A memoir from the heyday of Christian broadcasting.
Heaton (Reinventing Local Media, 2008) has endowed himself with a dual importance: first, as a critical (and regrettable) link in the formation of modern conservative media; and second, as a sage with a prophetic eye for the future of journalism. In these aspects, he overreaches. Nevertheless, the heart of his book, the story of the rise and fall of Pat Robertson and his 700 Club through the 1980s, is worthwhile reading. As a former executive producer of the 700 Club, Heaton was a daily confidant of Robertson during his period of greatest fame and success. He helped orchestrate the program’s rise to a zenith of televangelism while also taking part in its metamorphosis into a vehicle for the religious right, culminating in Robertson’s own run for the presidency in 1988. Throughout the book, the author makes it clear that despite having worked with good people and having done many good things, he sees himself as a direct link in a chain of events that led to everything from the popularity of Rush Limbaugh to the success of Fox News and, ultimately, to the election of Donald Trump. In hindsight, he sees their work on the 700 Club as having wrongfully mixed, or conflated, faith with politics. Nowhere is this more obvious than in a 1985 discussion in which Robertson stated that Christianity needed to form a “shadow government.” Heaton realizes now the prescience of that moment: “There are thousands of evangelicals today in positions of local level leadership within the Republican Party….There is little doubt that the shadow government exists and is operating as intended.” After recounting the political downfall of Robertson and his subsequent investigation by the IRS, Heaton concludes with a lengthy discussion of postmodernism, “post-Christianity,” and journalism’s switch from an era of objectivity to an era of transparency. Here, his own story seems out of place with such grand theorizing.
Some intriguing, relevant 1980s history couched in too much self-flagellation and cultural criticism.