argue that science is needed for the quality of life to improve, and that taxes are needed for the government to function. Another aspect that comes along with a conservative society is isolationism. Foege, who advocates free trade with the world, does not want the government to isolate itself and not gain access to trade around the world. The Christian Coalition would argue that by reaching out and helping Haiti, the United States would suffer economic loss. Foege's main argument towards Robertson is the effects it will have on American Culture. In a couple of years, when all the graduates of Regents University become prominent, many more statesmen will be conservative. This is a real fear amongst some people, who hope that when conservatives take control of the government that they are not as dogmatic as Robertson. Foege probably worries that American Values would go back to a very conservative way, and that various ideas would be snuffed out.
     I would argue against Foege's ideals. Being a fundamentalist myself, I believe that if America were to revert back to its conservative values, America would be a much better place. However, I do not believe that Pat Robertson is advocating good Christian Ideals. Though I agree with some of his political vies, I do not believe that Robertson should claim to be a Christian Crusader while gaining so much profit. Another idea that me and Robertson differ on is spiritual healing, I believe that spiritual healing cannot occur in our modern era. What the Christian Coalition fights for in our government will benefit our society. Often I feel our modern culture deters from good values. The lifestyles of our Hollywood elite are influencing the youth, and family values are disappearing. When role models advocate these things on the youth, the youth will grow up and become self-destructive. Parents should be the role models in the lives of their children because the backbone of our culture is the family. If the family collapses the country will slowly follow, the religious right has created an environment where having strong family values is more possible. My opinion of Robertson is generally negative as he makes Christians seem very scandalous and hypocritical.
     The religious right has influenced our society in many subtle ways. Pornography, smoking, drinking, and gambling all have age limits. If these limitations were not added the destruction of American values will transpire. Other issues that have been influenced by the religious right include Roe v. Wade, opposition to euthanasia, a limitation on gay rights, and support for the death penalty. Foege does not explain the effects the religious right has had on America. His book tries to focus on Robertson, but fails to do so as it should have focused on one of the many things Robertson did like The 700 Club, the Christian Coalition, or Regents School. This book offers an eye opener for Christian Fundamentalists. The fact that Robertson uses religion as a fa?ade to hide his secular motives upset me. Unfortunately, there are people, like Robertson, that would abuse the goodness of Christianity for just a couple of bucks, or more accurately, "an investment of 1830,00 into $90 million dollars."22


1. Foege, Alec. The Empire God Built: Inside Pat Robertson's Media Machine. New York, NY, United States of America: John Wiley & sons, Inc.9. 2. Foege, Alec 8. 3. Foege, Alec 16. 4. Foege, Alec 33. 5. Foege, Alec 45. 6. Foege, Alec 84. 7. Foege, Alec 103. 8. Foege, Alec 124. 9. Foege, Alec 135. 10. Foege, Alec 166. 11. Foege, Alec 175. 12. Foege, Alec 182. 13. Foege, Alec 181. 14. Foege, Alec 15. 15. Foege, Alec 203 . 16. Foege, Alec 220. 17. Watts, Richard S. "The Empire God Built." Library Journal (1996). 18. Reed, Business Information, Inc. Publisher's Weekly (1996). 19. Ilene, Cooper. Booklist (1996). 20. Ilene, Cooper.

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