The televangelist says complaints from local Muslims are to blame.
By SHERRI DAY, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2007
[Times photo: William Dunkley (2006)]
ST. PETERSBURG - For the first time in nearly five years, controversial Christian televangelist Bill Keller is going off the air.
Keller - known for his vitriolic criticism of religious, political and pop culture figures - said Thursday his program was yanked in response to pressure from local Muslims.
Earlier this month, officials from the Council on American Islamic Relations wrote to executives at CBS asking them to investigate Live Prayer with Bill Keller, an hourlong nightly program.
In a May 2 broadcast, the televangelist said Islam was a "1,400-year-old lie from the pits of hell" and called the Prophet Mohammed a "murdering pedophile." He also called the Koran a "book of fables and a book of lies."
CAIR officials asked for equal air time for Florida Muslims to counter Keller's assertions. The show, which aired nightly from 1to 2 a.m., is broadcast on WTOG-TV CH. 44, a CBS-owned station that airs the CW network locally.
"I'm saying nothing now that I haven't been saying for five years," said Keller, who plans to hold his last broadcast on Aug. 31. "Ultimately, it was pressure by CAIR that intimidated these people into taking me off the air. It was not mutually agreeable. They told me they were taking me off the air, period."
But WTOG station manager Laura Caruso said the decision to end Keller's contract was a programming one, made by station executives and the televangelist.
"It really doesn't have anything to do with any special interest groups or anybody in the community," Caruso said. "I think he has a good program, and I wish him all the success in the world."
CAIR claims credit
After speaking with CBS executives, CAIR claims credit for Keller's demise on WTOG. His contract, set to end in December, will terminate on Sept. 11.
"They really based their decision upon our letter," said Ramzy Kilic, CAIR's civil rights coordinator. "They really did not know that Bill Keller was involved with this kind of anti-Muslim rhetoric."
Acting on complaints from bay area Muslims, CAIR officials began monitoring Keller's programs in May.
History of controversy
This is not the first time Keller, 49, has upset religious groups. Since he began his Live Prayer Internet ministry in 1999, he has skewered Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientologists, calling them false religions and cults. He also speaks against abortion, calls Oprah a "new age witch" for embracing diverse religions and says megachurch pastor Joel Osteen is a "gutless wonder."
In May, Keller raised the ire of Americans United for Separation of Church and State when he wrote devotionals on Liveprayer.com saying that a vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney equals a vote for Satan. The group asked the IRS to investigate Keller for a possible violation of tax laws, which prohibit tax-exempt nonprofit groups from engaging in partisan politics. Keller, took the debate to a national audience on The O'Reilly Factor, where he sparred with host Bill O'Reilly, who called Keller's words "irresponsible, un-Christian, uncharitable and flat-out wrong."
In his nearly eight years with the Live Prayer ministry, Keller estimates he and his volunteer staff have answered more than 60-million e-mail prayer requests and helped introduce 190,000 people to Christ. Last year, he took the show to a national audience by buying a late-night time slot on the i Network. His national platform lasted only a few months because of lack of financing.
New program in works
Keller remains undaunted. He is a regular guest on the Howard Stern Show and also plans to start a new morning program, Live Prayer AM on WTTA-Ch. 38 in the bay area. Keller says the one-hour live program will feature his trademark sermonettes but also will include lifestyle issues and local secular guests. It is scheduled to air at 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 3.
"I'm going to keep doing what I do," Keller said. "I'm going to bring a biblical message. It is what it is."
Sherri Day can be reached at (813) 226-3405 or firstname.lastname@example.org