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by Bryce J. Renninger
September 8, 2013 11:12 AM
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Why Pat Robertson Is So Pissed about TIFF Documentary 'Mission Congo'

Mission Congo - dir. David Turner, Lara Zizic

This weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival, filmmakers Lara Zizic and David Turner debuted their film "Misison Congo," an indictment of American televangelist and Christian Coalition mastermind Pat Robertson. Robertson's Operation Blessing organization, which has only seen TIFF's and the production company's promotional copy for the film, has claimed that the promotional materials are "false and defamatory" and that they are considering legal action. (See the Virginia Pilot story here.)

That's not a big surprise. The film is based on a series of reports that ran in the Virginia Pilot about a Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs report that concluded that pleas for money being raised for Robertson's Operation Blessing was deceptive. Robertson launched a PR defensive, writing an op-ed for the Virginia Pilot (they ran it) and asking them to retract the story (they didn't).

After the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Virginia Beach-based Pat Robertson asked his "700 Club" viewers to help him send a medical convoy to a town in what was then Zaire (and is now Congo). As donations of $100 and $250 rolled in from all over the country, it's unclear if he sent much more than boxes and boxes of Tylenol to the cholera-stricken region. It's fairly well proven in the film that he didn't send many medical professionals (not the biggest and first group of doctors, like he claims to his viewers).  

What he doesn't tell his viewers is that most of what he was doing in Zaire was working with local government officials (one of whom was a known architect of the Rwandan genocides and eventually was found guilty of war crimes at the Hague) to claim diamond mining sites on the other side of the country from the camp.

The film's indictment of Robertson is far-reaching. Leaders of other Christian organizations explain how televangelists like Robertson prey on specifically older Americans and exploit viewers who feel they're not doing enough godly work in their own lives to fund their giant money-rich operations.  

It's unclear exactly how the Congo programs of Operation Blessing fell apart, but the film also points to a post on the Operation Blessing website. It claims that a school they built in a town where Operation Blessing led a failed farming project was still in operation. The village was left without industry and the school, according to the filmmakers' footage, looks abandoned.

The biggest crime of all for "Mission Congo" is Robertson's mastery of spin. His diamond operation was obscured. His contribution to the Medicins sans Frontieres presence was aggrandized. His farming failure was presented as a success.  

"Mission Congo" indicts the preacher, whose latest headline-grabbing comments include accusing gay men in San Francisco of wearing special rings that infect others with HIV, for being a bad shepherd. To do that, they're taking a controversy that stayed local to Virginia and taking it all over.

Robertson's further response to the film will undoubtedly depend on just how far the filmmakers can take their story.

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6 Comments

  • Chris at RCPR | March 12, 2014 7:11 PMReply

    Let's set the record straight!

    This story was first reported by The Guardian newspaper in the UK, who merely repeated the allegations made in the film. Once it was brought to their attention that their story was wrong, and after their own investigation, The Guardian published an apology to Operation Blessing and made a substantial donation for relief efforts..."Operation Blessing - An Apology: In an article entitled "Mission Congo: how Pat Robertson raised millions on the back of a non-existent aid project" we claimed that Pat Robertson ran an almost non-existent aid effort in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Operation Blessing actually sent six medical relief teams to Zaire, between July and December 1994, and arranged for 66,000lb of medicines and supplies to arrive in Goma on an aircraft it chartered from Amsterdam. In addition, the article referred to a report by the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) without making clear that there was a further report by the Attorney General's Office (AGO) which found no evidence of wrongdoing by Operation Blessing or Pat Robertson and no evidence of intent to defraud. Operation Blessing has asked us to make clear that the report was signed off by four individuals at the AGO, none of whom received any donation from Pat Robertson or Operation Blessing. The article claimed a school and farm set up by Operation Blessing in Dumi had failed. We have been informed that the school is thriving and the farm remains operational to this day. We are happy to clarify the position and apologise to Operation Blessing. We have agreed to make a contribution to Operation Blessing to be used in its relief efforts for victims of the typhoon in the Philippines."

    Thank you!

  • Chris at RCPR | March 12, 2014 7:11 PMReply

    Let's set the record straight!

    This story was first reported by The Guardian newspaper in the UK, who merely repeated the allegations made in the film. Once it was brought to their attention that their story was wrong, and after their own investigation, The Guardian published an apology to Operation Blessing and made a substantial donation for relief efforts..."Operation Blessing - An Apology: In an article entitled "Mission Congo: how Pat Robertson raised millions on the back of a non-existent aid project" we claimed that Pat Robertson ran an almost non-existent aid effort in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Operation Blessing actually sent six medical relief teams to Zaire, between July and December 1994, and arranged for 66,000lb of medicines and supplies to arrive in Goma on an aircraft it chartered from Amsterdam. In addition, the article referred to a report by the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) without making clear that there was a further report by the Attorney General's Office (AGO) which found no evidence of wrongdoing by Operation Blessing or Pat Robertson and no evidence of intent to defraud. Operation Blessing has asked us to make clear that the report was signed off by four individuals at the AGO, none of whom received any donation from Pat Robertson or Operation Blessing. The article claimed a school and farm set up by Operation Blessing in Dumi had failed. We have been informed that the school is thriving and the farm remains operational to this day. We are happy to clarify the position and apologise to Operation Blessing. We have agreed to make a contribution to Operation Blessing to be used in its relief efforts for victims of the typhoon in the Philippines."

    Thank you!

  • Chris at RCPR | March 12, 2014 7:11 PMReply

    Let's set the record straight!

    This story was first reported by The Guardian newspaper in the UK, who merely repeated the allegations made in the film. Once it was brought to their attention that their story was wrong, and after their own investigation, The Guardian published an apology to Operation Blessing and made a substantial donation for relief efforts..."Operation Blessing - An Apology: In an article entitled "Mission Congo: how Pat Robertson raised millions on the back of a non-existent aid project" we claimed that Pat Robertson ran an almost non-existent aid effort in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Operation Blessing actually sent six medical relief teams to Zaire, between July and December 1994, and arranged for 66,000lb of medicines and supplies to arrive in Goma on an aircraft it chartered from Amsterdam. In addition, the article referred to a report by the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) without making clear that there was a further report by the Attorney General's Office (AGO) which found no evidence of wrongdoing by Operation Blessing or Pat Robertson and no evidence of intent to defraud. Operation Blessing has asked us to make clear that the report was signed off by four individuals at the AGO, none of whom received any donation from Pat Robertson or Operation Blessing. The article claimed a school and farm set up by Operation Blessing in Dumi had failed. We have been informed that the school is thriving and the farm remains operational to this day. We are happy to clarify the position and apologise to Operation Blessing. We have agreed to make a contribution to Operation Blessing to be used in its relief efforts for victims of the typhoon in the Philippines."

    Thank you!

  • Drew | September 11, 2013 11:58 AMReply

    Do some homework. Follow the link below to read Operation Blessing's official statement. Like or hate the man, you would be incredibly foolish to hear only 1 side of the story and call it 'powerful' or 'truth.' That's not only biased, its unwise and shows your complete disregard or care for the actual truth.

    ob.org/missioncongo.asp

  • Joy | September 8, 2013 8:05 PMReply

    I was at the premiere of this film at TIFF. It's a powerful documentary.

  • John Fuller | September 8, 2013 3:01 PMReply

    There is certainly nothing wrong with publishing the truth when it can be proven.