Thursday, April 5, 2012

Geraldo Rivera's Greatest Hits


As far as Fox News "personalities" go, Geraldo Rivera has always been the most palatable to me. Sean Hannity exudes a smugness unbefitting his accomplishments and intellectual abilities and bleats about "liberal double standards" and "media bias." When he furrows his brow just so and flashes that little smirk, it provokes a Pavlovian fist-through-TV response. Meanwhile, Bill O'Reilly is a bully, constitutionally incapable of recognizing the existence of arguments and perspectives that have not emerged from within his own prodigious skull.

Geraldo, on the other hand, possesses an earnestness and childlike exuberance which at least doesn't make him instantly repulsive. Of course, in his case the line between "earnestness and childlike exuberance" and "buffoonery" is rather blurry, but he seems like the FOX News personality I'd be least likely to get into a bar fight with if we were to one day sit down for drinks.

This is not to say that Geraldo's politics aren't repulsive, nor is it to excuse his desperate attempt to use the Trayvon Martin tragedy to catapult himself back to relevance when he blamed the young man's murder on something other than his murderer. "I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was," he said on Fox and Friends last Friday. He continued:
When you, when you see a kid walking... when you see a kid walking down the street, particularly a dark skinned kid like my son Cruz, who I constantly yelled at when he was going out wearing a damn hoodie or those pants around his ankles. Take that hood off, people look at you and they — what do they think? What’s the instant identification, what’s the instant association?
Even if Geraldo meant this in good faith, he must have known that the audience before whom he made the comments would hear something to the effect of "this whole thing is the fault of black kids and that gosh darn gangsta culture!" Even if Geraldo was truly only interested in saving black and brown lives, his comments had the consequence of distracting from the really important discussions in the wake of this tragedy — like the one about the Sanford Police Department's woefully inadequate investigation of Martin's killer, or the one about Florida's absurd "Stand Your Ground" law, or the more basic one about why people shouldn't murder other people.

And indeed, in the days since his comments, the floodgates for irrelevant details about everything from Martin's behavioral record in school to his social media profile have burst open. Riding the deluge like so much driftwood, the right has seized upon these details all too gladly, because if a young black man was murdered then there surely must be some reason he deserved it.

It is hardly surprising that Geraldo would say something like this. After all, he has made a lucrative career out of stoking controversy, making himself the center of attention and putting himself in the center of controversy. In light of his most recent episode, we remember some of Geraldo's greatest hits.

1986: Geraldo opens Al Capone's vault
It's certainly appropriate that this special Geraldo hosted in 1986 has come to define his career. It was a perfect example of his reportorial style: Geraldo positions himself as the intrepid adventurer going to heretofore unexplored corners of the globe and reveals to the world information that will surely change their lives. In the case of Al Capone's Vault, 30 million viewers waited in anticipation for two hours (their hopes likely raised by Geraldo's boundless enthusiasm) as a crew drilled their way into Al Capone's basement vault in the Lexington Hotel. The big payoff for their patience? Some dirt and a few empty bottles.

To this day, it remains one of the grandest unintentional troll jobs in television history.

1987: Geraldo alerts America to the looming Satanist threat
Before the advent of gangsta rap and the emergence of the threat of black peril in the suburbs, white, churchgoing middle Americans needed some existential threat to direct their energy toward combating. In the late 1980s, that existential threat was Satanism. But first, they needed to be alerted to the threat. Who better for the task than Geraldo?

The prime time specials produced this candidate for "Most Geraldo Quote Ever":
Estimates are that there are over 1 million Satanists in this country... The majority of them are linked in a highly organized, very secretive network. From small towns to large cities, they have attracted police and FBI attention to their Satanic sexual child abuse, child pornography and grisly Satanic murders. The odds are that this is happening in your town.

1988: Geraldo ignites race war, has nose broken
In 1987, Geraldo parlayed the rousing success of Al Capone's Vault into a daytime talk show. In the show's second year, his knack for causing controversy to boost ratings resulted in a minor race war. Geraldo invited neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and various other racists — including John Metzger, son of White Aryan Resistance founder Tom Metzger — to sit opposite Congress of Racial Equality chairman Roy Innis. He then spent the majority of the show dangling matches dangerously close to the pile of kindling he had constructed in the middle of his own living room. Given that Innis had already been involved in another on-air confrontation that year with a now-unrecognizable Al Sharpton, we can hardly be surprised by the result (not that Innis was wrong in either case):

2001: Geraldo doesn't know where the fuck he is
And who can forget the time that Geraldo, in his new capacity as FOX News' embedded war reporter in Afghanistan, reported "live" from the location of a friendly fire incident that actually happened 300 miles away?
There was a catch in his voice as the intrepid war reporter told Americans back home of the horrors he was experiencing in Afghanistan. Geraldo Rivera was on the spot in Tora Bora, last redoubt of what he called "the forces of evil", otherwise known as al-Qa'eda.

"We walked over what I consider hallowed ground today," he said, his days as a bouffant-haired Los Angeles talk show host a distant memory. Clad in a flak jacket and packing a pistol, this was the front line of the epic struggle against terrorism.

"We walked over the spot where friendly fire took so many of our men and mujahideen," said Geraldo (his celebrity is such that a first name suffices). "The whole place just fried really and bits of uniforms and tattered clothing everywhere."

Clearly moved by the carnage he had witnessed, Geraldo said he had turned for comfort not to patriotism — his watchword since quitting his CNBC studio job for the Fox News channel and heading off to war — but religion.

"I said the Lord's Prayer and really choked up."

The only problem was that the three American soldiers who had died the previous day had perished not on the "hallowed" ground trodden by Geraldo but near Kandahar, several hundred miles away. Tackled about the discrepancy, Geraldo, 58, blamed the "fog of war". He had simply confused the site of Afghan casualties from "friendly fire" at Tora Bora with Kandahar.
As they say in J-school: "If the story doesn't come to you, lie about where the story happened so it does come to you."

2003: Geraldo endangers the lives of US troops, gets thrown out of Iraq
It is a real tragedy that the video of this Great Geraldo Rivera Moment has apparently been scrubbed from the internet entirely. Embedded with the 101st Airborne during the invasion of Iraq, Geraldo got a bit overexcited about an upcoming operation and proceeded to breathlessly describe the mission and draw a map of the plan of attack, including the positions of US forces, IN THE FUCKING SAND.
In a live broadcast from the Iraqi desert, Rivera instructed his photographer to tilt the camera down to the sand in front of his feet so that he could draw a map. Rivera then outlined a map of Iraq, and showed the relative location of Baghdad and his location with the Army's 101st Airborne unit. The reporter then continued with his diagram to illustrate where the 101st would be going next.

"He gave away the big picture stuff," one stunned senior military official told CNN. "He went down in the sand and drew where the forces are going."
Geraldo wasn't "expelled" from Iraq for his crime (yes, it was an actual crime), but the military pressured FOX News into removing him from the country. He spent the rest of his time reporting on the invasion from Kuwait.

2005: Geraldo to the rescue
When Katrina struck New Orleans, Geraldo apparently resolved to single-handedly pick up the slack for FEMA's non-response to the disaster. At this point, this kind of stunt has come to define his brand of narcissistic pseudo-gonzo journalism: in war zones Geraldo is a solider, and in disaster areas, he is a rescue worker — even if that means actively obstructing real rescue workers from doing their jobs.

In New Orleans, he once again found himself at the center of controversy when the New York Times reported that he pushed an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so his camera crew could get a better shot of him helping a woman in a wheelchair down some stairs. Geraldo and FOX disputed the report, and since I could find no video of that incident to verify for myself, we'll just have to assume that he did in fact push the worker.

Why's that? Because we do have a video of a different Geraldo Rivera rescue mission and the following report from Salon:
Geraldo Rivera arrives in a Fox News truck. An elderly woman with blond hair grips his elbow. She’s wearing thick dark glasses and a pink shirt. He carries her small white dog in his arms. He’s wearing thigh-high waders unzipped to below his knees. We shake hands. "Her relative called one of our stations," Geraldo tells me, explaining how that call went to another station, and then another, and finally to him.

The woman had been stranded in her home for six days. Geraldo picked up the woman and her dog and brought them here. The woman looks frail on his arm, though not as bad perhaps as a lady collapsed on a chair nearby, unable to move. Or a woman in a wheelchair being lifted from the truck, carrying her prosthetic leg on her lap.

"That’s the second time he brought her here," one of the doctors tells me, nodding toward Geraldo.


"They did two takes. Geraldo made that poor woman walk from the Fox News van to the heliport twice. Both times carrying her dog."

"Are you serious?" I ask. He says he is.

2008: Down goes Geraldo
No explanation necessary.

2011: Bin Laden is dead, Geraldo is happy
Objectively, this clip might not warrant inclusion on a Geraldo Rivera Greatest Hits list, but it is one of my personal favorites. Consider this piece of found poetry:

Ode to Extra-judicial Assassinations (and Careerism)
Inspired by Geraldo Rivera

Osama bin Laden is dead?
Osama bin Laden is dead?

Can it be?
Ladies and gentlemen,
Could it be?

Hold it.
Hold it.
Hold it.
Hold it.
Hold it.

Bin Laden is dead!
Bin Laden is dead!


Bin Laden is dead!
Multiple sources,
Osama bin Laden is dead!

Happy days!
Happy days everybody!

This is the greatest...
gimme a wide shot of the General.

This is the greatest night of my career!
The bum is dead!
The savage,
who hurt us so grievously.

And I am so blessed,
so privileged,
to be at this desk at this moment!

Who's on the phone?
This list is hardly definitive. I urge readers to submit their own Great Moments in Geraldo History.