Now that Geraldo's with Fox News, the ConWeb has trouble making itself criticize the guy, even when he makes major factual blunders.
By Terry Krepel
Conservative critics of journalism are much more interested in criticizing from a political perspective than a journalistic one.
How do we know this? Geraldo Rivera still has a job.
As we all know, Rivera gave up a nightly cable TV talk show in November to join Fox News Channel as a reporter in Afghanistan. He quickly managed to commit an amazingly grievous error of fact -- claiming to report from the site of a "friendly fire" incident in which Americans were killed when he was actually hundreds of miles away.
Yet the ConWeb that excoriated him for not joining the Clinton lynch mob is mostly quiet now. Because Fox News gets a free pass from the ConWeb, so does Rivera. While there has been some criticism voiced, it has little to do with what he's done at Fox News, and it's nowhere near the level it was when he was a so-called "Clinton defender" on his talk show.
The Media Research Center has been most aggressive in refusing to find fault with Rivera's actions. In a Dec. 19 CyberAlert, Brent Baker huffs that "Now that Geraldo Rivera is with the Fox News Channel CBS News has suddenly decided to critique his reporting, something I don’t recall CBS ever doing during Rivera’s years of liberal advocacy and Clinton promotion at CNBC and NBC News." Um, Brent, he was doing a talk show, not working as a reporter. There's a difference -- basically the same one Baker claimed as the reason the MRC didn't put Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on its list of allegedly stupid post-Sept. 11 quotes.
A Dec. 28 CyberAlert follows up a story quoting Rivera as offering to quit if a panel of media analysts decided if he did anything unethical by remarking , "If only a few other network reporters who have spent their careers distorting the news would be willing to accept the conclusions of a panel of media analysts."
The MRC, of course, considers any promotion of views that aren't conservative to be unethical, and would rather get worked up about folks like Bill Maher for not being patriotic enough than factual errors by a reporter for a network that's off-limits for criticism. And Fox News has blithely accepted Rivera's explantion that the fact he was nowhere near the place he claimed to be reporting from was an "honest mistake," even going so far to state (with a straight face, apparently) that "based on Geraldo Rivera's 30-year track record, Fox News has full confidence in his explanation and journalistic integrity."
This very same Geraldo, meanwhile, rates three mentions on MRC's 2001 summary of "the year's worst reporting" for such grievous offenses as having Vincent Bugliosi, who wrote a book criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made George W. Bush president, as a guest on his talk show. Botching facts while working for Fox must not qualify as bad reporting as far as the MRC is concerned.
Baker, though, did take a little glee at reports that military officials were not being cooperative with Rivera upon his arrival in Afghanistan, presumably because of his support for former President Clinton. "I doubt CyberAlert readers have sympathy for Rivera’s plight, nor should they," he wrote Dec. 5. So why does the MRC have sympathy for him now?
MRC chief Brent Bozell weighs in with a Jan. 10 column that is more about criticizing Fox News for straying from conservative orthodoxy than criticizing Rivera. "Recent hires indicate a new direction: glitzy star power over quality. Conservatives are concerned, and Fox had better be careful," he writes, reinforcing the general perception of Fox News as a conservative network. Rivera is taken to task only for "embarrassing his new bosses;" Bozell doesn't demand his resignation the way he did of ABC News president David Westin for the arguably lesser offense of attempting to not have an public opinion about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
To find a Brent Bozell-controlled outlet more willing to criticize Rivera for his current misadventures, if not an actual Brent Bozell employee, you have to go to CNSNews.com, where on Dec. 31 a commentary by R. Emmett Tyrrell appeared (who would be searching out political commentary on New Year's Eve?) in which he points out that the blunder "exposed Mr. Rivera, once again, as a fraud."
Over at NewsMax -- where back in April columnist Neil Boortz was calling Rivera "nothing but a leftist, anti-capitalist Democratic Party hack whose sole purpose in life is to take potshots at concepts of liberty, merit, accomplishment, achievement and personal responsibility oh, and the Bush administration," and the Bush idolators there as late as Dec. 4 were calling the man a "Clinton idolator" -- current criticism of Rivera has been rather muted as well.
There have been stories like one on Nov. 21 about how some at Fox News oppose Rivera's hiring because he might upset the channel's conservative bias. Boortz now thinks the guy's a plant whose ulterior motive is to embarrass Fox. But nary a word in what passes for "news" at NewsMax about Geraldo's fact-bending escapade, let alone any calls for his head a la Dan Rather.
NewsMax also uncritically plays up Rivera's new Fox assignment, Somalia, in a Jan. 9 story. And to remind us that it wouldn't be a NewsMax story if a Clinton wasn't being bashed, the story concludes by stating, "If there is another U.S. military adventure in the Horn of Africa nation, let's hope it's more successful than Bill Clinton's disastrous intervention," conveniently forgetting that it was the father of our current president who got the U.S. involved in Somalia in the first place.
The only real criticism to be found at NewsMax comes from columnist John LeBoutillier, who is really more worried about Fox News maintaining its bias. "Fox News Channel has hurt itself and its credibility by lowering itself to this level of inanity," he wrote Dec. 9, forgetting that it already did that a long time ago with such actions as hiring George W. Bush's cousin as a election analyst. And on Jan. 2, LeBoutillier further frets that between Rivera and the recent snatching of Greta van Susteren from CNN, "Fox is turning into CNN Lite!" (Italics his.)
WorldNetDaily has been mostly absent on the whole thing. In the past, WND columnists such as David Limbaugh expressed concern over such things as why "liberals such as Geraldo Rivera ... offer such fawning praise" for John McCain, but all it has run to date since Rivera joined Fox is a Nov. 3 article on his hiring that makes sure to call Fox News "the 'fair and balanced' network" and a Jan. 7 column by Geoff Metcalf who expressed dismay that Fox News isn't all that different from other big news organizations after all because Bill O'Reilly did a softball interview of his colleague Rivera. (Metcalf thinks it's clever to refer to Rivera as "Jerry Rivers," reportedly Rivera's real name.)
What have we learned? Working for Fox News Channel gets you a bye or two over stupid mistakes that would get a person fired elsewhere, especially someone like Rivera who should theoretically know better. And conservatives, who have launched jihads against others (i.e., Bill Maher and Dan Rather) for lesser misdeeds, continue their double standard. The ConWeb is so afraid of criticizing Fox News, which they see as their highest-profile outlet for conservative views, that Rivera doesn't get the scrutiny he would get if he was working for one of those "liberal" news networks.
If conservative media critics cared more about journalism than politics, would Geraldo Rivera still be working for Fox News? We'll probably never know since Fox News is criticized by conservatives only when it's not conservative enough.