Sometimes when two people are sitting in front of a camera, they say things they wouldn't ordinarily say if they were rubbing elbows with each other at a cocktail party. Pointed, aggressive, sometimes outright hostile things that can make onlookers cringe—but that we in the business call good television.
Sometimes, it goes too far.
I’m not talking about the fake fights we often see on cable news. I’ve been there while a right-winger and left-winger smack each other around, and during the commercial break they chat amiably about their kids. But on occasion the passions can run amok, as we’ve just seen here in Tampa.
For four hours a day, The Daily Beast is live-streaming a video show from the Republican convention. A parade bold-faced names has marched by, including Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, former Republican Michael Steele.
The first round of fireworks exploded Wednesday when Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera—not known for his meek manner—took on Beast contributor Meghan McCain, the senator's daughter, by criticizing her father. The fact that they were sitting next to each other at all was sheer coincidence, as I had grabbed him moments earlier from a spot downstairs at the convention center where he was doing his radio show.
Rivera began by saying the senator “got his butt kicked” among Hispanics in 2008 because he was too conservative on immigration. “He backed down on his own principles. That’s why I lost faith in him,” Geraldo declared.
Meghan McCain defended her dad, saying the immigration issue was so volatile there had been protests outside the family home. “To say that somehow my father has negated his principles or backed down, I don’t think it’s fair,” she declared.
But Rivera said that when McCain moved right on immigration, “it was like he threw a spear in my heart.” Somehow they managed to make up, with Rivera saying John McCain’s face “should be on Mount Rushmore.”
The back-and-forth seemed like pattycake compared to the day’s other dustup.
Jon Voight, Academy Award winner, father of Angelina Jolie and most important in this context, a rabid Republican, ambled onto the set. Within seconds he came under rapid fire from Beast columnist Michelle Goldberg, who first asked him about likening Barack Obama to Hugo Chavez. What really set the actor off was when Goldberg asked why the Republican Party “has fled so rapidly from the reality-based community.”
“What the heck are you talking about?” he shot back.
Voight simmered for a moment and then said, “Take it easy there, shorty.” As Goldberg looked on in amazement, Voight sprang out of his low-slung chair. “Let’s just stand up, how tall are you?” he demanded, hovering over her a tad menacingly.
On occasion the passions can run amok, as we’ve just seen here in Tampa.
Hours later, Voight came back to the Beast TV location. He said he felt badly about what happened, that he overreacted. He said he wanted to apologize to Goldberg. I whipped out my iPhone, hit record and he did just that.
Voight is a classy guy. He didn't have to return to the scene of the crime. And he didn't have to ask of make this personal mea culpa video for Goldberg.
Squabbles like these happen every day on radio, TV and, it seems, even on the hot new technology, Internet live-streaming. What doesn't happen every day is an apology for losing one's temper—even if provoked. And that, Mr. Voight, speaks volumes.