Televangelist Pat Robertson returned Monday to a controversy over his earlier remark about blowing up the U.S. State Department.
Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network issued a news release “correcting” the impression that a guest on Robertson’s “700 Club,” the author of a book highly critical of the State Department, had suggested “nuking” Foggy Bottom, the name for the agency’s headquarters.
Robertson said the observation that planting a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom would solve the agency’s problems came from him, and not his guest.
“A couple of weeks ago I had a guest on with me named Joel Mowbray,” Robertson said. “He’d written a book called Dangerous Diplomacy. It was so scathing about the State Department that I characterized it in rather graphic terms, and I want to issue a correction to the State Department. I mentioned the question of nuking the State Department. Mr. Mowbray did not use the term ‘nuke,’ he said it should be gutted, and I think we ought to make that clear.”
Robertson quoted his own words from his earlier interview with Mowbray: “I read your book. When you get through, you say, ‘If I could just get a nuclear device inside of Foggy Bottom, I think that’s the answer.’ I mean you get through this, and you say, ‘We’ve got to blow that thing up.’ I mean, is it as bad as you say?”
Mowbray’s response: “It is. Everything I wrote in the book, sadly, is true.”
Robertson said he was trying to characterize the negative tone of Mowbray’s book in “laughing fashion.”
The State Department had condemned Robertson’s remarks. The agency’s top spokesman called them “despicable.”
Robertson asked Mowbray his opinion of “this amazing controversy.”
“I obviously would not have chosen the same words you did, and probably if you had to think about it, you might not as well,” Mowbray said. “But it’s amazing to me that they reacted as they did, because they never want to criticize, at least if you’re a foreign dictatorship.”
Mowbray and Robertson further discussed the book, including a reference to the Reagan administration’s view that the State Department needed to be “gutted,” meaning a change in personnel.
The news release closed with Robertson’s comment: “Joel Mowbray is a journalist who’s been covering this field for awhile, and I appreciate his being here. And once again, I want to correct my remarks. Joel did not say ‘Nuke the State Department,’ he said ‘gut it.’ So we’ve changed. We’re not going to nuke it; we’re going to gut it.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics criticized Robertson’s “nuke” comment.
“Pat Robertson is shameless. He’ll say anything,” Parham said in an editorial over the weekend. Parham called on credible conservatives to distance themselves from Robertson’s rhetoric.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday that Robertson’s original comment was not helpful and “it was wrong for him to say that.”
McClellan sidestepped questions about whether President Bush would seek to distance himself from Robertson in his campaign for re-election.
“Again, I think that those comments were harmful. And [Robertson], himself, said that he should not have said that. I think the comments were wrong, and he has since said so.”