A fox tail dangling from a leather belt. A key chain dangling from a leather belt. A leather belt with a personalized name buckle. Low top red Converse sneakers. High-top black Converse sneakers. Green suede Puma sneakers. Clamshell white Adidas sneakers. White Nike basketball athletic footwear. Blue chinos with the orange stripe running down the side. Black “overlap” slacks with two overlapping seams running down the side. Black “AJ’s” slacks with white thread running down the side. Denim jackets with the sleeves cut off. Leather vests worn without a shirt. Leather motorcycle jackets. Leather blazers. Leather pea coats. Leather bomber jackets. North Face jackets. Shearling jackets. Black Bally boots with a Cuban heels. Army jackets. Combat boots. Doc Martens. Black baseball caps with the letter X emblazoned on them. Black caps and jackets featuring the logo of the Oakland Raiders. Hockey jerseys. Baseball jerseys. “Throwback” basketball jerseys. Starter jackets. Gold chains. Floppy denim hats. Tan Timberland work boots.
The preceding was a roll-call of clothing items that during my lifetime have been identified by the mainstream media as criminal attire. Anyone wearing this garb, the powers-that-be informed the populace, was sending out a signal they were “up to no good” and were soon going to commit a felonious act. (It’s an argument designed to bolster police “stop-and-frisk” policies.) Of course, the fact that this apparel was primarily worn by Latino and African-American youth – who began many of the aforementioned fashion trends – served to bolster their supposition. After all, what ethnic groups do we see on television being arrested and arraigned on a nightly basis?
Then came the killing of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin by 28 year-old George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida on February 26th of this year. The facts – as culled from various news sources – appear to be this: Martin – visiting his father – was coming back from the store when spotted by Zimmerman who was part of a neighborhood watch group. Zimmerman followed Martin. A confrontation may or may not have ensued and Martin – holding Skittles, an iced tea and on a cell phone with his girlfriend – was shot dead by Zimmerman.
This dreadful event has for a multitude of valid reasons – race, vigilantism, the initial bungling of the case by the Sanford police department, the Constitutionality of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law among them – gotten considerable national attention. As many folk of color have noted, there are, unfortunately, Trayvon-like tragedies in their communities on a regular basis. This is, therefore, that rare opportunity to discuss them while also seeking to see justice served. All of this, again, part of a valid and necessary dialogue.
Then came Geraldo.
Soon after the Trayvon Martin case began to break nationally, Geraldo Rivera – according to a transcript posted online – said this on his home network Fox News: “I’ll bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.”
In the world-according-to-Geraldo, half of the problem with today’s world is the way young men dress. As the 68 year-old Rivera pointed out, hoodies have been worn by – and I am paraphrasing – by everyone that has ever stuck up a convenience store and such notorious criminals as D.B. Cooper and the Unabomber.
Rivera’s outrageous and, I suspect, calculated comments predictably caused a firestorm which then led him to a series of semi-apologies first to outraged viewers then finally to the bereaved Martin family themselves. But one thing had been accomplished. Geraldo Rivera had captured the nation’s attention once more. For a short time, he had become the story.
This may be hard for some people to believe – especially those who remember him from the live “The Mystery Of Al Capone’s Vault” debacle in the mid-80’s – but there was a time when Geraldo Rivera was considered to be a serious journalist. In the early ‘70’s – after a stint as an attorney who had been affiliated with the progressive Latino organization The Young Lords – Rivera joined New York City’s Eyewitness News on Channel 7 as a correspondent. Part of the hook, back then, for the Eyewitness News format was to have a variety of ethnic types as on-air reporters to reflect the city’s diversity. Rivera not only fit the Latino demographic but with his flair for undercover operations became their de facto Serpico breaking such stories as the abuse to the mentally challenged going on in the Staten Island hellhole known as the Willowbrook State School in 1972.
By the mid-70s, Rivera had graduated a late-night ABC show entitled “Good Night America” where along with celebrity interviews; he aired the first look at the Zapruder footage of the John F. Kennedy assassination. But after a few network battles, Rivera left ABC and by the mid-80s was hosting the high-rated syndicated Al Capone special where millions of viewers found out that after two hours of Rivera’s purple-prose build-up that the Capone vaults contained ……nothing. (A metaphor of Rivera’s career if ever there was one.)
Soon after that Rivera went over – in Jedi-speak – to the dark side. He hosted a contentious daily talk show entitled – what else? – “The Geraldo Rivera Show “ where the highlight in a decade-long run was the host getting his nose broken by a flying chair thrown by a white supremacist during a brawl. There was a half-hour nightly program “Now It Can Be Told” which presaged the modern predilection of television tabloid journalism and his cable show “Rivera Live” which devolved into a circus during the year-long O.J. Simpson trial. (Although, there was a memorable postscript where a stunned Rivera, doing a live remote from a Washington D.C. African-American church whose parishioners had held a fundraiser to support the acquitted Simpson, ended up being repeatedly and wittily lambasted by the congregation.) After being denied the opportunity to cover the Iraq War by his NBC bosses, Rivera bolted for Fox News where he has remained ever since.
The unfortunate arc of Rivera’s career has even been more magnified in the last few months because of the deaths of two great television journalists: 80 year-old Gil Noble and 93 year-old Mike Wallace. Noble had since 1967 been the host of “Like It Is” arguably the most influential African-American program ever broadcast. Through “Like It Is,” Noble had provided a forum for political folk from Stokely Carmichael to Al Sharpton; celebrities from Harry Belafonte to Sammy Davis Jr., historians, poets, artists and produced outstanding documentaries on both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King while all the time maintaining a delicate journalistic balance of asking his guests tough, fair questions. Wallace brought a bulldog tenacity to “60 Minutes” grilling his subjects regardless of political affiliation and often cutting straight to the heart of the matter.
Rivera had the raw skills to be either Noble or Wallace but chose not to. Hell, he could have settled for being Dan Rather who’s another flamboyant reporter with a knack for injecting himself into the stories he’s covering. But where Rather and Rivera differ is Rather usually brings the viewer back to the tale being reported. He’s rarely bigger than the story. Not so, Rivera. He had to traduce the Travyon Martin tragedy to a ridiculous, even bigoted observation to garner attention. The funniest thing about all this? This is from a man whose weekend television show on Fox News is entitled “Geraldo At Large” and who wrote a 1991 autobiography called Exposing Myself. Two titles which conjure up echoes of criminal behavior. I mean, who’s profiling who here?
From April, 2012