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MediaWatch: August 10, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 13

Geraldo Uses His NBC Venues to Promote Clinton

The White House's Favorite "Reporter"

Geraldo Rivera has been replaced by Jerry Springer as the paragon of chair-tossing daytime tabloid television. A decade ago, Rivera’s social commentary was limited to subjects like "the lesbian baby boom" and "transsexuals in prison." But Rivera has taken his attention-grabbing antics uptown with a new contract with NBC worth an estimated $5 million a year that includes not just his nightly CNBC show Rivera Live, but a forthcoming nightly half-hour news show on CNBC, plus stints as an NBC News reporter. All for a man who bluntly told Today’s Matt Lauer in May: "I believe objectivity is a fantasy."

Rivera served as Today’s reporter on President Clinton’s China trip. Rivera’s passionate attachment to Clinton came through in an article in the August 1-7 TV Guide. Mary Murphy chronicled the hourly doings of the press corps on the trip, like this entry for June 30:

"8 P.M., Geraldo Rivera’s Suite. Rivera is beaming. ‘I’ve been to see the boss,’ says Rivera, referring to Clinton. ‘McCurry took me up to the 45th floor to an alcove outside the President’s bedroom. He came out. He told me he’s just gotten a message from the Dalai Lama and that the Dalai Lama was ecstatic that progress had been made.’ Rivera was not permitted to bring a cameraman with him upstairs, but his informal audience is nonetheless an obvious mark of favor. I ask McCurry why Rivera — and not [CBS reporter Scott] Pelley — got the interview. ‘Because Geraldo was arguably the biggest network name on the trip,’ he says. ‘Besides, when it comes to scandal stuff, Geraldo has been as open-minded as you would want a journalist to be. We notice things like that. So we felt a little private time with Clinton was not inappropriate.’"

Praise for Rivera’s "open-mindedness" has clearly been returned in kind. On Today he offered a glowing account of his Clinton encounter and relayed the "joke" he told about Bill Clinton: "I was thinking if they give him any more airtime he’s going to have to register as a pro-democracy dissident." TV Guide also noted that on Today, Rivera termed Newsweek magazine and The Washington Post as "‘sex-obsessed sister publications’ which have been ‘suckling leaks from the breast of the likes of Ken Starr.’"

But the White House staff probably set their VCRs for Rivera’s pro-Clinton orations on CNBC. On May 19, Rivera delivered a stem-winding Clinton defense: "This man has scarcely had a day in office untainted by accusations of scandal. His very frustrated political enemies have tried every imaginable attack on the President’s so-far impenetrable armor. There’s been Whitewater, Filegate, and Travelgate, each trumpeted in its time as the scandal that would bring down his presidency. All now revealed basically as next to nonsense. Miserable flops costing taxpayers millions."

Rivera wondered how Clinton could endure all the abuse: "How much of his vital attention is being consumed by Ken Starr’s endless probe, by the Monica Lewinsky saga, by the fears that his trusted Secret Service agents will be forced to rat out the maybe gory details of his private life....And finally, and most importantly, how can our bridge to the 21st century feel about the slanderous charge amounting almost to treason, that for Johnny Chung’s bribe of 100,000 lousy dollars he sold America’s missile secrets to the Chinese, who now aim their deadly devices at America’s children?.... I watch him and I wonder how he does it. I watch him and wonder how much is too much for any man."

On Rivera’s June 26 show, MSNBC’s John Hockenberry suggested: "If, as you say, the Linda Tripp testimony leads to a Monica indictment it will be the ultimate betrayal of Monica." Rivera replied from China: "And I think that’s what Linda Tripp was aiming for along with her mentor Lucianne Goldberg, the book agent. They wanted to make money on a book, but once push came to shove they were perfectly willing to sacrifice the young former White House intern on the altar of greed, on the altar of hatred for Bill Clinton and his administration and I think they’re going to accomplish that at least in the short term. But if it comes to trial, Linda Tripp will be facing some severe questioning by Monica Lewinsky’s very capable counsel. And my God, a first year lawstudent hearing those tapes will be able to make her look like exactly what she is, a treacherous, back-stabbing, good-for-nothing enemy of the truth."

Rivera even threw rhetorical punches at Jay Leno on NBC’s Tonight Show July 13 when Leno suggested perjury was the issue: "I disagree. I think it’s all about sex. Whitewater: they tried it, came up with nothing. Travelgate: nothing. Filegate: nothing. All they have is this purported semi, neo, almost, quasi sex with a 24-year-old and then the lie about it. What married man is not going to lie about it? It is Hillary’s business, it is not the grand jury’s business. And for Ken Starr to pretend with this lofty language that you’re talking about profound constitutional issues is the height of hypocrisy. He will do anything necessary, by any means necessary to nail the President of the United States."

On the July 29 Today, Geraldo sparred with conservative MSNBC pundit Laura Ingraham over the meaning of Monica Lewinsky’s immunity deal: "The New York Times story, as every New York Times story virtually since the beginning of Whitewater, is grossly overstated. I can report with confidence that contrary to what you’re hearing in this, the newspaper of record, that that basically was the same deal Bill Ginsburg offered in January...The question is whether Congress is in the mood to impeach a popular President for doing something that virtually every member has done at some time in their lives."

Katie Couric admonished Rivera: "I want you to take off your political adviser’s hat even though you may have fantasies of serving in that role. I’d rather talk about some basic legal issues." When Couric brought up reports that Lewinsky would testify the White House had no role in writing "talking points" advising Linda Tripp what to say to Paula Jones’ lawyers, Rivera proclaimed: "The talking points were the banner that the right wing ran up the hill and said, ‘Bruce Lindsey suborned perjury, he’s the one, the talking points are going to bring down this President.’ And now suddenly the talking points are history. Just like Whitewater, just like Travelgate, just like Filegate. It’s going to turn out that this President is the most maligned and assailed man in the history of the Executive Office and we’ll all be deeply ashamed." Heaven help Geraldo if events prove the maligners and assailers correct.