On Citizenship, Journalism - and Campus Centerfolds!

Geraldo Rivera tells aspiring journalists "we're not just voyeurs" - right after a plug for his next show, about Playboy looking for models on college campuses.

From the lairs of underground Satan worshippers, to the battlefields of Afghanistan, to the furthest reaches of Al Capone’s vault, few American journalists have logged more miles in more bizarre settings than Geraldo Rivera. And it only makes sense that after all these years, Rivera would want to pass along some of his journalistic insight from those adventures to future, young reporters.

What would a Rivera-taught class on journalism look like? Yesterday Rivera provided a glimpse into his educational philosophy. Call it Geraldo 101. To wit: Tuesday night, he closed Fox’s Geraldo At Large by raising a journalistic conundrum, presenting a case study, and then closing with a few wise words of advice for aspiring young reporters.

“At what point is our job more important than our duty as good citizens?” asked Rivera at the start of the segment. “The question has been around forever.”

According to Rivera, the question came up again last week — thanks to Diane Sawyer and the producers of ABC’s Primetime, who last Friday aired a controversial piece on dysfunctional stepfamilies. That show, Rivera recounted, included some haunting footage of a father slapping his daughter again and again in a fit of rage.

Rivera went on to note that ABC had failed at the time to report the abuse to authorities. Instead, it simply aired the footage. That decision, Rivera noted, prompted a backlash from viewers who felt Sawyer and company should have stepped in and called the cops to prevent the possibility of additional abuse.

As the footage of the beating floated across the screen, Rivera recounted how earlier in the morning Sawyer had appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America to interview the abused teenager and to defend ABC’s decision to air the footage. “If we ever think anybody is in peril,” said Sawyer, “we move in.”

All of which left Rivera shaking his head.

“All I can say to young reporters out there is, we’re not just voyeurs,” said Rivera. “Our duty to society is bigger than our jobs even. When in doubt, get involved.”

He should have phrased that, “When in doubt, get involved. But don’t forget the voyeurism!”

During her appearance on Good Morning America, Sawyer recounted that the teenager who was the subject of the abuse (and thus the subject of Rivera’s ruminations) had agreed to talk to her after making one request: Don’t show the footage again. Please.

ABC chose to honor the victim’s request. Rivera chose to ignore it. While he chewed over the moral imperatives of journalism, the graphic footage of the father beating his daughter looped over and over across the screen.

Not that such gratuitous violence would in any way, shape, or form appear to violate Rivera’s voyeurism-plus philosophy of good journalism. It’s a philosophy we trust Rivera has every intention of honoring during his next show — the content of which Fox promoted just a few seconds before cuing up Geraldo’s moralizing about Sawyer and ABC.

“Plus, Playboy is recruiting on campus, and looking for some homeroom hotties,” read a voice over. “Could your daughter end up front and centerfold? Don’t miss the next Geraldo At Large.”

Now that’s an involved voyeur.

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.