Former talk show host and newly-minted Fox News "war correspondent" Geraldo Rivera has once again made himself the center of controversy. Although uninformed coverage of the Israel-Palestinian crisis is common, Rivera's combination of inanity and incessant self-reference to his own feelings, reactions and experiences has prompted particular audience disgust and derisive criticism from other journalists.
In a jarring March 13 report, for example, filed barely a week after his arrival in the Middle East, the reporter accused Israel of descending to "evil" in its conduct against Palestinian terrorism. He explained that:
the most insidious evil about terrorism ... is that sometimes, because it's so darned difficult to fight, you become something like you are fighting. You become someone who violates some of the basic concepts of your own fundamental democracy, your own – who you are.
Without a hint of reference to the deliberately calculated Palestinian campaign of murder against Israeli civilians – what some would consider "the most insidious evil"-- or to Israel's military restraint in the face of such atrocities, Rivera declared theatrically:
when you use tanks and F-16's, and these sledgehammers against thickly populated civilian towns and cities, that's not fighting terrorism. That is inflicting terrorism.
Israel has not, of course, used its F-16's against "populated civilian" targets. It has routinely responded to the murder of its men, women and children with attacks, not on people but on Palestinian buildings, the vast majority evacuated beforehand, very often with Israeli forewarning.
To a Fox anchorman who asked if Rivera really thought "Israel is intentionally killing civilians" and who inquired if the losses are not "in a sense collateral damage," the reporter delivered a rambling attack on Israel and Sharon.
He insisted that:
it's more than collateral damage. There is an expectation when you use a jet fighter that flies at 500 or 600 miles an hour to get a terrorist nest...there is an almost inevitability that there's going to be civilian casualties.
Of course, again, the actual casualties in such attacks entirely refute this contention.
Rivera's tune was altogether different only two weeks earlier when he was covering American military action in Afghanistan. In response to a question about criticism of the United States for having caused civilian casualties, he declared emphatically:
this is a war. War is violent, brutal, messy business, and accidents happen. Civilians do get killed... The Afghans understand that war is not always precise. They understand the need for violence to combat violence. Yes, a mistake happened. Lots of mistakes happen
But the intrepid Fox correspondent permits no mistakes of the Israelis. Even a harmless procedure involving writing temporary numbers on Palestinian prisoners with ink pens fired him to loud reproach.
What in the world does that remind the world of? That reminds the world, that reminds Jews of what Hitler and those Nazi pigs inflicted on the Jewish race during the Second World War.
He conceded that, "Maybe the comparison is not precise."
As Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz wrote the next day: "Maybe."
Like others commenting on Rivera's coverage, Kurtz was struck by the strutting self- involvement, which included the reporter's observation that "I have been a Zionist my entire life. I would die for Israel. But watching the suffering of the Palestinian people, I'm also becoming a Palestinian-ist."
(Actually, Rivera has previously made nearly identical on-screen confessions about his Zionist commitment and his shocked epiphanies about alleged Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians. In October 2000 he opined on his talk show, Rivera Live: "Oh, my God, what are the people we have adored and supported for so long doing in the name of -- of the State of Israel?")
But Kurtz also rightly noted the more serious problem of Rivera "focusing mainly on Israeli retaliation [which] tends to leave out the horrible Palestinian provocations – the suicide bombers that have killed Israeli civilians – that prompted the response in the first place."
He added: "It would be like showing U.S. warplanes hitting Afghan towns without mentioning that there was this episode called Sept. 11."
A CNBC roundtable of Wall Street Journal editors, commenting on events of that same week of March 13, ran a video of Rivera delivering his Israelis-as-Nazis report and observed: "Sounds like Geraldo lost his mind since he went over to Fox."
As to Rivera's protestations of being a life-long Zionist, another remarked: "Then we know Zionism is in trouble!"
A USA Today column by author and actor Ben Stein also blasted Rivera for "crystalizing exactly what is so infuriatingly dishonest about media coverage of the war in Israel." He too was incensed at the mindless moral equating of those Arabs who deliberately murder Israeli civilians and Israelis who accidentally kill Palestinian civilians in an effort to halt the wave of terror.
Mr. Rivera, you do a disservice to humanity when you fail to understand the world as it is, especially in its moral dimension...You are certainly not reporting or analyzing news, but rather putting forth a confused and fundamentally evil view of the world, where victim and killer have equal moral worth.
Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on April 5, 2002