On Tuesday's 700 Club, televangelist Pat Robertson made this rather surprising pronouncement to co-host Terry Meeuwsen:
You know what they do in San Francisco, some in the gay community there they want to get people so if they got the stuff [AIDS] they'll have a ring, you shake hands, and the ring's got a little thing where you cut your finger.... Really. It's that kind of vicious stuff, which would be the equivalent of murder. [700 Club, via Gawker]
The Christian Broadcasting Network, which Robertson launched in 1961, apparently thought its 83-year-old founding patriarch went a little too far, editing that section out of the online broadcast of the show and scrambling to remove all versions from YouTube, according to Brian Tashman at Right Wing Watch — which was kind enough to save the clip for posterity.
"It's ironic that Robertson believes that gay people are trying to censor him with hate speech laws," said Tashman, "when it appears that the only people trying to censor Robertson are his own staff at CBN."
CNN's Anderson Cooper certainly isn't trying to censor Robertson. In fact, he singled out the AIDS rings bit for his "RidicuList" segment on Wednesday night. (Watch above.) Cooper noted that Robertson did kind of attempt to walk back his comments — here's the televangelist's complete statement to The Atlantic:
I was asked by a viewer whether she had a right to leave her church because she had been asked to transport an elderly man who had AIDS and about whose condition she had not been informed. My advice was that the risk of contagion in those circumstances was quite low and that she should continue to attend the church and not worry about the incident.
In my own experience, our organization sponsored a meeting years ago in San Francisco where trained security officers warned me about shaking hands because, in those days, certain AIDS-infected activists were deliberately trying to infect people like me by virtue of rings which would cut fingers and transfer blood.
I regret that my remarks had been misunderstood, but this often happens because people do not listen to the context of remarks which are being said. In no [way] were my remarks meant as an indictment of the homosexual community or, for that fact, to those infected with this dreadful disease. [Atlantic Wire]
Robertson's critics were unimpressed. Nice try, said Steve Benen at MSNBC's Maddow Blog. But "there is no context in which it makes sense to accuse gay people in San Francisco of deliberately cutting others in the hopes of deliberately spreading the AIDS virus."
Cooper wasn't buying it, either. In a sarcastic takedown, Cooper compared Robertson to a crazy old uncle you only see at Thanksgiving, cracked a couple of jokes about rings and gay marriage, then said he's surprised the televangelist stepped in it with this "baffling" claim, because normally "Robertson's thoughts on gay issues are well-thought-out and very well-articulated." Cooper went on to play a greatest hits of Robertson's past statements not only on gay issues, but also marriage, adultery, and the various activities tied to demonic possession.
Cooper didn't bother explicitly pointing out that Robertson's theory about gay AIDS rings is ungrounded in fact. The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta took care of that. Gay advice columnist Dan Savage once said he tried to give anti-gay activist Gary Bauer the flu by licking cups and doorknobs in Bauer's office, she noted, "but there's no record of anyone trying to deliberately infect someone like Robertson with HIV."
"Maybe a security guard gave Robertson false information about gay men in San Francisco back in the deeply homophobic 1980s, and Robertson believed it all these years because it jibed with his suspicious view of gays," Franke-Ruta suggested. But whatever caused his confused ramblings, "someone needs to sit down with Pat Robertson and let him know that his views in 2013 don't sound conservative — they sound like he has lost touch with the world as it is."