There was a time, believe it or not, when Geraldo Rivera was considered an intrepid news reporter.
In the 1970s, Rivera took home a Peabody Award for his series of reports exposing the systemic abuse of disabled patients at Willowbrook State School in Staten Island. In 1983, he was the first network television newsperson to mention AIDS on-air.
But in the years since, between the Al Capone vault fiasco, his trash-TV show Geraldo, and his questionable work for Fox News, he’s become something of a punchline.
Rivera, for instance, lied about being at the scene of a controversial friendly-fire incident during the War in Afghanistan in 2001; was kicked out of reporting in Iraq after he accidentally gave up U.S. military positions on-air in 2003; repeatedly blamed Trayvon Martin’s death on his wearing a hoodie; and has emerged as a staunch defender of President Donald Trump.
And so, promoting a new book, Rivera sat down with Bill Maher on Real Time for a good ol’-fashioned grilling.
“You were one of the original crusading reporters and you care very much about your legacy being as a journalist, so I do have to ask: Why Fox News?” queried Maher right off the bat.
“That’s a fair question. I think your characterization of Fox is a stereotype,” replied Rivera, adding, “It’s easy, because Sean Hannity, for instance, is such a big personality, to say that he represents the sum total of Fox, but I think that, with due respect, there are more voices, it’s not state-run TV, it’s conservative-leaning.”
Rivera then invoked MSNBC as a left-leaning foil to Fox News, which Maher took umbrage with. “But there is a big difference between MSNBC and Fox News. I mean, MSNBC sticks to the truth. They don’t make things up,” said the HBO host. “There’s a loop going on between Trump and Fox News, would you admit to that? What does he do all morning? He doesn’t come down to work till 11. He’s there doing his hair, watching Fox & Friends, and then he quotes from Fox & Friends—our policy seems to be coming from Fox & Friends—and then he’ll say something crazy, and then they’ll back it up.”
The Fox & Friends stuff seemed to get to Rivera, who appears on the program twice a week fawning all over the president. As an example of MSNBC apparently making things up, Rivera brought up “Russia collusion,” asking, “Where’s the collusion?”
This really got Maher fired up. “First of all, that’s what the investigation is about and the report isn’t in yet,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s definitely collusion, but you can’t say it’s an illusion until the report comes out. Would you agree to that?”
Rivera would not. “I say that anybody who views the witnesses who have been interviewed, the indictments that have come down, the scope of the investigation so far has to come to the conclusion that there’s nothing there yet,” Rivera argued, adding, “You would blame them if they had Russian dressing on their salad.”
By the way, a half-dozen Trump associates—including his former national security adviser and former campaign chair—have been indicted by Robert Mueller’s team in the Trump-Russia probe, with several pleading guilty. The idea that there’s “nothing there yet,” as Rivera suggests, is pure denial of reality.
“Wow,” said Maher. “See, this is what I don’t get: I remember thinking of you as a crusading reporter who was fighting against the spin. I feel like now you are the spin.”
“That’s so bull. That’s really so bull,” offered a defensive Rivera.
“Why’s that so bull? You really don’t see a Russian connection with the Trumps?” pressed Maher.
When Rivera begged for an example, Maher mentioned the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a group of Putin-connected Russians who’d promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. Rivera characterized the meeting as “so bland, benign and stupid,” without offering any support for his stance.
The two then bet $1,000 on whether or not there was Trump-Russia collusion, shaking hands.
Maher wasn’t done, however. The comedian went back at Rivera, questioning why, despite the newsman’s assertion that he’s pro-immigration, pro-gun reform and pro-LGBT rights, he not only continues to defend President Trump every chance he gets. To that, Rivera said that Trump is his friend of forty years, and he could “separate the man who’s always been gracious to me, always been nice to my family, we were on Celebrity Apprentice every day together for over six weeks” from the politician.
“[O.J.] didn’t remain my friend when I felt he had a certain moral lapse,” shot back Maher. “Who gives a shit! He’s ruining the world now! Who gives a shit if he was nice to you at Thanksgiving, Geraldo? I’m not trying to be an asshole to you. You’re a smart guy. This befuddles me. I looked up to you.”
“You know, if you don’t look up to me because I’m still friends with the President of the United States, then shame on you,” countered Rivera. “My friendship with Trump doesn’t diminish me.”
It was, all things considered, pretty great television.