— Philip Turner (@philipsturner) January 11, 2014
Last Saturday afternoon I was working in my home office, waiting for the NFL playoff games to get started for the day, when I tuned in C-Span’s Book TV, which I often do on weekends. I was pleased to find they were airing an interview with NPR media reporter David Folkenflik discussing his current book, Murdoch’s World, which I first covered on this blog during BEA last June.
Folkenflik told a story, new to me, involving Geraldo Rivera, FOX News, that prompted the above tweet, with the vulgar epithet from Roger Ailes. To be accurate, Folkenflik never accused Rivera of lying, that’s the conclusion I drew in my tweet while watching the Book TV segment. About an hour after I sent out my tweet, Rivera, whose Twitter handle I had used in the message as a matter of record not to provoke him, saw my message and quickly chose to renew a feud with Folkenflik that he’s nurtured since 2001. You could say Rivera took bait I put out there, though I hadn’t imagined he would chomp on it, or quite so hard. The whole thing happened more than twelve years ago, but for Rivera, whose reporting and honesty were to many observers convincingly questioned by Folkenflik’s reporting, it must be fresh as yesterday. As noticed widely on Twitter, and even yesterday by Politico, in a mounting series of rage-filled tweets, Rivera has directed ad hominem venom at Folkenflik. Here’s an as-concise-as-I-can-make it rendition of the story Folkenflik told, quoting a modest chunk of his book to amplify what he said on TV.
It begins in 2001, when Folkenflik was the Baltimore Sun‘s media reporter, before he moved to NPR. On Book TV he explained that after 9/11, Rivera “bristled at the idea of staying behind a desk while a war raged elsewhere,” so he left a hosting job at CNBC and went to FOX, to become the network’s chief correspondent in Afghanistan, which the US had invaded a few weeks after the terrorist attacks in NYC and DC. The book picks up the story:
“He was, Rivera announced, on a quest to track down ‘the dastardly one’ (his personal term for Osama Bin Laden). On an early December day, he showed footage from Afghanistan, twice in a twenty-four hour period, in which he prayed over the site where he said three American soldiers and numerous allied Afghan fighters had been killed by a US bombing raid in what was euphemistically called a ‘friendly fire’ incident. He said he had seen their tattered uniforms and showed himself, on video, reciting the Lord’s Prayer.”
A day later he filed his broadcast story from Tora Bora. Thing is, the only incident of friendly fire suffered by American troops that occurred in the same time frame was in Kandahar, 300 miles from Tora Bora. Folkenflik continues in his book, “I talked to reporters in Afghanistan, people who handled logistics at rival networks, senior staffers with international relief agencies and human rights groups active there, and US military officials. None of them thought the journey from Tora Bora to Kandahar and back was feasible by road in less than twenty-four hours, while an official at the Pentagon said Rivera certainly had not hitched a ride with US forces or aircraft. When I asked [FOX] how he could have made this round trip down and back in a single day…a FOX News spokeswoman angrily asked whether I was saying he made it up.”
No information that FOX or Rivera subsequently produced, nor anything he told Folkenflik in a “vivid and livid interview by satellite phone” from Afghanistan convinced him that Rivera was telling the truth, either at the outset of his reporting on TV, or later, amid excuses he offered for what he finally attributed to “the fog of war.” For their part, FOX, not wanting to push their own guy too far under the bus, gamely said he had made “an honest mistake.” That would be nice, were it true. I believe that FOX and Rivera–who always casts himself at the center of his reporting, a De Mille of the small screen–had wanted a great ‘get’ for his broadcast, and claimed to be at the burial site of US troops. This was an early example of politicizing US troops and losses of life, in a way that the Bush administration, and right-wing media with FOX leading the way, became very practiced at over the next several years, a veritable dark art of the Bush years.
That pretty much brings us to last Saturday, when Rivera went ballistic over my tweet that showed Folkenflik was discussing the long-ago incident in his book interviews, including Ailes’ colorful gloss on the matter, uttered some years later when Folkenflik and Ailes met for the first time. In social media since last Saturday, Rivera has called Folkenflik a “punk,” “a lying leech,” “a rat,” “a skunk,” and an ass-kisser.” His Twitter handle is @GeraldoRivera, if you want to see his tweets for yourself. For the record, yesterday, in Day Four of this story, he also posted a lengthy self-defense on his Facebook page. I have been amused and somewhat amazed to see how my tweet lit up things over the past several days. I’ll continue to live tweet Book TV in weeks to come, though I don’t expect to have quite so dramatic an impact next time.
Meantime, I’ll be continuing to read Murdoch’s World, and enjoying Folkenflik’s keen reporting on NPR. I recommend his whole book–for the record the 2001 story on Geraldo Rivera is on pages 61-65. I look forward to hearing Folkenflik, with Gabriel Sherman–author of the new book, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country–at the New America Foundation’s New York space on January 27, when the two will talk about Murdoch, Ailes, and maybe even Geraldo Rivera.