I won't often find myself in a position to defend televangelist Pat Robertson, and this won't exactly be a defense. And the circumstances of the defense, if that's what this is, won't really cover Pat in glory.

In brief, there is a hoax story going around about something Pat supposedly said but really didn't.

Recently Target, the chain of discount stores, announced that they would remove gender-based signage in certain parts of their stores, primarily in aisles that sell toys, home products, and entertainment items -- that is, there will be no signs that specify "Girls Toys" and "Boys Toys," for example. (See the story, "Target Moves toward Gender-Neutral Store Signage", on the ABC News website.)

Inevitably, some people are upset, and have invented rationalizations for their ire, such as that it will be "harder to find things," a weak argument considering that there will be still be signs directing you to "Toys" and it can't be that hard, once you are in that aisle, to decide that certain ones don't fit your prejudices about gender-appropriateness. And contrary to the misunderstandings among those eager to jump to conclusions that the "gay lifestyle" is taking over the mainstream, there is nothing in the announcements about the new signage policy that suggests that "Clothing" is included among the changes, and that Target is trying to get boys to dress in drag.

So it hardly came as a surprise to see the post by "LeftOfCenter," on the website, headlined "Pat Robertson: Not Separating Toys by Gender 'Puts God's Bullseye' on Target Stores". The article begins, "Televangelist Pat Robertson is not in any way happy about the fact that retail megastore Target has decided to stop separating their toy aisles by the presumed gender of the child who will be playing with the toys." It goes on to quote a typical Robertsonian rant: "You know, Target's symbol is a bullseye? Well, guess what this decision does," Robertson asked rhetorically before answering himself with, "It puts God's bullseye on their stores. So don't be surprised the next time something bad happens at a Target store."

It's quite believable Pat would say such a thing, since it is identical in tone to the warning he once gave to Orlando, Florida when the city decided to decorate lampposts with rainbow flags for Disney's "Gay Days." In that case, Pat specified earthquakes, tornadoes, and a meteor as the vehicle of God's wrath on the city. (See the post "With Friends Like These..." from July 30 in this blog.) In the case of Target, the article quotes Pat as saying, "Maybe [God will] send a person with a gun, claiming to be an open-carry activist... and that activist will mow down customers in a Target."

But then, I saw, the article gets a little weird. In expounding on the world's reaction to the predicted gun tragedy in a Target store, Pat went on, "Don't blame that on our country's obsession with guns. Don't blame that on loose gun laws and no mental health infrastructure to speak of. Don't blame it on any rational or logical reasons for it, blame it on the unprovable, supernatural reasoning I'm presenting now."

It was that self-inflicted insult to himself and to God that first made me suspicious. And even more so, the peroration of the article: "We cannot defeat Satan if I don't have a third boat," Robertson said as he was finishing the segment. "We can't beat the Devil if I don't have a vacation home in Spain. It's like Jesus was always saying -- the church is not strong if the pastor isn't wealthy as fuck. It's in the back of the Bible somewhere, near the appendices. Clearly, the only way we have to march this great nation of ours into the arms of Christ is for you all to give me -- excuse me, my church -- as much money as you possibly can. Please, give us money. Let me repeat: money, money, money, money."

I suspected, at this point, that the author of the article was satirizing some actual statement Pat had made about Target's new policy. A Google search, however, revealed that no statement at all on that particular subject had ever made its way out of Pat's mouth. (At least not in public.) There is absolutely no reference that connects "Pat Robertson," "Target," and "gender" in a single news item -- EXCEPT for (a) this post and (b) items on other websites that directly quote this post, apparently under the impression it is a legitimate news story. All other Google hits on those search terms go to web pages that contain those terms in separate, unrelated items. (For example, a page may mention Target's new gender policy, while elsewhere on the page is something Pat said about a completely different subject.)

It's a little unexpected. "Crooks and Liars" is a respected left-wing political blog, founded in 2004, winner of several awards, and it focuses on legitimate news stories. It's not a news satire site, in the fashion of The Onion.

On the other hand, the fact that this article appears in the blog's "Entertainment" section should be a tipoff that it's a spoof. That, however, is the only suggestion I can find anywhere on the page that the story is invented.

The story has been turning up on Facebook pages, generating irate comments by followers of the pages and, in one case, a petition to get Pat's television show, "700 Club," off the air. (The petition can't succeed, but that's another story.)

So in a sense, I am defending Pat here, by exposing a bizarre rant attributed to him as a hoax. But to go with that, I can't help making the observation that Pat has brought this kind of thing on himself. The hoax is believable only because Pat's mouth has been such a firehose of loopy statements, so that you can now, without effort, make up the most outrageous shit and easily convince people Pat said it.