Pat Robertson's Improv Foreign Policy

Day to Day slightly cracked correspondent Brian Unger ponders the remarks of televangelist Pat Robertson, who suggested last week that the United States assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Unger thinks Robertson's excuse that the comment was just an "ad lib" needs work, and he should sharpen up his act in some comedy clubs first.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

One week ago, the founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Pat Robertson, suggested that the US should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Today our Monday morning quarterback, Brian Unger, has this one-week retrospective in the Unger Report.

BRIAN UNGER reporting:

On the one-week anniversary of Pat Robertson's suggestion that the US assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, we remember that career suicide does not discriminate according to one's faith. Whether you're Jewish, Muslim, Catholic or Baptist, you can make a total boob of yourself on national television, ignore a US law banning assassination and generally embarrass an entire nation, at war, struggling to preserve its moral credibility throughout the world.

To his credit, Robertson said he was sorry, and in a press release, he called his remark on "The 700 Club" an ad-lib. Ad-libs--you know, the off-the-cuff sort of extemporaneous line used by comedians or an amusing tidbit you use to crack up your co-workers in the morning meeting, the unscripted `I was just kidding' remark. Well, if you missed it, here was Pat Robertson's ad-lib about assassinating Hugo Chavez.

(Soundbite of "The 700 Club")

Mr. PAT ROBERTSON ("The 700 Club"): 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.

UNGER: You know you've mastered the ad-lib when you can improv an entire foreign policy doctrine on the world stage.

Two days later, Robertson took to the airwaves again on the Christian Broadcasting Network, saying the media didn't get his routine, and issued a clarification about his apparent disagreement with Gerald Ford's 1976 prohibition on assassinating world leaders.

(Soundbite of Christian Broadcasting Network program)

Mr. ROBERTS: I didn't say assassination. I said our special forces should, quote, "take him out."

UNGER: Take him out--it can mean a number of things, including kidnapping, Robertson said. Now anyone in the assassination business knows there's a difference. Maybe Robertson meant take him out for pizza. Some have suggested a beer, a glass of wine, a movie. But more likely, he meant take him out on a boat. You know, like in "The Godfather: Part II" when Fredo was taken out on a boat.

Some mitigate Robertson's bit by saying he doesn't represent all Christians or that Robertson might be losing it in the twilight of his career. After all, on the same Web site where Robertson apologizes for advocating assassination, he offers a recipe for age-defying breakfast pancakes.

But there are more than a few perspectives from which to judge this entire Robertson ad-lib flap. According to the Christian Broadcasting Network, the international edition of "The 700 Club" plays to people in more than 200 countries. So imagine in a foreign land, a young, angry, humorless man caught up in the political and religious fervor of our time watches on his TV an American religious leader who once had significant support in his candidacy for president and influential enough to own a global TV network, advocating the assassination of a world leader as an ad-lib. Every comic knows ad-libs are dangerous. Before you take your act global, Mr. Robertson, you gotta test your material on a smaller stage: Bananas in Poughkeepsie; Funny Bone in Columbus, or try Crackers in Indianapolis. You'll kill there.

And that is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.

CHADWICK: NPR News will have continuing coverage today of Hurricane Katrina. Also, if you're among those affected by the hurricane, we'd like to hear about your experience. You'll find a link to e-mail us at our Web site, npr.org.

DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News, with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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