On-Air

Geraldo Rivera’s Trayvon Martin Hoodie Comment, and Other Outrageous Remarks

From hoodies to Al Capone, Geraldo Rivera has made some major on-air mistakes over the course of his four-decade career.

For four decades, Geraldo Rivera has been a crusading, vainglorious, undeniable presence in American television news. Whether he’s filing reports like his infamous “Men Who Wear Lace Panties and the Women Who Love Them” or getting his nose squashed by a white supremacist during a taping of his talk show, Geraldo has never failed to find an audience for his signature mix of reportage, sensation, and occasional slapstick. Some of his comments, however, have sometimes passed beyond the pale in the estimation of viewers, and when the Fox News contributor weighed in on the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, his remarks drew comment from viewers, columnists, and celebrities who said that Rivera’s remarks had achieved a theretofore unprecedented level of boneheadedness. The Daily Beast rounds up some of Rivera’s more numbskulled blunders.

Richard Drew / AP Photo

Trayvon Martin’s Hoodie

Geraldo’s sure to catch some flak for a comment he made during a March 23 appearance on Fox & Friends. Speaking about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Geraldo didn’t say that it was the fault of an overzealous neighborhood watchman, or that there might have been racial motivations. Rather, he said it could be distilled down to Trayvon’s clothing. “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Treyvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was,” Geraldo said, “Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-11, the kid is wearing a hoodie,” he added for good measure. Nor did Geraldo seem to have any interest in walking his comments back. “I’ll bet you money if he didn’t have that hoodie on that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way,” Rivera said. Women in short skirts everywhere, apparently you’re not the only ones who are “asking for it.”

Red Huber / AP Photo

Casey Anthony’s Tattoo

Geraldo has focused on appearances before. Reporting during the Casey Anthony trial, he drew broad conclusions from a cosmetic detail. Noting that Anthony had gotten a tattoo in the week following the death of her daughter, Rivera didn’t pull any punches. “I think it will end the prosecution case … with a bang, so to speak,” he said, “to show that this was a selfish, narcissistic, self-involved slut who wanted to kill her child to have ‘la bella vita,’” quoting Anthony’s tattoo.

Peter Kramer / Getty Images

A Racially Motivated Pantsing

If there’s anything worse than racial profiling, it’s racially motivated disrobing. During an appearance last summer on The O’Reilly Factor, Geraldo took on conservative blogger Michelle Malkin’s views on immigration. Malkin had previously told O’Reilly that if she had a neighbor who was an illegal immigrant and that neighbor’s employer knew about his or her illegal status, Malkin would feel an obligation to turn that person in to the authorities. Geraldo said that Malkin’s moral imperative would lead to a nation of profilers. “It reminds me so much of when they used to pull down the pants of Jews to see if they were circumcised or not,” Rivera said. “It is so, so pathetic.” The two later squared off to debate the issue at O’Reilly’s invitation.

United States Marine Corp / WireImage

Times Nudges Geraldo

In a New York Times column in 2005, Alessandra Stanley wrote about reporters who helped victims in the Hurricane Katrina disaster zone. “Fox’s Geraldo Rivera did his rivals one better,” Stanley wrote. “Yesterday, he nudged an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so his camera crew could tape him as he helped lift an older woman in a wheelchair to safety.” Geraldo denied the account of events, but the Old Gray Lady decided not to publish a correction, saying that they’d understood Stanley’s description to indicate that Rivera’s boisterous ego, not his sharp elbows, had pushed the worker out of the way. “The editors understood the ‘nudge’ comment as the television critic’s figurative reference to Mr. Rivera’s flamboyant intervention,” the Times editors wrote in a note. “Mr. Rivera complained, but after reviewing a tape of his broadcast, the Times declined to publish a correction.”

Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg / Getty Images

In the Combat Zone

In 2003, Geraldo clashed with military brass when, on assignment with the 101st Airborne in Iraq, he revealed details of a yet-to-be-executed operation. It was a faux pas of potentially titanic proportions, violating every principle of military reporting. “He gave away the big-picture stuff,” a military official told reporters. Lacking the helpful gizmos and displays anchors rely on back in the studio, Geraldo knelt down in the sand and gave his viewers a helpful visual aid. The Army didn’t see it as helpful. “He went down in the sand and drew where the forces are going,” the official said of Geraldo’s sketch. Fox was ultimately able to cut a deal with the Army that allowed Geraldo to leave without being officially booted from the war zone by the military.

Charles Dharapak / AP Photo

Geraldo on the Scene

While reporting from Afghanistan in the early days of the war there, Geraldo made a characteristically histrionic statement when he said he was walking on the “hallowed ground” where a friendly-fire accident had claimed the lives of American troops. But as the Baltimore Sun later reported, the particular incident Rivera was referring to had occurred more than a hundred miles away. Since then, Rivera has taken aim at David Folkenflik, the Baltimore Sun reporter, calling the man “a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter,” by which we presume he means a reporter who checks his facts.

John Middlebrook / CSM / Landov

Obama is Dead

As President Barack Obama prepared to face the nation and deliver the news that terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden had been killed after 10 years on the lam, Geraldo made a massive flub while fielding comments from a caller live on Fox. When the caller began speculating on how the al Qaeda leader died, Geraldo cut in. “Obama is dead, I don’t care –,“ Geraldo stammered, then corrected himself. “Osama bin Laden is dead, I don’t care how he died, be it bullet or bomb or missile.” Later in the evening, Geraldo exulted in bin Laden’s death, saying of the evening’s broadcast that it was “the greatest night of my career.”

Jesse Grant / Getty Images

President Osama bin Laden

That wasn’t the first time Geraldo had trouble keeping separate the leader of the free world and America’s greatest enemy. During an October 2009 appearance discussing the troop surge in Iraq on Fox, Geraldo said as he gave “the benefit of the doubt to George W. Bush during the surge, I give the benefit of the doubt to this president, Osama bin—” then caught his gaffe. The feeling among the Fox & Friends co-hosts seemed to be that this could happen to anyone, though it seems to happen to Geraldo a little more often.

Mark Lennihan / AP Photo

Al Capone’s Vault

The crowning jewel of all Geraldo whoopsies, and the one that ironically may have saved his career, by teaching him that a mistake made broadly enough may be better than no mistake at all. “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault” was broadcast in 1986, when Geraldo revealed to the American public that he had found an unopened vault in a building that had once served as a headquarters for Al Capone. It was a bold gambit, and it paid off for Geraldo, though not in the way he had hoped. Over the course of a two-hour prime-time special, the much-hyped vault revealed nothing but dirt and rubbish. But the stunt took the showman’s career to new heights, as an estimated 28 million viewers tuned in.