For a man who's occupied the cover of Playgirl and claims to have conducted some of the most "aggressive interviews ever on television," one's got to wonder about the precise definition of the follow-up boast, "I've been down people's throats!"
Still, that's Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera, praised by Daily Show host Jon Stewart as the right wing media outlet's "voice of reason" and a longtime presence on U.S. television in his own right, with a history at Eyewitness News, Nightline and Good Night America, not to mention 11 years as host of his own brand of variety daytime talk. He made the comment in the midst of a critique on a colleague's interview with President Obama, chiding fellow Fox News host Bret Baier for his repeated interruptions.
While such a resume could indeed qualify Geraldo to criticize others in media, it is relatively rare viewers get a glimpse of the rumblings behind the scenes at Fox News. In this case, however, such an egregious double standard is on display that Rivera may have proven Jon Stewart correct yet again.
Speaking to former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino during a Friday radio broadcast, Geraldo claimed that during a recent "special" Special Report, Baier perhaps went a bit too far.
"At a certain point, you gotta recognize, in my opinion -- and, again, I’m not putting Bret down in any way, shape or form," he began. "When the president seemed exasperated and frustrated and unable to complete a sentence, I thought at some point you've got to make a difference between the guy who's the, uh, say, the, uh, Senate whip or the House whip or the assemblyman, or the leader of the state senate. He’s not a mayor, he’s the president."
"There's not a single reporter who ever interviewed President Bush who ever would have done anything different," Perino suggested.
"I ... I don't know about that," Geraldo said.
"I was there seven and a half years," she replied. "I watched them all. ... They're aggressive and they should be."
However, the former variety talk show host was correct to doubt Perino's estimation.
Toward the end of President Bush's second term, Baier himself led cameras on what Fox News calls an "unflinching" look inside the White House, published under the title, "George W. Bush: Fighting to the Finish." The network is now selling DVDs of the presentation, largely written off as a practice in Bush legacy brandishing and not a serious piece of journalism. RAW STORY kept an archive of clips from the program, available here.
With President Bush, Baier would ask questions like, "Do you believe that there hasn't been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in more than seven years because of the policies your administration has implemented?"
Sitting opposite President Obama, Baier was markedly more aggressive. While he certainly allowed his subject to speak, at times Baier appeared overly eager to interrupt.
Think Progress pieced together a series of clips showing Baier's apparent transformation:
Firing a volley at the White House staff, Perino told Rivera that any difficulty between Baier and the president was a result of Obama's aides not offering adequate preparation.
Geraldo wasn't having it.
"I've done some of the most aggressive interviews ever on television," he retorted. "I've been down people's throats. I've had my hand around their neck. I've had my nose broken [by skinheads]. Point: there is some decorum and if that same thing happened to George Bush and I was watching that, I think that everybody at Fox News would've said, "Hey, that Keith Olbermann went way too far."
Naturally, Perino -- who recently forgot that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 happened during the Bush administration -- objected to Geraldo's analogy, implying that reporters giving President Bush a hard time was the standard.
Of course, that's not true.
While there are no parallel lines between Baier and Olbermann, Geraldo's broader comparison is accurate: right-wing pundits at Fox News made a point to puff up at veteran White House press corps reporter Helen Thomas for posing tough questions during Bush administration press briefings. Thomas particularly tore into Perino and President Bush when given the otherwise rare opportunity, as they had namely taken to coddling and ignoring her.
"Regret doesn't bring back a life," Thomas memorably scolded Perino during a 2007 event, after asking how many civilians had been killed in Iraq. "Why did you really want to go to war?" she asked President Bush in 2006, to which he famously responded: "We once thought we were secure, because of oceans."
On both occasions, Fox News hosts took great exception to Thomas, once actually calling for her to be kicked out of the corps, suggesting her front-row seat be given to the right-wing network instead. Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly even made fun of her on his show, calling Thomas the "wicked witch of the east."
Yet, when the Obama White House began citing Fox News for its right-wing slant and frequent inaccuracies, it was Thomas who defended the network, cautioning the president's aides to back off. "They can only take you down," she said. "You can't kill the messenger."
This audio is from a Friday, March 19, 2010 broadcast of "Brian and the Judge," published to YouTube by user johnnydollar01: