The Current Crisis

Choking on Geraldo

Once again he's been caught juggling the truth and spouting the weasel's words.

By 4.1.03

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Washington -- I had hoped to make a thus far unmentioned aspect of the recently deceased Daniel Patrick Moynihan's life the sole topic of this column today. Then from Iraq has come news regarding the hopefully-deceased Geraldo Rivera. Surely his career as a journalist is dead, but perhaps not. He has suffered so many near-death experiences, all owing to Rivera's singularly low character and shabby journalism. Yet somehow he survives. So to say the journalistic career of Rivera is dead might be to put the cart before the ass.

Consider the ass. Before Fox News hired him he had a floundering cable talk show in the 1990s the theme of which was "The Martyrdom of President Bill Clinton." During that ongoing atrocity he was a constant shill for his hero, Bill Clinton. Time and again he was caught juggling the truth with the clownishness of a W.C. Fields ungraced by charm. Remember when he credulously reported in August 1998 that Congressman Paul McHale, at the time the first Democrat to call for Clinton's resignation, had faked his credentials as a war hero? According to Rivera, an "always reliable source" close to the White House (probably Sidney Blumenthal) told him that McHale was lying about his military decorations. McHale easily refuted the charge. Rivera had either conspired in the smearing of a patriotic veteran or failed to verify the White House leak. Naturally Rivera provided a weasel-worded apology, but so much for his respect for the military and for the truth.

During this period I had my own exposure to Rivera's phony journalism. He decided that I was part of a conspiratorial coup against Clinton and so he sent his staff to harass me with evidence of grim misdeeds. In all my adult life I have never met more deceitful journalists than Rivera and his henchmen. One of my colleagues having caught Rivera's chief thug in a lie hounded the wretch with a lawsuit until he apologized. I merely marveled at his disregard for truth and the First Amendment rights of fellow journalists.

Now Rivera has been caught in another confrontation with the truth. The American military claims he is being expelled from Iraq for vaingloriously revealing his position and that of the 101st Airborne. He insists that he is not being expelled, though Fox News is removing him from the company of the 101st Airborne and back to Kuwait. Oh well, those of us who have followed his career know how lightly he treats the truth and the American military. Ask former Congressman McHale. Or ask those soldiers who saw him reporting from Afghanistan some months back. There he was caught falsely claiming that he was reporting from a spot where American soldiers were killed under friendly fire, or from "hallowed ground" as he put it. Actually the "hallowed ground" was hundreds of miles from his cameras and microphone. After that bogus story was exposed he again sought refuge in the weasel's words. Will Fox News give him another reprieve? Will his viewers?

I have a term for the political culture that surrounds us, Kultursmog; for this culture is polluted with the politicized values and visions of a point of view that recognizes only its own. Rivera, during the 1990s, was a veritable smoke stack of pollution, spreading the falsehoods that Clinton was a wronged man when in fact everything Clinton got caught doing was of his own doing. The obituaries to my old friend Pat Moynihan are another example of the Kultursmog, though an innocent example. Practically everything said about Pat in the obits was true, but what was not mentioned shows the Kultursmog's capacity to disfigure the public record. Pat had been one of the first neoconservatives, which is to say, one of the first liberals to become so critical of liberalism's crack-up into extremism that they took up with conservatives.

For nearly twenty years until the late 1970s Pat was an intellectual soul mate with Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, Jeane Kirkpatrick and a score or so other neocons. These were Pat's friends and collaborators on all sorts of intellectual endeavors, mostly aimed at sobering up the liberals. Pat wrote in their publications: Commentary, the Public Interest, and the Reporter. In fact he wrote in The American Spectator, and I considered him a serious intellectual influence on me. We visited frequently. My family received a silver bowl from Ambassador Moynihan from our embassy in India on the occasion of my son's birth in 1974, engraved "From Daniel Patrick Moynihan to Patrick Daniel Tyrrell."

In those days the neoconservatives' break with liberalism was a serious intellectual development. It was noted throughout the serious news media and in the universities. Yet, two decades later with the sad news of Pat's death, no mention of his deep involvement with these people could be found in the obits. He had shifted back to the left in the 1980s and 1990s and that was all that made the newspapers. The Kultursmog befogs anything that does not fit its world view. Pat once famously said liberals do not believe conservatives are part of the natural order of things. And so his adamantine judgment was sustained in the accounts of his death. Yet reality still exists. At his funeral services in Washington at old Saint Patrick's almost the whole neocon movement was there, all the above-mentioned eminences, save Kirkpatrick who is out of the country. Now there is a news scoop for the New York Sun. What is more, the neocons all grieve his death. We liked Pat and we shall miss him, even if he spent his last years wandering.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.