Ronald Price and 'Geraldo!': double trouble

DAN RODRICKS

May 01, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

Trying to find the low point of Ronald Walter Price's appearance on the Thursday edition of "Geraldo!" is like trying to pin blame for the smell of a barnyard on one particularly strong source.

It might be impossible to say, for sure, where the taped show realized its foulest potential, and the exercise is purely subjective. But I'll tell you this: My nose twitched significantly when attorney Tim Umbreit raised a hand and announced that he and his client had a correction to make for the national television audience.

Regarding those Northeast High School girls with whom the 49-year-old Price has admitted having had sex, Umbreit said, "We wanna correct something here: None of them were virgins."

Everyone groaned at this slimy attempt to blame the victims. Even Geraldo, whose many sexual exploits (with consenting adults, of course) were chronicled in a self-congratulatory book, called that a cheap shot -- a stunning achievement for Umbreit. Imagine TV's top garbage collector made to feel upset by a defense attorney from Maryland. Who knew it was possible to awaken Geraldo's sense of decency? Who knew he had one?

Geraldo! Geraldo! Geraldo! The exclamation point is part of thy name!

The man is an artist. He's a beautiful hunk of pop culture -- the master exploiter of society's geeks and losers, a facilitator for all the exhibitionists and self-flagellating masochists around us. "Small men who love large women" remains my favorite edition of "Geraldo!" Substance is meaningless; the promo is everything, and Geraldo is television's top tease.

Every age had a Geraldo. In the modern world of tabloid-talk TV, he is merely the man in the awning-stripe coat and straw boater barking up paying customers for the freak show. In the old days, we would have waited for the circus to come to town. Now we just turn on The Next Geraldo!

It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it. Someone has to trivialize and sensationalize every social problem that rises from the muck. Someone has to be there to turn it to pulp.

"From the classroom to the bedroom . . . it's been called academia's dirty little secret . . ." was how Geraldo hyped his hour with Price, the Northeast High softball coach and social studies teacher charged with child abuse, perverted practices and a fourth-degree sex offense. During the show, he admitted to having had sex, sometimes in school, with several students over several years.

"Not cool, right, Ron?" was how Geraldo put it.

That was one of the more touching moments -- two guys sharingtheir feelings. I didn't know whether to weep or to puke.

I've got to hand it to Geraldo and his producers. They delivered. I watched every minute and felt unclean.

We got to see Price, with his cheap suit, scruffy beard and been-through-hell face. He gave the impression of a man who saw "doing 'Geraldo!' " as a way of doing penance. He said he suffers from an illness; it was believable.

We heard from Price's wife. She's young, she's loyal, she's his third. She's also one of Price's former, um, students. Of the charges brought against her husband, she said: "It's put a strain on our marriage."

At one point she asked aloud, "What should I do, throw him away, divorce him?"

To which members of the studio audience cried: "Yes!"

Also on the show were some Northeast High students and parents, one of whom said: "If he touched any of my daughters, he'd be dead." You had your basic clinical social worker standing by, along with an audience full of Geraldo's well-trained lions. "It's not just sick, it's disgusting!" one of them roared toward Price. Another was heard to call Price "a pig."

There were many other special moments, all of them either weird or pathetic.

We can't overlook Price's own statement that, in at least one case, his relationship with a student might have been greatly beneficial -- to her.

"Her grades changed; her grades went up," he said, never blinking, looking dead-eyed into the camera over Geraldo's shoulder.

You could almost see Ron Price's mind twist as he said those words. Somewhere inside, he actually might believe he was helping these girls as he was helping himself to their bodies. He wasn't being bad; he was being a pal.

Was this on the outer limit of weird, or what?

Who knows? "Sleeping with students" -- that's what Geraldo called it, though it doesn't sound as if Price had time for sleeping -- might have improved SAT scores, too!

Follow-up question from Geraldo: Did Price ever exchange good grades for sex?

"Absolutely not," he said indignantly, reminding all of us that, even men caught up in the odorific world of sex, scandal and tabloid TV have standards.

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