Geraldo Rivera Interview: "If You Try and Pull One over on Me, I’m Going to Hit You Back"
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Through his distinguished work as an author, news producer, war correspondent, talk show host and philanthropist, Geraldo Rivera has made enormous contributions in the fields of broadcasting and community service, earning him both Emmy and Peabody Awards. He began his career as a reporter for WABC-TV in New York where he presented a series exposing the deplorable conditions at the Willowbrook State School for the developmentally disabled.
Rivera had an eight-year association with ABC’s 20/20 as an investigative reporter, and in 1987, produced and hosted The Geraldo Rivera Show for eleven years. From 1998-2001, he hosted a series of investigative specials for NBC News, and prior to joining Fox News served as host of CNBC’s number one primetime show, Rivera Live.
"I’ve done almost everything else. I’m also a lawyer, and it was on my bucket list. I wanted to try a reality show. I’d been asked several times to do Dancing with the Stars, but my family always voted it down because, at that time, the show was doing everything it could to destroy marriages, telling tales about affairs with the dancers and so forth (laughs)."
Today, Rivera is Senior Correspondent, host of Geraldo Rivera Reports and appears regularly on Fox News Channel and a daily show on WABC Radio 770. He can currently be seen competing for the charity, Life’s WORC, in the seventh installment of NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice, hosted by Donald Trump. The new season premiered January 4, 2015, and episode recaps can be found at Geraldo.com.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): First, I wanted to offer my condolences in the passing of your brother.
Geraldo Rivera: Thank you. He was a great guy, and we loved him. That’s why everybody is so absolutely devastated by the loss, but life goes on.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me why you joined The Celebrity Apprentice.
Geraldo Rivera: I’ve done almost everything else. I’m also a lawyer, and it was on my bucket list. I wanted to try a reality show. I’d been asked several times to do Dancing with the Stars, but my family always voted it down because, at that time, the show was doing everything it could to destroy marriages, telling tales about affairs with the dancers and so forth (laughs).
I never did Dancing with the Stars, but I wanted very much to do a reality show. I remembered that my friend, Joan Rivers, had done Celebrity Apprentice so well, and it really affected the last five years of her professional life in a way that was significant. When Donald asked, I said, “I doubt if Fox will let me, but let me ask them.” I asked Fox News, and they surprised me and said, “Sure. Give it a try.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve been in war zones all over the world, so how does the treachery on the show compare? (laughs)
Geraldo Rivera: As backstabbing, as backbiting, as treacherous and deceitful as Ian Ziering, Lorenzo Lamas and Kevin Jonas have been to me, it doesn’t match the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, no (laughs). I was ready for it though. I was ready to deal with the showbiz guys.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): But seriously, why does Ian Ziering, in particular, not seem to like you?
Geraldo Rivera: I wasn’t kidding. Lorenzo, Ian and Kevin made a pact that they were going to do everything they could to get me eliminated as soon as they possibly could because they perceive me correctly to be a formidable adversary. If you look at the first episode, we raised $184,000 of which I raised personally $115,000. It was a huge triumph. We raised three times as much money as the women did, as team Infinity did, but curiously, when the Board happened, and I thought we’d all be backslapping each other, instead they were complaining about the most petty, perceived misfeasance or nonfeasance on my part, like I forgot to check out a poster, or I didn’t check out how well they were baking the pies downstairs. In fact, I was raising the money.
It was basically a fundraiser. The pies were only a device, so when I saw them rail in the first episode, I was kind of slow on the uptick there. I saw it. I noted it, but it really didn’t sink in. By the second episode, it was pretty clear that this band of brothers had decided to try and get me eliminated, so I responded. The one thing I don’t think they were prepared for was … it’s real life to me. If you try and pull one over on me, or try to hurt me, I’m going to hit you back.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m thinking that now you’re probably more popular among the women than the men since you stripped down to your underwear (laughs).
Geraldo Rivera: (laughs) My wife wasn’t too happy with that one. She said that she wasn’t surprised when I stripped. It was when I started bumping and grinding against Johnny Damon. That was too much (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, you have said, “70 is the new 50.”
Geraldo Rivera: Right. That’s where the idea came from. I think that I helped make selfies notorious, so when Cosmopolitan magazine said to do a four-page exercise spread, it seemed like a natural idea to me, and indeed it was. They liked it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you done taping all of the episodes?
Geraldo Rivera: No. We don’t know how it ends either, so where it goes, nobody knows.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Can’t wait to find out. I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss some current hot topics.
Geraldo Rivera: Sure.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The U.S. Central Command’s Twitter account was recently hacked with all sorts of pro ISIS messages. How scary is cyberterrorism?
Geraldo Rivera: That is very unsettling. You expect, as horrifying as it is, nutjobs to pick up weapons and hurt as many innocent people as they possibly can. I think that’s the immediate future of the human race. I think we’re going to be dealing with that kind of sectarian violence for the foreseeable future unless and until they get weapons of mass destruction, and then I think it will be manageable. It will be distressing and unsettling as the Paris massacre was, but life will go on generally speaking.
With this cyber stuff, though, so much of our lives are now so dependent on the Internet, even the Defense Department, that if terrorists armed with the information that Edward Snowden had brought to them or whatever their own hackers have developed have managed to corrupt even secure websites like the social media sites at CENTCOM, then there’s no telling what havoc they’ll be able to wreak.
It’s not about them stealing movies or personal information about who’s sleeping with you or what your social security number is, it’s the absolute disruption and pirating of life as we know it. I believe that the authorities understand what a big deal this is even if they attempt to underplay it. I think it’s very alarming, and I think that twenty-five or fifty years from now, people will look back on this period as the time the Internet gave and took away.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): President Obama has stated that he plans to discuss cybersecurity in his upcoming State of the Union speech, but do you feel that his overall policies on terror are possibly having an adverse effect and making Americans more unsafe?
Geraldo Rivera: That’s a good question. I think the president gets too little credit for the economy. I really believe that Barack Obama saved the economy largely. He directed it even against lots of criticism within his own party, so he’s undervalued domestically. On the other hand, I think he has been an absolute disaster when it comes to foreign policy. I think that he is naïve, his speech in Cairo basically encouraging the rise of populous movements against their government was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I think that he doesn’t understand that this threat is from Sunni Muslim extremists very specifically. That is the terror of the moment in the same way that the mafia was the terror of their time, and that was an Italian related organization in the same way the IRA (Irish Republican Army), which was the terror of its time, was an Irish phenomenon. This is a Sunni Muslim phenomenon. It’s religious extremism, and he has to see it as such and brand it as such and try to fight against it as such.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The Paris massacre isn’t the first time that journalists have literally been under fire.
Geraldo Rivera: I got in a lot of trouble in Afghanistan in 2001 because I was carrying a gun that I had bought in Kabul because eight journalists had already been killed when I was on that same road, and I wasn’t going to go down peacefully. When other journalists heard that I was armed, it was an outcry that was disproportional. It drowned out the rest of the war news, for goodness sake.
Now when you look at how journalists are so absolutely victimized and helpless in the face of these wretched extremists, they are the targets that are so soft and available. We present ourselves at their front door. You don’t even have to travel to get us. To go down quietly, I think, is absurd. Journalists have to be on their guard. It’s not a question of courage. It’s a question of naivety. When you walk into an ISIS kind of encampment, or you allow yourself to be drawn into one, it’s no place for amateurs.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve been outspoken about the rift in this country between law enforcement officers and the black community. How can this be healed?
Geraldo Rivera: It’s a very, very troubling phenomenon right now. Here in New York, the rift between black and blue is profound. It’s the most significant domestic problem there is right now. I think that you’ve got to take some dramatic steps. First of all, on the police side, police departments have to be demilitarized. I want Tasers, not tanks. I think every cop should have a Taser. They should carry a Taser, and unless their own life is provably threatened, they should use the Taser first and then their sidearm second.
On the other hand, anybody who assaults an officer has to be prosecuted to the fullest extend of the law. I believe when you have a situation where elected leaders have chosen a mob popularity over having the backs of their own police officers, then shame on them. Here in New York, there’s some vile language that went around that helped fuel the atmosphere that led to the assassination of the two cops.
I think that to pretend that there isn’t a perception among many black families that the cops are more dangerous than the crooks, is equally fictitious. We have to understand that a lot of black moms are very worried about that. There has to be sensitivity training and integration of police departments, but the mayors’ offices have to have the backs of their own cops. They’ve got to support their cops, and the cops have to know that they are loved and admired.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you still interested in running for the Senate?
Geraldo Rivera: I’m not anymore. Obviously when you get the bug, you never quite shake it. I think that I could shake things up down in Washington, but I’m more likely now to do something on a municipal level. I have a talk show, which in a way is almost a branch of government here in New York City. I can affect policy almost more directly, or at least more effectively, than I could if I were in elected office.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you perhaps too liberal for the Republican Party?
Geraldo Rivera: Yeah. I’m pro marijuana reform, I’m pro choice and I’m pro gay marriage. That’s why I voted for Barack Obama two times even though I am a registered Republican. That’s ultimately why I chose not to commit to the Senate race in New Jersey, the state when I’m a resident.
I was up against some really big money from hard core social conservatives, and even if I wanted to, it would’ve been very expensive and unpleasant. I am in this situation that a lot of moderate Republicans find themselves. To win in a primary, you’ve got to be hard right, but a hard right position just cannot prevail and certainly not in a northeastern state.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And you often clash with Bill O’Reilly (laughs).
Geraldo Rivera: (laughs) I do, and I love him for it. I must say, though, he and Sean Hannity, Bill Hemmer, Brian Kilmeade, Steve Doocy, my colleagues here at Fox News, were being wonderfully supportive in Celebrity Apprentice. They came up with tens of thousands of dollars for my charity, and they’re making me look good.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Since we have a couple of minutes left, tell me about your charity.
Geraldo Rivera: The charity’s called Life’s WORC. It used to stand for “Working Organization for Retarded Children.” It was during the time we called the developmentally disabled mentally retarded. They were institutionalized all across this country. Huge institutions warehoused the developmentally disabled.
Life’s WORC was formed by the parents of the world’s largest institution at that time, the Willowbrook State School here in New York City. They formed the organization to de-institutionalize that care. Now with the population of the autistic exploding as it is, these people need help in a non-institutional setting. They need support services, job training, life skills and all the rest of it, so that’s my crusade. It has been for over forty years now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What a great cause. I enjoyed the chat, Geraldo.
Geraldo Rivera: Same here, Melissa.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Good luck on The Celebrity Apprentice!
Geraldo Rivera: Thank you. I could use it.
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