A newsgatherer for the religious right

April 16, 2007|By Stephanie Simon | Stephanie Simon,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Political reporter David Brody is punching his keyboard with two fingers, checking the Web for mentions of his stories. Up pops a liberal blog quoting one of his recent interviews. He's delighted - until he sees the snippet is attributed to "Pat Robertson's CBN."

"Pat Robertson's CBN," Brody says in frustration. "We take that as a dig."

Brody does work for Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, and mostly he's proud of that. But stereotypes are inevitable when you cover politics for a network run by a standard-bearer of the religious right. Brody, 42, has made it his mission to confound them.

With his blog a sounding board for presidential candidates - testing their appeal to the much sought-after evangelical voter - Brody has turned CBN into an unlikely go-to source for political junkies, routinely cited by the mainstream media. In a breezy style with a dash of irreverence, he embraces some liberals and takes aim at some conservatives. That surprises people and keeps them coming back; his blog, the Brody File, draws about 25,000 page views a month, triple last fall's numbers.

To Brody, this is not just good journalism. It's a way of serving God.

CBN's stated mission is to prepare the world for the second coming of Christ. Brody sees respectful, balanced coverage as one means to that end.

"Whatever stereotypes people have of Christians as hateful, intolerant - all those words - I'm here to say, `You have a totally wrong perception. Totally wrong,' " Brody said. "Maybe people will realize that Christians are not so bad after all."

Brody took an unlikely path to Christian media.

He was raised Jewish; in a recent blog posting, he compared the frenzy on the campaign trail that greets Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois to the praise his family showered on him after his bar mitzvah.

In college, he began attending an evangelical church with his future wife, warily at first, then willingly. One night in 1988, Brody felt his heart racing, his soul reaching. He rose and accepted Christ as his personal savior.

Even so, Brody had no interest in joining Christian broadcasting, which tends to focus on televangelism, talk shows or commentary. But when he lost a job as a producer for secular TV in 2000, Brody was unable to land another. After two years, he took a job as a radio reporter at the conservative ministry Focus on the Family, which fights abortion, pornography and homosexuality. "Their values and my values matched up," he said.

He moved to CBN a year later, in July 2003 to report for The 700 Club, an hourlong blend of fundraising pitches, news and inspirational features that claims a weekday audience of nearly 1 million.

Robertson is still a forceful presence on the network he founded nearly half a century ago. He co-hosts The 700 Club four days a week and is prone to incendiary comments, such as when he suggested Hurricane Katrina could be a sign of God's wrath at abortion.

But in an era when few Christian radio or TV outlets do their own reporting, CBN stands out for its 60-person news team.

The goal: To attract not only Christians but channel-surfers who might never have intended to watch the Pat Robertson network. Perhaps they'll be drawn in by an analysis of the Iranian nuclear threat and stay through a feature on the healing power of faith - "a deeper message," news director Rob Allman said, "that might transform their life."

Much of Brody's reporting isn't fresh; he relies a lot on Google and YouTube. But he has a knack for digging up quotes that document a candidate's flip-flops and suspect turns of phrase - cliches that might sound harmless to an average voter but signal apostasy to the kingmakers on the evangelical right.

For instance, he recently posted a 1999 interview in which Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona talked up adoption as a way to reduce abortion. "While that may be true, among the dedicated pro-life community it is code for being wishy-washy," Brody wrote.

An equal-opportunity critic, Brody has picked out potential weaknesses (some quite obscure) in all the top GOP candidates and asked his mostly conservative audience to weigh in.

Does it matter that former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani once appointed a judge who stuck taxpayers with the tab for a young man's sex-change operation? Do they care that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney calls himself "pro-life" but would allow destruction of some human embryos for stem-cell research?

"He's holding the conservative candidates accountable for their conservatism," said Shira Toe- plitz, a staff writer for Hotline, a daily political briefing put out by the nonpartisan National Journal.

Hotline frequently quotes Brody's work, as does the widely read daily report by ABC News, The Note, which recently dubbed one of his postings on Giuliani a "must-read." Brody's interviews with candidates regularly turn up on the Associated Press wire; a video clip recently made Meet the Press.

Eric Sapp, a consultant who helps Democrats woo religious voters, urges his clients to go on CBN: "David's voice is the kind we need in this discussion," he said, adding that Brody "comes across as reasonable and fair."

Not everyone shares that assessment. One viewer e-mailed, in all capital letters, that Brody betrays a "VERY LIBERAL bias" - and added: "This is confusing because of WHO you work for - CBN."

Brody loves that e-mail. He calls it "my badge of honor."

Stephanie Simon writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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