Accuracy in Media

Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera made a fool out of himself (again) by fawning shamelessly over Michael Jackson in an apparent bid to pay the pop star back for the ‘exclusive interview’ granted to Fox News and to secure a solid line of future story leads to Fox News. But not everyone was happy at Fox News about this. Bill O’Reilly invited Geraldo on his show and told him to his face that he had gone too far in portraying Jackson as an innocent victim.

The interview, which bore a distinct resemblance to a Jackson family infomercial, aired Saturday February 5 at 10 pm ET on the Fox News Channel’s “At Large With Geraldo Rivera.”

It was Jackson’s first interview since he was indicted last April by a grand jury on charges of molesting a boy and plying him with alcohol. Jackson’s lawyers and prosecutors began questioning potential jurors the Monday following the interview.

Rivera portrayed Jackson as a misunderstood, gentle and loving eccentric―exactly the way Jackson portrays himself. Plenty of airplay was given to Jackson to castigate the media’s previous reports as completely unreliable. Rivera’s approach to the interview was so oddly passive, that it seemed he was waiting for cues from Michael Jackson as to which way the interview should go. The impression was Michael Jackson was calling all the shots.

While famous and controversial figures often try to put pre-interview demands on the press, Rivera went way over the line of sensible journalism when he voluntarily declared Jackson’s innocence―and at a time when jurors haven’t even been picked. Instead of “We report. You decide.” the Fox News audience got a bad case of “Geraldo reports and he’s already decided for you.” While the press on Jackson has been fevered and it some of it has been unfair and sensationalistic, it’s inappropriate for a reporter to express such dedication to a public figure on trial.

This was an infotainment figure genuflecting at the altar of celebrity. To see how misplaced Rivera’s deference was, just ask yourself a simple question. If instead of Jackson, this was about an unknown middle-aged plumber suspected to have slept with little boys, would Rivera have fawned all over him? Would Rivera have portrayed him as a persecuted saint? Would Rivera be spending time with his friends, taking footage of his hobbies and smiling as though he was having a great time?

But there was more. What about that nutty comment repeated by Rivera while touring Jackson’s house that it was “really modest.” He made the comment even while cameras were showing decidedly immodest portraits of Jackson as a hero, including one larger-than-life portrait of Jackson in the garb of what seemed to be a Renaissance nobleman.

While Jackson has often portrayed himself as a great humanitarian, he seems to regard himself as a worldwide savior, tragic hero, or even a great military leader. His self-obsession is anything but modest and neither was his creepy insistence on having sleepovers with other peoples’ children or “hiring” a breeding partner to furnish offspring for him. At this point, it seems, Jackson’s biographical movie could be entitled “Alien or Predator?”

Rivera did manage to squeeze in a quick comment towards the end (and out of Jackson’s presence) about how Jackson should not have left himself vulnerable to such claims and should not do so in the future. He was essentially tossing a bone to the notion of journalistic balance and fairness. After all, how “fair and balanced” is it that celebrity was allowed to dictate favorable, slanted coverage?




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