Geraldo's working hard to discredit Fox News

Posted: Dec 21, 2001 12:00 AM
When Geraldo Rivera wanted to be the thinking man's Jerry Springer, he had fat from his own butt injected into his forehead. It clearly took. Indeed, his entire career has been dedicated to exhausting all of the different ways a talented professional can make a public ass of himself. The examples tumble into the mind. In 1985, ABC fired him when his personal assistant used a company courier to buy marijuana. Later, he commandeered two hours of prime time to open Al Capone's empty vault on live television. In his memoir, Rivera bragged about all the different ways he cheated on all his different wives, including with women who worked for him. "It was like a part of the job description," he wrote. When his third wife was recovering in the hospital after giving birth to his first child, Geraldo called up two old girlfriends to commemorate the solemn event. "Our lovemaking was a personal celebration for me," Geraldo has explained. Geraldo is quickly adding new pages to his personal profiles in asininity. In November, Geraldo left CNBC to join Fox as its lead war correspondent in Afghanistan. But he couldn't wait until he got there to sound like a buffoon. Asked if he were up to the task, the 58-year old Geraldo told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "I'm very fit. ... I'd like to find a reporter who can outdistance me. I have a 31-inch waist, a 42-inch chest. I'm still real butch." But now he's in real trouble. In some great reporting, the Baltimore Sun has nailed Geraldo for lying, fibbing, exaggerating ... whatever the right word would be for a man who argued Clinton didn't actually know what the meaning of "is" is. Reporting from Afghanistan on Dec. 6, Rivera claimed to have choked up after saying the Lord's Prayer over the "hallowed ground" where "friendly fire took so many of our, our men and the mujahedeen yesterday." The problem is that Geraldo wasn't there. According to Sun reporter David Folkenflik, he was hundreds of miles away near Tora Bora at the time. Asked to explain himself a couple weeks later, Geraldo said that he'd gotten confused and mistook a different friendly fire incident that had killed mujahedeen fighters near Tora Bora. OK, except that event hadn't happened yet. "Fox News did not have any explanation for how Rivera could have been confused by an event that had not yet occurred," Folkenflik dryly writes. Now, I couldn't care less about what happens to Geraldo. But it will be a shame if this incident is used by journalistic purists to throw the bathwater of patriotic reporting out with the big baby that is Geraldo Rivera. Over the last two decades, two journalistic trends have competed with each other for dominance. The first is the cult of neutrality - the idea, championed by journalism school zealots, that reporters must be completely neutral in their reporting and hence "balance" competing views and advocates. If the cult of neutrality reigned during World War Two, Nazis would have been given equal time on the radio and in the newspapers and newsreels. Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" became the poster boy of this view when he declared he wouldn't warn American troops of an ambush if he were on assignment. "I'm not an American first, I'm a reporter first," he's continued to say in his defense. The second trend is the cult of personality whereby journalists become "brand names" and make themselves more important than the story. I don't like either of these trends very much for all sorts of reasons. But the relevant one for this discussion is that these trends crowd out an older tradition of American reporting. I don't have a name for it, but its two main ingredients are patriotism and fairness. As it stands right now, the journalistic purists are actually embarrassed by patriotism. In World War II, reporters wore American uniforms, but today they're mortified by the idea of wearing an America flag on their lapels. As for fairness, all that means is that a journalist can be honest about his biases and perspective, and still be fair to the other side of the argument. Fox News has been offering the most patriotic news reporting we've seen in two generations; it'll be a real shame if Geraldo discredits that effort.