FW: Rivera: 'In Full Cowboy-Correspondent Regalia'
jcraven at clark.edu
Fri Dec 21 10:29:49 MST 2001
December 12, 2001
War news from Rivera seems off the mark
TV: On any given day of the week, does this war correspondent for Fox News
really know where he is?
By David Folkenflik
Baltimore Sun Television Writer
The day after three American servicemen and several Afghan opposition troops
were accidentally killed in a U.S. bombing raid last week, Fox News Channel
correspondent Geraldo Rivera told viewers that he had said the Lord's Prayer
over that "hallowed ground," where "the friendly fire took so many of our,
men and the mujahedeen yesterday."
But Rivera now acknowledges that he never visited the site where the U.S.
servicemen died last Wednesday, just north of Kandahar in the southern
region of Afghanistan. In an interview by satellite phone yesterday, Rivera
said he had been mistaken in his report, which aired last Thursday.
For 72 hours, Rivera said, the "fog of war" had obscured the fact that there
had been two separate "friendly fire" incidents. One was a misguided U.S.
bombing raid in Kandahar Wednesday, he said. Another was a run by bombers
over Tora Bora, hundreds of miles to the northeast, that took the lives of
several Afghan fighters.
Rivera said he had visited the site of Afghan casualties in the mountains of
Tora Bora Thursday in the mistaken belief that the Americans had died there
rather than Kandahar. Throughout his two to three weeks in Afghanistan,
said, he has been courageous and accurate in his reporting, and called last
Thursday's dispatch an aberration. He indirectly alluded to the matter on
air late Monday night. Robert Zimmerman, a spokesman for Fox News, called it
"an honest mistake."
But a timeline offered by the Defense Department appears to contradict that
explanation. Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said
that the deaths in Tora Bora took place sometime after Sunday morning, or at
least three days after Rivera's report was broadcast.
In the middle of the story
This latest episode further fuels recurring criticism that Rivera - who has
proclaimed that he's armed and eager to kill Osama bin Laden himself -
routinely strains to place himself smack in the middle of his coverage at
the expense of journalistic standards.
Officials at MSNBC and CNN, Fox News' chief competitors, said yesterday
reporters in Afghanistan learned within hours that the "friendly fire"
that caused American deaths last Wednesday took place near Kandahar.
Correspondents for all networks are routinely in touch with producers and
coordinators back in the United States, they said.
Tunku Varadarajan, a cultural critic for the Wall Street Journal, mocked
another Rivera report last Thursday in which the correspondent ducked in the
face of apparent sniper fire. Rivera is "really the subject of the story,"
Varadarajan wrote Monday, "lest you thought, in a moment of stupidity, that
it was about Afghanistan."
"I think he is a clown, basically," New York Times columnist Frank Rich said
last weekend on CNN. His stories, with clear-cut morality tales of "good
and "bad guys," reflect "Rivera's self-aggrandizement," Rich said. "It's not
about patriotism or anything else. It's about him trying to basically have
reflected glory from the American military."
Yesterday, in a 20-minute interview peppered with profanity, Rivera railed
against those who would question his work.
"It's time to stop bashing Geraldo," Rivera said. "If you want to knife me
the back after all the courage I've displayed and serious reporting I've
I've got no patience with this [expletive].
"Have you ever been shot at?" Rivera demanded. "Have you ever covered a
Rivera characterizes his career as a sort of pilgrim's progress, from
for a local station, to network reporter, to war correspondent, to
showman, to liberal talk show host.
Man with a mission
Now, he has returned to the coverage of war. From the day of the terror
attacks, Rivera, 58, spoke fervently of his anger with a nationalistic bent.
He said the many deaths in his small New Jersey town led him to quit his
anchor's desk at CNBC in November. He took a pay cut to travel to central
Asia for Fox News.
Since then, the television star that conservatives once loved to hate for
unabashed defense of President Clinton is now featured as a leading example
how patriotism has resurfaced in American life.
The veteran television war reporter angrily listed many of the hot spots he
reported from over the years. He also noted that he had won the Robert F.
Kennedy award, a prestigious national journalism prize, last year for his
reporting on conditions of women in jail.
So far in Afghanistan, he said, he has been the first television reporter to
have covered the fall of Kunduz and the fighting in Tora Bora.
Later in the interview, however, Rivera also displayed an acute
of how he frames the stories he tells.
"There is an interesting journalistic debate over patriotism and covering
war on terrorism," Rivera said. "I have said publicly that I do not believe
there's a moral equivalence between the two sides. But I don't change the
of the war because of ideology.
'Forces of evil'
"There's been an aspect of boosterism that I would cop to," he said later.
al-Qaida becomes "the forces of evil," in Rivera-speak, and their network of
caves are described as "the rats' nest." Tallies of deaths are described as
"good guys" vs. "bad guys."
"I clearly have indulged in, not the [style of] Geraldo of syndicated days,
a more impassioned presentation," he said, adding, "It doesn't affect my
He said that his personal involvement in stories dates back to his days as a
reporter at ABC's local station in New York City three decades ago, and said
understands that others might look askance. "Different strokes for different
folks," he said. But he said he won't brook any "cheap shots" at the
veracity of his reporting.
Reporters from many news organizations have made missteps in their coverage,
and war is a notoriously complicated topic to render accurately.
Participants can be mistaken or deceitful in their accounts; government
versions also can prove unreliable at times. Wire service reporters and
television correspondents often refine their versions of stories as any day
In his own words
Here's what Rivera said last Thursday, a bit past 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, in
report filed from Tora Bora:
"We walked over what I consider hallowed ground today. We walked over the
where the friendly fire took so many of our, our men, and the mujahedeen
[anti-Taliban fighters] yesterday," Rivera said. "It was just - the whole
place, just fried, really - and bits of uniforms and tattered clothing
everywhere. I said the Lord's Prayer and really choked up."
Although he had shown video footage from the Tora Bora ranges in other
on Thursday, he did not identify where he had seen the site of the so-called
"friendly fire" incident.
A few minutes earlier, Fox News had run captions across the bottom of its
screen describing the previous day's events, with some details about the
Wednesday of the three American special operations troops. The captions said
they had been killed outside Kandahar.
As Rivera had been seen live on the air from Tora Bora both Wednesday and
Thursday, journalists, Defense Department officials and international aid
workers expressed skepticism that anyone could make a round-trip across such
treacherous, distant terrain in that time. It would take 20 hours to 36
hours by car across ravaged roads each way, people with knowledge of the
They said helicopter flights were almost unheard of and would have afforded
Late Monday, after he had been told this newspaper raised questions about
report, Rivera briefly referred to the incident on the air. He noted the
American deaths occurred in Kandahar but said that he had paid a visit to
site of the Tora Bora deaths.
"You know," he told viewers, "I know that Kandahar is the place that
that dreadful friendly fire incident involving our special operators and
some of the mujahedeen. But we had one here as well. You know, I walked that
hallowed ground. At least three mujahedeen fighters [were] killed because of
the fluidity of the front line."
But the network's efforts to reconcile Rivera's accounts raise additional
On Monday, for example, Zimmerman, the Fox News spokesman, had provided a
script from a Rivera report filed early last Thursday, suggesting it
validated the correspondent's claims. It referred to mujahedeen fighters
returning from battle in Tora Bora - one shot in the hip, another hit in the
forehead and arm. "An awful place of friendly fire," Rivera said, according
to the script.
Those men, however, were only wounded, not killed.
Copyright 2001, The Baltimore Sun
Rivera, Fox ripped by rivals over war coverage
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Is it Geraldo bashing â€” or Fox bashing? A peeved press has accused
Fox News Channel correspondent Geraldo Rivera of false reporting,
warmongering and questionable antics during his assignment in Afghanistan.
But the discord may run deeper.
Mr. Rivera has not cried on camera yet, as CBS' Dan Rather did back in
September. But he has carried a pistol, rolled in the sand, sported a suede
bush hat and offered his portrayal of Geraldo as Hemingway, of he-man
reportage, rife with guts, glory and meaningful pauses. Even his own
cameraman (cameramen, who can't fake anything, are the real captains of
derring-do) said, "They don't make a helmet big enough for his head."
Bombast notwithstanding, critics have questioned Mr. Rivera's
both for the content of his dispatches and his decision to carry a gun in a
zone. The chorus includes CBS and ABC, a hint that the old unwritten rules
civility among broadcast competitors are eroding. Things are getting
(The newspaper and magazine correspondents, who generally regard the TV
journalists as more entertainers than reporters, anyway, take a more bemused
view of the contretemps).
"Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera, who couldn't bear being away
the action in Afghanistan, was hundreds of miles from the site of a friendly
fire incident he reported on," CBS noted in a story, posted on its Web site
yesterday, captioned "Where's Geraldo? Nowhere near site of U.S. casualties,
Indeed, on Dec. 6, Mr. Rivera told his viewers he was in Kandahar, on
"hallowed" spot where three Americans had been killed the day before. But
Baltimore Sun television columnist David Folkenflik called him on it,
eventually getting Mr. Rivera to concede via satellite phone that he had
been to the north in Tora Bora "confused", he said, "by the fog of war."
Some of his critics weighed in. National Public Radio called it "a
offense" while ABC suggested, "You'd want to correct any mistake
A Poynter Institute analyst said, "Geraldo Rivera and Fox News owe
viewers a substantive explanation of what this means, journalistically and
Fox dismisses it all. "Geraldo has 'fessed up to his mistake. This is
simply the Sun's attempt to advance a story which was already dead on
said a Fox News Channel spokesman yesterday.
Canny viewers had much to say as well. "Liberals eat themselves and
other," wrote one observer at news Web site www.lucianne.com yesterday.
"This is more attempting to bash Fox News than anything else."
Mr. Rivera has caught flak, meanwhile, for carrying a gun, an act that
might be misinterpreted as hostile in war-torn Afghanistan and endanger the
lives of other correspondents.
But guns fit the Fox News image, at least according to Vanity Fair's
Wolcott, who recently wrote, "Geraldo Rivera and the Viagra posse at Fox
refilled their gas bags and began taking turns on Mussolini's balcony to
When asked to elaborate on CNN, Mr. Wolcott said, "They're doing
everything but renting their own helicopters and, you know, firing rockets."
Not all is acrimonious, however. A bemused Terry Eastland of the Weekly
Standard noted that Mr. Rivera appeared - unnoticed and uncredited - in full
cowboy-correspondent regalia in the background of a photograph by Kevin
of the Canadian Press, featured prominently in Monday's editions of The
"Who can believe the editors at the Post foreign desk failed to see
Geraldo?" Mr. Eastland asked yesterday. "The war on terrorism is deadly
serious. Diversions are few," Mr. Eastland wrote. "Kevin Frayer has - with
or without Geraldo's help - provided one."
Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper at washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.
Copyright @ 2001 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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