Press looks closer at Robertson's record. But the political effect on followers is thought to be negligible
Pat Robertson, who dropped ``the Reverend'' from his name only last week, already is getting the rough-and-tumble treatment of a secular politician. Two major newspapers have charged Mr. Robertson with exaggerating his academic and business credentials and misleading the public about other aspects of his life.
Robertson, who launched his Republican presidential campaign Oct. 1, concedes some of the charges are true. He admitted during an interview with the Washington Post that he may have been ``a little sloppy'' in giving out information about his life and career. ``But it wasn't an attempt to deceive anybody,'' he told the newspaper.
Key points raised by the Post and the Wall Street Journal:
Robertson's wedding date. Robertson had implied to reporters it was March 22, 1954. The actual date, according to the Journal: Aug. 27, 1954. The Robertson's first son was born 10 weeks later. Robertson said he regarded March 22 as his wedding date because ``our son was conceived on that day.''
His academic record. His early r'esum'e said he did ``graduate study'' at the University of London. Later, his r'esum'e was changed to say he only ``studied briefly'' there. The Post says he took ``an introductory arts course for Americans summering in London.''
His business experience. The Post charges that in a videotaped legal deposition and in speeches, Robertson claimed to be a ``member of the board of directors'' of United Virginia Bank, an $8.7 billion firm. Actually, Robertson is on the Norfolk advisory board of the bank, a lesser position.
His altered autobiography. In the 1972 version of ``Shout It From the Housetops,'' Robertson says God told him to stay out of politics: ``The Lord refused to give me the liberty.'' That was excised from the newest version of the book.
Robertson, whose campaign is grounded on his call for a moral revival in the United States, told an interviewer on CBS's ``Face the Nation'' that in his youth, he was rather unrestrained.
``I sowed enough oats as a kid. [But, regarding] the sins of my youth, either the good Lord has forgiven me, or the statute of limitations has run [out].''
Robertson says a religious, life-changing experience about 30 years ago put him on the right path, and ``I'll stand on the record of whatever is out there.''
The reports on Robertson raise two questions about his campaign.
First, will in-depth probing of Robertson's background weaken his standing with evangelicals, who form the core of his support?
Some experts doubt that it will. Robertson, like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, generates intense loyalty. While Robertson may have failings, his supporters see him as a defender of religious, social, and moral values which transcend his own personal qualities. It is much the same with Mr. Jackson and black voters.
Second, will the media follow through on these reports about Robertson, or will the issues die?
Earlier stories in the press on former Sen. Gary Hart, Sen. Joseph Biden Jr., and Gov. Michael Dukakis were pursued vigorously because all three men were presumed to be serious candidates for the White House.
But Robertson and Jackson, while closely watched, are presumed to be protest candidates. The press has shown less inclination to pursue damaging reports on them.
The current revelations about Robertson, however, could reduce his chances to build a base among mainstream voters.
So far, his campaign remains far behind, even in his native South. A poll by Roper published this week in the Atlanta Constitution shows Robertson trailing in the South in a weak third position behind both Vice-President George Bush and Sen. Robert Dole.
Even in his home state of Virginia, Robertson garners only 10 percent support among Republicans, compared to 44 percent for Mr. Bush and 26 percent for Senator Dole, the poll found.