Geraldo Rivera Leaves Fox News As Only He Could

From a Washington Post story by Jeremy Barr headlined “Geraldo Rivera leaves Fox News as only Geraldo could”:

Perhaps only Geraldo Rivera — an accomplished showman as much as a journalist — could have turned his departure from Fox News into a suspenseful, week-long drama.

Rivera, who joined Fox News as a war correspondent in 2001 after a colorful and at times controversial career as a syndicated television host, announced last week that he would soon be leaving the 5 p.m. panel show that he appeared on regularly, “The Five.” It was his choice, he told the AP.

And yet, at the time, he left open the possibility that he would remain with Fox in his role as a correspondent at large, continuing on with guest appearances occasionally. As he posted shirtless photos last week letting his Twitter followers know that he was “contemplating retirement,” he began to tease the day on which he would announce his decision: Friday, June 30.

“I am unsure about my next career move & will announce next Friday here on Twitter & Live on @TheFive whether I stay with Fox or do something else, with your support,” he wrote on June 23.

Rivera had said he would make his final two appearances on “The Five” on Thursday and Friday. It seemed as if they would be appointment viewing. But Rivera’s plan for a grand reveal apparently got altered during the course of a high-speed boat ride.

Early Thursday afternoon, Rivera, wearing backward ball cap personalized with “Geraldo,” posted an upbeat video diary from a vessel speeding toward Lower Manhattan, with hours to go before the broadcast. “I’m back in my happy place!” he declared, grinning broadly. “Hopefully I’ll get more time to do more of this.”

But in a second boat video dispatch two hours later, something seemed to change.

“It doesn’t look like I’m going to be on ‘The Five,’” he said, his natural exuberance dimmed. “I mean, I’m not going to be on ‘The Five,’ I’ve been fired from ‘The Five.’” He went on to explain that he decided to “quit” Fox News after being removed from the panel show.

Instead, he teased a Friday morning appearance on “Fox & Friends,” which he said could be his last for the network after 22 years.

Would he, though? After a week of narrating his own story about his status at Fox News, it seemed reasonable to wonder.

But, after staying mum on Rivera for the last week, Fox News finally released a statement on Thursday night confirming that Rivera would be leaving the network — “an amicable conclusion,” the statement said — and that Fox would be “celebrating” him with a final appearance on the morning show.

Even as he expressed love for Fox last week in a Twitter video filmed from alongside a Hampton’s swimming pool, Rivera was clearly frustrated with the tenor of discussions on the program. Although Rivera’s on-air value was rooted in his heated and passionate on-air clashes with colleagues, the nature of his disagreements with permanent co-hosts Greg Gutfeld and Jeanine Pirro seemed to have turned particularly acerbic, and he began to appear less frequently.

“There has been a growing tension that goes beyond editorial differences and personal annoyances and gripes,” he told an interviewer last week. “It’s not worth it to me.”

Another left-leaning commentator, Juan Williams, also left “The Five” after clashing bitterly with his majority-conservative fellow panelists, though he has remained with the network as a commentator.

But it was all smiles and all happy memories on Friday morning when Rivera appeared on “Fox & Friends.”

“There is no denying that he is a TV legend,” said Fox host Rachel Campos-Duffy.

With balloons decorating the set and a backdrop reading “Celebrating Geraldo,” festooned with a large gray mustache, Rivera didn’t mince words about the nature of his departure. “I was fired from ‘The Five,’ so then I said I might as well resign totally, and I quit, and today’s my last day,” he said.

But he added, “I want to leave thinking about how wonderful everyone has been to me over the last 23 years.”

When he first joined Fox News from CNBC in 2001, years after his start as a muckraking investigative reporter for ABC’s “20/20,” Rivera said that some questioned whether his liberal leanings would work on the right-leaning network. “But it worked out,” he said. “Everybody was open-minded, openhearted. I was treated as a family member here, and I hope it was reciprocated.”

“Get a Kleenex ready,” co-host Steve Doocy told him, teeing up a career highlight reel. The video covered all the highlights and many of the lowlights — among them, of course, the much-hyped 1986 special when he cracked open a vault belonging to gangster Al Capone on live television and it turned out to be empty.

Over the years, Rivera has developed a sense of humor about what was one of the biggest busts in television history. Last week, a Twitter user told Rivera that his departure from “The Five” “will give you more time to explore empty vaults again!”

“​​Hilarious, thanks for your support,” Rivera replied. (Another Twitter user, less charitably, instructed Rivera to “lock yourself in Capone’s vault.”)

Sean Hannity, Pirro, Bret Baier and Jesse Watters were among the Fox personalities who recorded videos wishing Rivera well, though Gutfeld was notably absent.

“I can’t imagine this place without you,” Hannity said. Watters framed their on-air clashes on “The Five” as “jousting,” which he said “has been a privilege,” adding, “Geraldo, you ferocious animal, I love you. … You kicked down doors. You kicked in people’s chests. And it’s an honor to follow in your footsteps.”

After the sappy videos were over, the co-hosts of “Fox & Friends” donned fake mustaches to honor Rivera. He acknowledged how unusual the lengthy send-off was, which Doocy confirmed, saying that “nobody has ever been given 20 minutes.”

In a text message to The Washington Post after the show ended, Rivera described the treatment he got as “a nice send-off” with “no bitterness apparent.”

So, beyond more boat videos what’s next for Rivera, who turns 80 next week? Could there be one more chapter in his long and winding career? He seemed to suggest as much on Twitter last week.

“I feel the need to speak out, as long as some people want to listen,” he wrote. And one of his former colleagues is hoping as much.

“Of course I hope he stays on television,” former Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren, now on Newsmax, told The Post. “We need many voices, many opinions and a robust debate. Geraldo is passionate but never mean-spirited.”

Rivera told The Post that he is “not actively looking for a job, although if something interesting came up, [he] would check it out.”

But, Rivera made clear that he would not be on Fox again, even as a guest. “Nothing Fox related ever,” he added in his message. “That chapter is done. I’ll never again set foot in that building.”

Jeremy Barr covers the media industry for The Washington Post.

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