I watch a lot of documentaries. On the TV as well as the big screen. I like a little redeeming value from my entertainment. I consider it part of my continuing education.
Naturally, I was stoked to learn about DOC NYC, New York City’s documentary film festival. And they had such a diverse selection to choose from. Though, considering these economic times, I felt obliged to be particularly judicious in deciding which I’d go see in the cinema and which I’d wait to catch on television.
First up was Mission Congo, which took a look at multi-millionaire televangelist Pat Robertson, his 700 Club television show, and his Operation Blessing relief mission. Now I know these clowns are crooks, and the true enemies of all that Jesus supposedly taught us. Yet Robertson, a failed presidential candidate, is one of the most revered individuals in the Christian Right. In addition to heading the multi-million dollar Christian Broadcasting Network and hosting the 700 Club, he is the de facto leader of the Christian Coalition, the heart of the right-wing evangelical movement of conservative Christians. He is the posterchild of the Religious Right.
This hour-long documentary focuses on Robertson’s activities in the 1990s, when he was using his television show and broadcasting network to raise more than $200 million for Operation Blessing, which he claimed was an African relief effort. The film featured footage of Robertson claiming that funds from phone-in donors were being used to fly doctors and medicine to Zaire (now the Congo) to treat a cholera outbreak and other crisis conditions at a camp of refugees from Rwanda’s genocide. Then the documentary showed interviews of people on the ground in Africa – not only the doctors, relief workers, journalists, and locals at this refugee camp but also employees of Robertson’s Operation Blessing and African Development Corporation. The discrepancies were startling.
Contrary to Robertson’s claims, Operation Blessing was not flying significant amounts of medical teams or medicine into the area. Nor were they even a factor in the relief effort. The only recollection anyone on the ground had of Robertson’s people was that an occasional zealot would follow Médecins Sans Frontières’ stretcher bearers, doing nothing more than trying to read the Bible to the camp’s most critical patients. Some of the footage Robertson showed on the 700 Club to raise funds were clearly Médecins Sans Frontières aid workers – not Operation Blessing personnel as he had claimed.
So what did Robertson do with the $200 million he raised tax-free for these African refugees? He cut a deal with Zairian President Joseph-Desiré Mobutu, a notoriously brutal dictator who was under investigation at the time for crimes against humanity (some of Robertson’s other pals in the country lived long enough to be convicted of war crimes), that gave him diamond mining concessions in exchange for his efforts in using the Religious Right to lobby against the sanctions imposed on Mobutu, as the dictator had been branded evil (and rightfully so) by the American government. In reality, Operation Blessing was an airlift to bring dredges and other mining equipment to the other side of Zaire for his mining operation, which was incorporated offshore as the African Development Corporation.
So instead of helping African refugees, he was raping their land of its precious resources. And doing so tax-free, under the false flag of Christian charity. That’s the face of American televangelism. That is the face of the Religious Right. A multi-millionaire who prays off the false hopes of the faithful and crawls in bed with war criminals to further fatten his tax-exempt bank accounts.
A reporter from The Virginian-Pilot exposed the scandal, and the Virginia Board of Consumer Affairs (Operation Blessing and the Christian Broadcasting Network are based in Virginia) launched an investigation. They found that Robertson not only lied, but committed fraud. And they even recommended that Robertson be prosecuted for his crimes. However, the state’s new governor and attorney general declined to prosecute him. And they denied that their decision had anything to do with the large campaign contributions they received from Robertson’s people.
Having used his political influence to evade criminal prosecution, Robertson claimed he was vindicated of all wrong-doing. But his diamond-mining concessions in Zaire disappeared once Mobutu was ousted. So Robertson then cut a similar deal with Charles Taylor, the then notoriously evil leader of Liberia who is currently serving 50 years for his crimes against humanity. And, as the documentary points out, the Operation Blessing Web site is still raising funds for its operation in what is now the Congo, claiming that the funds are needed to support a farm and school that it abandoned way back in 1995.
If you get a chance to see Mission Congo, I highly recommend you do so. The problem is that so few will actually see it (the filmmakers don’t even have a trailer on YouTube). And those who do see it most likely already know what a corrupt douche Pat Robertson is.
But perhaps something good will come out of it as people, like myself, become aware of the Trinity Foundation, which was featured in the film. It is a watchdog organization that investigates religious fraud, primarily in the televangelist community. Now that’s something I can support!
The Untold History of the United States
Have you read A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn? If you haven’t, you should. And if you have, then you have no need to see The Untold History of the United States, a 10-hour documentary series by Oliver Stone.
I saw the second of two two-hour prologues to Stone’s 10-hour series that first appeared on Showtime. Neither of these prologues had been seen before. He claims it would have been too confusing for younger audiences. In other words, he chose to edit the historical narrative in hopes of earning higher ratings.
As part of DOC NYC, I went to check it out, to see if it was worth 10 hours of my time to watch the rest of it. But, like I said, it’s a flashy rip-off of Zinn’s magnificent book. I didn’t even stick around to listen to the Q&A with Stone, who had sat across the aisle from me. I figured, I gave him two hours to make his case…I don’t need to stick around for another hour to hear any more.