June 4, 2002







The war on terror was ho-hum until Geraldo got a gun

In photo above:
HERO TAKES A FALL - A warm crowd receives Geraldo during the National Puerto Rican Day Parade on June 10, 2001 in New York City. Geraldo didn't exactly get a hero's welcome in Afghanistan - or when he returned to U.S.soil.

A humiliating television special about Al Capone's empty vaults. A skinhead smashing his nose with a chair. Strutting around on national syndication in bikini briefs. And he was the best guy Fox News could find to send to the front in the War on Terrorism.

When the youngest of the three cable news networks decided to hire Geraldo Rivera away from CNBC and dispatch him to Afghanistan, the world shivered, giggled and shuddered. Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey even darkly asked, "Do we have to act sad if Geraldo dies?"

Well, Geraldo went, Geraldo reported - and Geraldo didn't disappoint.

Shortly before departing for the front lines Geraldo got himself into pro wrestling mode, telling The Washington Post that he was "itching for justice - or maybe just revenge." He also told the Philadelphia Inquirer that if he were to find Osama bin Laden, he would "kick his head in, then bring it home and bronze it."

Shortly after arriving, military units denied Geraldo access to places where they welcomed more respected members of the press. He then admitted on-air that he was carrying a pistol which, as media watchdog Fair and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) noted, is a violation of the Geneva Convention. He continually referred to Taliban fighters as "rats," and when he admitted to barely staying out of the way of a sniper's bullet, jokes abounded about possibly intentional "friendly fire."

But the worst incident occurred a month into his tour of duty, when a true friendly fire incident led to a flare-up of a different war - one between Fox News and CNN.

"We walked over what I consider hallowed ground today," Geraldo reported from Tora Bora. "We walked over the spot where the friendly fire took so many of our men and the mujahedeen yesterday. 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."

The problem was that the friendly fire incident that killed three of "our men" and five Afghan soldiers was 300 miles away in Kandahar. Four days later, when the Baltimore Sun reported that Geraldo's drama was indeed fiction, Geraldo blamed the "fog of war," and admitted he confused the Kandahar incident with one that had occurred in Tora Bora. Fox News admitted Geraldo's "honest mistake" and expressed its "full confidence in his explanation and journalistic integrity."

Unfortunately, the Tora Bora incident had occurred three days after Geraldo had filed his "Lord's Prayer" report.

Aaron Brown slammed Geraldo on CNN's Newsnight, frequently bashing the former talkshow host for the errant docudrama he called reporting. Geraldo has since moved on to assignments in Somalia, the West Bank and Lebanon. His only comment on the incident occurred during an appearance on The O'Reilly Factor. Of Aaron Brown, Geraldo said, "This is the guy who would poop in his pants if he was anywhere near what I was near in Afghanistan."

High road? Washed out.

Eric Meyerson

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