- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

On Media

The Fox News Channel has press and public in an uproar over Geraldo Rivera and Greta Van Susteren, both recent celebrated hires from rival networks CNBC and CNN.
Their pasts have accompanied them. Mr. Rivera has been called a "Clinton apologist" while Miss Van Susteren was labeled a "Starr basher" for her takes on former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and President Clinton's impeachment hearings.
The pair boast considerable, sometimes abrasive on-camera prowess. But viewers and pundits alike think their arrival at Fox signals that the network is muting, if not abandoning, its nervy, conservative identity in a media marketplace long dominated by the liberal mind-set.
Perhaps the clear division is fading: Fox is not a purely conservative bastion, the brass say.
"We are not a conservative network," said Kevin Magee, vice president of Fox news programming. "But we do know and acknowledge that there's a conservative view out there. We are fair and balanced, for real. If the audience only wants to watch a single point of view, they can tune in to CNN."
Some don't buy it.
"In snagging Greta Van Susteren from CNN less than two months after Geraldo Rivera came aboard from CNBC, the Fox News Channel has added a second high-profile cable news defender of Bill Clinton who also denigrated Ken Starr's law enforcement efforts," Brent Baker of the Media Research Center (www.mediaresearch.org) noted yesterday.
"During the Lewinsky scandal in 1998, Van Susteren used her CNN perch to urge President Clinton to defy independent counsel Starr's subpoena, impugning Starr by asserting it's 'improper for a prosecutor to set a perjury trap,'" Mr. Baker observed.
For her part, Miss Van Susteren has said that her past views were legal rather than political, and she just plans to be herself in her new role at Fox, hosting the 10 p.m. news program once anchored by Paula Zahn who jumped to CNN last fall.
"I don't pick sides," Miss Van Susteren told the New York Times. "CNN is criticized for being liberal, and Fox is criticized for being conservative. I always thought that both ways it was just noise, and I didn't pay attention to it."
Mr. Rivera, meanwhile, is not skirmishing in the ideological arena. He is instead defending himself against charges by the Baltimore Sun and other networks that he gave false news reports while on assignment in Afghanistan.
In a live interview on Fox yesterday, Mr. Rivera called the accusations "patently false and grossly unfair," calling the Sun TV critic who had made the original claims "back-stabbing" and "sweaty palmed."
His combination of news, soap opera and chutzpah make for good theater, proving Mr. Rivera to be a network hybrid: He is both performer and correspondent. In the ratings race, that can be heavy artillery. But it is paramount that viewers learn to discern between Mr. Rivera and those who deliver news, pure and simple.
He was intent on displaying his own stake in the war on terrorism yesterday. What would have happened if Mr. Rivera had found Osama bin Laden himself?
"A visceral, passionate reaction," he said. "Not a professional one. I take what happened [September 11] very personally, I would be sorely tempted to exact some personal justice."
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.


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