‘Everything the Democrats Allege’ Against Trump ‘is Probably True’: Mediaite Q&A With Geraldo Rivera
Geraldo Rivera holds a remarkable place in the past 50 years of journalism. He’s a chameleon news reporter who has quite successfully evolved with broadcast and cable news, always landing in a place of influence and power. In fact, Mr. Rivera’s position in the pantheon of journalism — for better and worse — has earned him fame on a first name basis, like Cher or Madonna.
His reporting resume is long. As a local reporter for WABC, his expose of Willowbrook school launched an investigation that, among other things, changed the way journalists cover the developmentally disabled. His guerilla-style reporting from the killing fields of Cambodia for ABC News openly flouted the accepted foreign policy wisdom of the time.
There’s also a case to be made that Geraldo was on the cutting edge of a more controversial trend: infotainment. He was a pioneer in “reality-style” television, infamously hosting a special entirely dedicated to the opening of Al Capone’s vault — revealing little more than an old bottle. And who can forget his seminal talk show, the high — low? — light of which was a skinhead fist-fight that ended with an airborne chair breaking Geraldo’s nose. Turns out that TV viewers greatly prefer conflict over reasoned discourse, which Geraldo understood at an early stage.
Over the past two decades, Geraldo has become a regularly featured pundit on Fox News, where his role and import seems to have only increased with the election of his old New York City party scene pal Donald Trump. Geraldo’s politics of empathy stands in stark contrast with many of the President’s own policies (immigration, foreign policy, reproductive rights), a conflict that has stopped Geraldo short of promising to vote for Trump in 2020.
Fox streaming service Fox Nation recently launched a four-part docuseries that is focused on Geraldo’s unique place in journalistic history (you can watch a teaser video here.) In light of that, Geraldo sat down with Mediaite to discuss his career, along with other topics such as Roger Ailes, impeachment and what he considers his proudest accomplishment. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
Given the rise of opinion media over the past couple of decades, where do you see journalism headed? Can we put that opinion journalism back in the bottle or is traditional journalism dead, as your friend Sean Hannity would say?
Well, I think that that’s an excellent question but let me give you a bigger picture headline. I think the biggest difference between Richard Nixon and Donald Trump is Sean Hannity. The power of his advocacy is so profound that he makes the playing field so much more level for an embattled president. I think that it’s extraordinary when you see how defensive so many in the mainstream are about the power of Sean and Tucker [Carlson] and the advocates on Fox News.
Is it healthy for advocacy to play such an outsized role over facts?
Well, that’s another excellent question. By the Clinton era, the phenomenon had already sufficiently emerged that I, for instance, in a whole different universe at CNBC with the highest-rated show on the network with Rivera Live, I could effectively blunt Ken Starr and ridicule the Republicans for hypocrisy in the Clinton impeachment. I don’t think it’s as new as your question suggests, but it’s certainly much more highly evolved than it ever was.
You’ve done a ton of things over the past 50 years of your career. I remember watching Al Capone’s Vault special live. I also watched you report from Cambodia. You’re an analyst now and regularly provide punditry regularly on Fox News. Looking back on your journalistic career, what stands out and makes you the proudest?
Well, if it wasn’t for the Willowbrook saga I would be thinking that my legacy on my tombstone would read, ‘He got his nose broken in a brawl with the skinheads and he opened Al Capone’s empty vault.’ Willowbrook is hopefully the story that defined who I was and who people remember. I think an argument could be negative. I say in the special that it’s the most consequential local news story in the history of journalism. More millions of people were affected by it. It became contagious and spread throughout the Western world in many ways. The closing of these grim institutions for the population, then described as mentally retarded, now called developmentally or intellectually disabled.
Now everybody knows someone who has autism or a child, they say they see the services that are available. The Americans with Disabilities Act was one of the amazing byproducts of that crusade. Looking back on that. I’m still amazed. You know, I met John Peters, the Hollywood mogul, and Barbra Streisand and John Lennon and Yoko Ono and all these people that joined the crusade to help liberate these poor children. It’s fitting I think that the first of the four ‘Geraldo Remembers’ hours is about the Willowbrook story.
Does it concern you that the sort of the local news apparatus, the fourth estate, is kind of in a death spiral right now?
Well, I think the problem is everybody scrambling for an increasingly fractured audience and the reporters running around from fire to murder to protest — they’re still doing a good job of telling people at the local news level what’s happening in their community — but not enough in my view. I don’t mean to be pretentious about it, but not enough analysis and certainly not enough suggestions of solutions to the problems that are being exposed. That’s the difference with the Willowbrook story: it exposed the problem and suggested and advocated for the solution to the problem. There’s a lot more of ‘Isn’t this awful?’ and they’re off to the next ‘Isn’t this awful?’
Most younger people will know you from your attachment to Fox News over the last decade. For better and worse, Roger Ailes was a pioneer in the way that today’s news looks, especially cable news. Tell me about your relationship with Roger and how you came to land there.
Well, Roger hired me in ’94 to work at CNBC. I was happily collecting millions of dollars as a syndicated talk show host and I wanted to go back to journalism. I wanted to have my reputation resurrected as a crusading reporter. I said to him, ‘Phil Donahue does the daytime show and he’s often on at that time called ‘America Talking.’’ I could do that, too. I could be that person. And Roger said I remember so clearly, ‘ As long as you’re not going to come on and do reports of ice melting on pine trees like CBS Sunday Morning.’ And I said Roger, ‘I guarantee it won’t be like that.’ He hired me in ’94 and he left to do Fox News in ’96, ’97. He said, ‘Come on with him.’ NBC offered me a six-year deal I couldn’t say no to. So I said no to Roger the first time around. And then the war started and I lost friends and neighbors in 9/11 and I wanted to go to war and NBC wouldn’t let me, so Roger hired me as a war correspondent. He hired me that second time after 9/11. He was my mentor, my friend, my teacher, my protector, my big brother. I loved him.
My main feeling with Roger now though is tremendous regret. With The Loudest Voice and Bombshell and everything else, I’m constantly reminded of Roger in his decline. It’s painful, that’s the best word for it. It hurts.
I’m curious if the older version of you, sort of the Southeast Asia reporting war correspondent Geraldo, were to see the current. How would that sort of young buck, independent Geraldo view the current Geraldo today, rhetorically?
That’s another great question. You’re forcing me to be very reflective. The thing about my advocacy, particularly for President Trump, is very personal. President Trump and I have been friends of sorts since 1976. I interviewed him 35 times on my daytime show. I followed his life and times and struggles and ups and downs and all the rest. To have a hangout buddy as president of the United States is extraordinary, right. My daughter Ella, who is a CNN producer said that my problem is that I’m intoxicated by proximity to power. It’s not bad. He’s a guy that I went to boxing matches with and dinners at various stages in our lives. And now he’s president of the United States. I could get lost. I overlook a lot because of their friendship.
I didn’t vote for him last time, and I may not vote for this time. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the Democrats get away with what I consider to be a very lame and hypocritical and partisan witch hunt. I don’t agree with the president on gun control. I don’t agree with the president on immigration reform. I don’t agree with the president on choice. But I totally agree with him that he is being and has been from the first second of his tenure hounded and harangued and harassed and hunted by the hypocritical Democrats who all assume high ground that they don’t deserve because they had it out for him since the second he won the election.
It’s not about what he did with Russia. What about Russia? Where’s Russia now? What about his hopes? What about collusion? Where’s collusion? It’s just such bullsh*t, really. I worry that his real accomplishments are being totally overlooked by a crew of self-serving, very partisan people from the opposite political party. It has nothing to do with what Trump did in real life. It has everything to do with who Trump is.
Getting back to impeachment, do you agree with the GAO that Trump broke the law by withholding the congressionally bipartisan, congressionally approved funding for Ukraine?
Maybe. But it’s not relevant because it’s not a crime. If the GAO had the power of the DOJ to spell out a crime and indict somebody I would be interested. The declaration by a legislatively controlled, a civil service-driven administration is … what about Obama? What did he do? I’m trying to remember. Oh, several times the GAO said that he broke the law. He didn’t notify Congress, what the hell did you he do? But Trump’s not the first president to be called out by the GAO. My answer is no, it’s not relevant.
Do you agree or disagree that he used the power of his office to ask a foreign entity to interfere in investigations of a domestic rival?
I’ll go even further than that for you: I believe that everything the Democrats allege is probably true. Everything they allege. I concede everything that the Democrats allege, except the hunting of the ambassador. But I believe that they hounded her out of office to get her out of the way. I believe that probably. I believe that they called Zielinski, very unnecessary. I believe that the whole effort to get Ukraine to investigate Biden was seedy. None of it was criminal. If there was a crime, they would have spelled it out. I firmly believe no crime, no conviction in the impeachment trial.
Do you believe that what President Trump was doing was ethically wrong? Are you OK with this being the new precedent that we allow someone to use the power of the executive office to interfere in domestic politics?
I believe that foreign aid is like sausages. You don’t want to see how it’s made. If you don’t think that foreign aid influence is influenced by politics then you haven’t been around as long as you should be, and you should know better. And it’s coming from Pompeo…
Politics and foreign aid, they’re inextricably interwoven. You think when they give billions to Israel, that there isn’t all kinds of this and that going on with Egypt or any of these countries? It’s part of that life. Do I like it? No. That’s why I’m out of politics. But you try to single out this guy, the political president of the United States for the death penalty for something that’s a non-criminal offense is offensive to me. And I’ll fight to my dying breath to protect the president against these hypocritical folks, self-righteous, anti-historic, political activists, these partisans who seek to bring him down, to undo an election, and to ambush a future election. I think that it is very dangerous what they’re doing. And the fact that they wrap it all in sanctimony and moral high ground is full of bullshit. And that’s an argument I have with Josh (Levy) off the record all the time. I feel very strongly about it. This is not right.
The Russia thing was the same tone, the same sanctimonious tone. Nancy Pelosi, ‘This is Russia, he’s Putin’s b*tch.’ He’s the Manchurian candidate and nothing turns up. Zero. The Mueller report: no conspiracy between any American and Russian. The whole thing was bullsh*t to me. The New York Times with a bullsh*t story, a counterintelligence probe of the president, that the president is a traitor potentially. History will look back on that whole thing. Two and a half years of Mueller as the most absolutely atrociously unfair act by out of power legislators to sabotage a novice president. They went after him. There would have staff. This whole thing was conjured up. If it wasn’t Russia it would’ve been Belarus or Turkey or France. They would’ve found something.
A lot of people were convicting him of being guilty for the things that they had no proof of. Mueller sort of did nobody any favors — neither side because he didn’t exonerate Trump. But he sort of left it all out to dry it away, which I think history will be very important to Mueller. But getting back to the impeachment, do you feel that if what all the Democrats were alleging are true, would you say that you did that?
What you just said, I say blah, blah, blah.
Yeah. You had 500 witnesses. You had 25 FBI agents. You had every U.S. attorney in the whole East Coast. Everybody was looking to get him. They couldn’t touch him. Where is the apology from Nancy Pelosi? Putin, Russia, this is grotesquely unfair what they’re doing to this person.
You don’t think that there should be any consequence for the alleged malfeasance with foreign aid to Ukraine? Even like a censure. Do you think that that’s just sort of standard operating procedure?
I think that if the Congress in moderation called for the president’s censure when this story broke, that they said this is inappropriate. You forget that Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress, he was held in contempt of Congress. In a similar way, the democrats in the House could have easily held the president or some operative in contempt or censure that would have been appropriate, perhaps. But certainly not the death penalty. They went for the whole. They want to impeach Trump. Now they’re talking about Mike Pence, impeach Pence. Now what? Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the house becoming president. This is the fever dreams of radical partisans.
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