TV preacher Pat Robertson drew widedspread criticism in October for suggesting that the headquarters of the U.S. State Department should be destroyed with a nuclear device.
Robertson, a longtime foe of the State Department, made the comments during a "700 Club" interview with writer Joel Mowbray, author of a new book critical of the department.
"I read your book," Robertson said. "When you get through, you say, 'If I could just get a nuclear device inside 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,'" Robertson said.
Officials at the State Department, which is located in a Washington neighborhood called Foggy Bottom, reacted sharply. Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the comment "despicable" and added, "I lack sufficient capabilities to express my disdain."
As the controversy escalated, it came to light that Robertson had made a similar comment in June, during another interview with Mowbray.
"Well, it looks like Congress had better do something, and maybe we need a very small nuke thrown off on Foggy Bottom to shake things up," Robertson remarked during the earlier interview.
Robertson's comments made headlines all over the world and came under immediate fire in the media. One newspaper, the Augusta, Ga., Chronicle, wondered in an editorial, "Why don't the televangelist's hateful remarks make him a traitor? At a minimum, he ought to be thrown off the Christian network. Just because Robertson calls himself a Christian doesn't make him one."
In Staunton, Va., the Daily News Leader noted that other religious extremists share Robertson's goal of attacking the U.S. government.
"Stand in line, Pat; we think another religious fanatic is already salivating at a chance to do the honors; his name's Osama bin Laden," editorialized the newspaper.
The paper continued, "What's worrisome about Robertson's remark is that some unknown fanatic who subscribes to the same pinheaded version of Chrisdtianity as his TV savior might actually take this as a call to glory and send not only those despicable villains at State to Kingdom Come, but untold innocents. Robertson, with his media empire and access to the airwaves, has an immense pulpit from which to do immense good or intense harm."
Seeking to quell the controversy, Robertson brought Mowbray back on the show Oct. 13. During the interview, Robertson claimed he merely wanted to highlight the issues raised in Mowbray's book in "a laughing fashion."
At the end of the interview, Robertson said, "And once again, I want to correct my remarks. Joel did not say, 'Nuke the State Department,' so we've changed. We're not going to nuke it, we're going to gut it."
Robertson failed to mollify the American Foreign Service Association, a professional group that represents 11,000 U.S. diplomats around the world.
"Mr. Robertson, your comments on the need to 'nuke' and 'gut' the Department of State is the same rhetoric America's enemies use to inflame their followers," John Limbert, president of the organization, wrote in an Oct. 15 letter to Robertson.
Continued Limbert, "'Bombing' and 'gutting' are not appropriate metaphors to use with respect to any American institution, any American citizen, or any public servant. To do so puts one on a par with those who routinely employ such language to further their twisted ideologies. Unfortunately, such words carry power, and have in the past legitimated bloody atrocities most recently the murder of American security personnel on a diplomatic mission in Gaza."
The White House was more understanding, issuing only a slight slap on the wrist to Robertson.
Bush administration spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Oct. 14 that Robertson had retracted the "harmful comments."
"I do not view those as helpful comments," said McClellan. "And it was wrong for him to say that."
Reporters in the room laughed, and one said, "That's it?"
Under further questioning, McClellan said the incident would not cause Bush to distance himself from Robertson or deny the TV preacher a supportive role in the president's reelection campaign.
In a later interview with the Nordfolk/Virginia Beach Virginian-Pilot, Robertdson offered further thoughts.
"I'm sure I could have phrased it better," he said. Robertson added that it would be "insane" for anyone to think he really wants to blow up the State Department.