On Wednesday night’s edition of Hannity, an exasperated Geraldo Rivera did something I never expected to see on Fox News: He called out Pamela Geller for her useless commentary. Geller is an extremist blogger and occasional Fox News guest whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.” She is an irrational troll, and she showed as much by construing two very mild points that Rivera had made as proof that he was practically in league with ISIS.
“I’m not surprised that Geraldo would side with terrorists,” said Geller, apropos of nothing. “I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but in the wake of the attack on me”—in 2015, two men attacked a police car outside a building in which Geller was hosting an event—“the very next day Geraldo said on Fox & Friends that ‘Every time I see her on television I want to take a shower’. So, yes, he hates me more than the terrorists so I can’t take too much of what he says seriously.”
“That’s not true, Pam. That’s absolutely untrue,” said Rivera. “I don’t hate you more than I hate the terrorists. I just think you are a very unhelpful commentator.”
“Because I won’t align myself with the jihad force,” said Geller.
“Because you don’t listen to reason and you’re a radical,” said Rivera. “That’s why.”
Take that, Pamela Geller! It was the first time in three weeks of watching Fox News nonstop that I had seen one guest so clearly accuse another of wasting everyone’s time. I was surprised that it happened, but not that Rivera was the one to do it: Geraldo Rivera is the most sane person on the crazy side of Fox News.
Rivera is a correspondent at large at Fox and a frequent guest on the network’s opinion programs. He’s one of the few people who everyone at the network seems to like, and his personal popularity gives him license to deviate from the party line and say what he actually thinks. He certainly has a history of saying stupid things, but ultimately his candor and independence are refreshing—especially on Fox News, where unhelpful commentators outnumber helpful ones by a significant ratio.
Rivera has a talent for expressing reasonable, moderate opinions without drawing the wrath or disdain of Fox’s hosts. On an Oct. 13 appearance on Fox & Friends, he criticized President Trump for trying to kill the Affordable Care Act without offering a plan for an immediate replacement. “He is the author of this fiat that is hastening the death of Obamacare,” said Rivera. “When you give healthy people an out, that leaves the older, sicker, less economically viable folks to fend for themselves. Then that result is going to be more and more millions of low-income Americans who cannot afford health insurance, and I believe that is unfair.” It’s a fair point, and Geraldo Rivera is one of the few Fox & Friends guests who would ever have the opportunity to make it.
A couple of weeks ago, when Fox was excoriating liberals on a nightly basis for their purported complicity with Harvey Weinstein, Rivera was one of the few Fox employees to note, on air, that Fox had itself had had very public issues with sexual harassment. Rivera also noted the folly of attempting to politicize sexual assault in order to undermine one’s ideological enemies. “You know ‘the casting couch’ is true,” Hannity told Rivera on Oct. 12, as a way of advancing one of his favorite syllogistic fallacies:
- Hollywood is full of creeps
- Hollywood is full of liberals
- All liberals are creeps.
“I’ve done a dozen exposés,” Rivera replied. “It is absolutely true. But I would submit to you that the perpetrators defy all ideological boundaries. They are right-wingers and they’re left-wingers.” An obvious point, perhaps, but for Hannity it verges on heresy. Note the way in which Rivera made the point: 1) He kept his temper; 2) he initially agreed with Hannity; 3) he underscored his own credentials to opine on the topic; 4) he presented his opinion in a respectful way. He often uses this formula on Fox to advance heterodox opinions, and he usually succeeds. Is he a great commentator, objectively speaking? No. He is Geraldo Rivera, a man who once found nothing but dust inside Al Capone’s vault. But I’m always happy to see him on Fox, because he is generally much less dumb and tendentious than his colleagues. Thanks, Geraldo!