Fox News, Limbaugh revived Robertson's false denial

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

On August 30, Fox News national correspondent Steve Centanni played a deceptively edited video clip from the August 22 broadcast of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, apparently to support host Pat Robertson's discredited claim that he did not call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Despite the widespread availability of video of Robertson's remarks and even an August 24 Foxnews.com article stating that "Robertson clearly mentioned assassination," Centanni reported that Robertson had simply suggested the United States "should go ahead and take him [Chavez] out."

As the Foxnews.com article reported, Robertson subsequently issued a press release in which he apologized for calling for Chavez's assassination. Nonetheless, Centanni parroted Robertson's initial assertion that he was suggesting regime change, not assassination. Similarly, on August 26, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners that "it was assumed" that Robertson had called for the assassination of Chavez and repeated Robertson's false claim that he had been "misinterpreted."

On the August 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Centanni reported that Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Venezuela following the "inflammatory comment by evangelist Pat Robertson last week, suggesting the U.S. should go ahead and remove Chavez." Centanni played a video clip containing two sentences of Robertson's "inflammatory comment":

ROBERTSON: We have the ability to take him out. And I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.

Centanni then told viewers that "Robertson later said he meant a regime change, not an assassination, but Chavez is not convinced." But Robertson's unedited August 22 comments clearly call for Chavez's assassination:

ROBERTSON: 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. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United -- This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. 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.

Similarly, in an August 30 segment of the 9:30 p.m. ET Fox News Live newsbreak, Centanni distorted Robertson's words, deceptively reporting that he had said the United States "should go ahead and take him [Chavez] out." Centanni added, "He later explained he meant a regime change, not an assassination."

In fact, Robertson did falsely claim on the August 24 broadcast of The 700 Club that he "didn't use the word 'assassination' " and that he had been misinterpreted by the Associated Press. But later on August 24, Robertson issued a press release stating, "Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement." At the time, even Foxnews.com ran a story pointing out the implausibility of Robertson's initial denial:

"I didn't say 'assassination,'" Robertson clarified during a broadcast of his "The 700 Club" Wednesday morning. "I said our special forces should go 'take him out,' and 'take him out' could be a number of things, including kidnapping."

He blamed The Associated Press for making him seem to advocate the assassination of a foreign leader.

"There are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him," Robertson said. "I was misinterpreted by the AP, but that happens all the time."

However, during the original "700 Club" broadcast Monday night, Robertson clearly mentioned assassination.

"You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we are trying to assassinate him, we should go ahead and do it," Robertson said Monday.

Centanni's efforts to revive Robertson's discredited denial closely echo similar attempts by prominent conservatives. On August 26, Limbaugh insisted that "it was assumed" that Robertson was calling for Chavez's assassination. Limbaugh then repeated Robertson's false denials, telling listeners, "Robertson said, 'You misinterpreted -- I wasn't saying that. There are a number of ways to take people out.' "

Fox News host Sean Hannity made a similar statement on the August 24 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes. Hannity told viewers, "Pat Robertson caused a bit of a media firestorm this week when he advocated, some say, the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez." And on the August 25 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Rev. Jerry Sutton of Nashville's Two Rivers Baptist Church denied that Robertson used the word "assassinate."

From the August 30 edition of Special Report:

CENTANNI: Jackson's visit follows an inflammatory comment by evangelist Pat Robertson last week, suggesting the U.S. should go ahead and remove Chavez.

ROBERTSON [video clip]: We have the ability to take him out. And I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.

CENTANNI: In Venezuela, Jackson continued to take issue with the Robertson comments.

JACKSON [video clip]: It's fair to say, however, that most Americans disagree with what Reverend Robertson said.

CENTANNI: Robertson later said he meant a regime change, not an assassination, but Chavez is not convinced. He's calling for Robertson to be extradited to Venezuela. The State Department says he doesn't have the legal right.

From the August 30, 9:30 p.m. ET Fox News Live newsbreak:

CENTANNI: The U.S. accuses Chavez of being a destabilizing force in Latin America, while Chavez claims the U.S. is trying to kill or depose him. The meeting comes on the heels of a comment by evangelist Pat Robertson, who said last week about Chavez, the U.S. "should go ahead and take him out." He later explained he meant a regime change, not an assassination. Jackson said in Venezuela that talk of assassinating Chavez is unacceptable and should be strongly denounced by President Bush.

From the August 26 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: Earlier this week, Pat Robertson caught himself in a controversy, a swirl, by suggesting that Hugo Chavez, that little tyrant, thug down in Venezuela, be taken out. It was assumed that he was advocating the assassination of this man. Robertson said, "You misinterpreted -- I wasn't saying that. There are a number of ways to take people out." Then he apologized for it. During all of this, the mainstream press was trying everything they could to link every conservative in prominence with Pat Robertson.

Stories/Interests
Religion, Pat Robertson on Chavez, Religious Broadcasting
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