Roger and Me
by Geraldo Rivera | Sep 08, 2016
The man we knew as the blustering genius who invented our mighty Fox News Channel is a deceitful, selfish misogynist, if the charges against him are true. And if they are true, then his shame and banishment are well earned.
Like virtually all my colleagues at Fox News, I was totally blindsided by his sexual harassment scandal, which is why I responded to Gretchen Carlson’s initial filing of her lawsuit with extreme skepticism.
The man she described in her pleadings was unknown even to those of us who thought we knew him well.
Roger and I have known each other for decades. I always pictured him as a hail-fellow well met, a corporate barroom brawler, more likely to tear your throat out than engage in sweet talk, as my first Tweet on the matter indicates.
He hired me in 1994 when he ran CNBC, and I was looking for respectability after a decade in the daytime talk show business. Roger gave me a nightly public affairs show, but not before expressing his piercing skepticism.
During our first meeting, he warned against my trying too hard to be legitimate. “I don’t want shows about crocheting,” he said peering as only he can, laser-like into my eyes, adding sharply, “If I want to watch ice melting I’ll tune in Sunday Morning on CBS.”
Putting it in direct competition with CNN’s Larry King Live, the dominant cable talk show of that era, Roger gave the CNBC show its name, Rivera Live, told me it was ok to wear my reading glasses on camera, and gave me free rein to chase O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco.
When Larry later joked how we had ripped his show off, stealing his title, I countered that what we ripped off was his ratings.
Roger and I never really hung out or traveled together, but were close enough that even though he had gone on to create Fox News, and I was still at CNBC, Roger and Beth invited me to their intimate 1998 Valentine’s Day City Hall wedding, presided over by Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
My wife Erica and I ache thinking about how she must be suffering.
Three years later, we reunited professionally in the awful aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. I left the comfortable confines of CNBC to rejoin him at Fox News as senior war correspondent assigned 22 times to cover the bloody battlefields of Afghanistan and later Iraq.
Through that period, he had my back through thick and thin, and I knew he would be there for my family if anything befell me in the field.
His personal and professional loyalty over the years impelled me to Tweet again on Roger’s behalf, even as his scandal deepened.
Roger resigned two days later when it became apparent that Gretchen was not alone in alleging abhorrent behavior behind his closed doors.
Now I am filled with regret for stubbornly discounting their various allegations. The Murdoch’s would not have turned the world upside down but for good cause. Moreover, I apologize for my skepticism. Like victims of sexual assault, those alleging harassment deserve the presumption of credibility.
Even Ailes’ personal Inspector Javert, Gabriel Sherman, the New York Magazine writer I have called a “nerd with a grudge” deserves my apology. He is on the right side of history. Might does not mean right. I was wrong, and am paying the price.
I learned Tuesday September 6th that after being enthusiastically received, because of my uninformed support of Mr. Ailes, and the relatively flattering portrayal of him in an early manuscript of my war memoir, “Geraldo of Arabia, From Tora Bora to Trump, ” as a direct result, HarperCollins has chosen not to publish.
So what happens now?
For one thing, the Ailes scandal will continue to percolate at least in part because of the fear and loathing by competitors for Fox News, the ratings leader. Because it suits their perceived competitive advantage, CNN and other news networks will continue to report, repeat and regurgitate every detail in this melancholy saga.
Now that Mr. Sherman has been hired by MSNBC, he will most assuredly be encouraged to stay obsessively focused.
Although that is understandable, it is not fair. Having worked at all the networks over the last 47 years I can say definitively that the social culture is industry wide. Our rivals would all be better served to clean their own houses.
For a lot of reasons, news is a flirty business. With its pressure cooker environment and long hours, it is sometimes the only place young professionals can meet. Just add up all the newsroom romances that have resulted in marriage over the years.
Management’s role is to keep the playing field level, professional and fair. As society evolved from the “Mad Men” era of the 1950-60’s, giant steps have been taken to protect subordinate employees from harassment and unwelcome advances, particularly by superiors.
Sure, there is far to go, but as the seismic response to Gretchen and the other purported victims makes clear, the news business will no longer tolerate boorish conduct by anyone, however powerful. Strict policies including sensitivity training are in place. Perpetrators do so at tremendous peril to their careers and families.
To all the victims of sexual harassment, direct and indirect, I am sorry for what happened to you. As the father of three daughters, including one in the news business, I urge all who have been offended to reach out. Similarly, if you see harassment, say harassment, even if the alleged offender is an old friend.