Fox under pressure to remove Rivera

War In Iraq

April 01, 2003|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Fox News Channel war correspondent Geraldo Rivera is being forced out of Iraq by U.S. military officials, just days after joining an American combat unit there.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command based in Doha, Qatar, said Rivera was to be escorted from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division's encampment inside Iraq to the Kuwaiti border some miles to the south.

Fox News had little official comment yesterday afternoon. "We're in contact with the Pentagon, and we're looking into the matter," Fox spokesman Robert Zimmerman said.

Behind the scenes, Fox News executives and military officials were involved in discussions to have the network withdraw Rivera from the region voluntarily to stave off any formal action by the Defense Department.

In a live broadcast from Iraq late yesterday morning, Rivera denounced as "a pack of lies" reports that he had been ejected by an unhappy commander with the 101st who believed operational details had been compromised. While CNN and other outlets also reported on the flap, MSNBC yesterday morning wrongly stated that Rivera had already been removed from Iraq. Rivera called MSNBC "pathetic."

"It sounds to me like some rats at my former network, NBC, were spreading lies about me," said Rivera, a former talk show host for CNBC and contributor for NBC. "Quality journalism will always win out."

At 12:14 a.m. Eastern Standard Time yesterday, Rivera narrated a report about the 101st Airborne that lasted more than three minutes. Crouching in the sand, he sketched an elaborate map with his finger, marking the location of the division he was traveling with. He also depicted the position of an alternate supply route constructed by U.S. forces about 10 miles west of the main highway between Kuwait and Baghdad.

While Rivera's reports have been unfailingly celebratory of the U.S. military, that early morning dispatch earned him the ire of some commanders.

"We take all violations of operational security seriously, whether it's inadvertent or not," said Bryan Whitman, the Pentagon spokesman overseeing relations with reporters accompanying combat troops. "I'm in touch with the news organization, and they are taking the matter seriously."

Technically, Rivera was not an "embedded" reporter. Hundreds of journalists signed up with combat units before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but Rivera initially reported from Afghanistan about continuing U.S. military operations there. Last week, he reached agreement to join the 101st Airborne as it progressed through Iraq, and he has filed a number of gung-ho reports for Fox News since then.

Several other journalists, including Philip Smucker, a free-lancer for the Christian Science Monitor, have been expelled by the U.S. military. A reporter for Sky News, a sister company to Fox, was briefly removed from a Fox "embed" slot, but that decision was reversed. But Rivera would be by far the most prominent name to run afoul of ground rules accepted by reporters accompanying combat units on their missions.

Over the decades, Rivera has cultivated a persona as an irresistible rogue. His reports took on a hyper-patriotic tone after the September 2001 attacks. However, he has courted both celebrity and notoriety throughout his career.

Rivera last found himself at the center of heated controversy in December 2001, when articles in The Sun discredited his report of visiting the site where American bombs unintentionally killed three U.S. special operations soldiers. His explanation, that he had encountered a second site of friendly fire that killed Afghan soldiers, also failed to stand up to scrutiny. No such episode could be confirmed for that time.

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