This is Howard Rosenberg and I'm in front of my TV set watching Geraldo Rivera's "American Vice: The Doping of a Nation." And I'm getting nauseous.
OK, now. What you're reading is real. This is reality. This is happening. You're reading this just as I wrote it. Sure, there are muspelledwords. Sure, I've made sum mistukes. But it's live. I have no conttrol over it. There's nothing I can do.
I don't know how this review will make Geraldo feel. I mean . . . he's a human being, so I'm concerned. I mean . . . should I be doing this? I mean . . . it feels so strange. But what can I do? This is real. This is happening. And you're reading it.
OK. I think the review, uh, is just about ready. Yes, it's, uh . . . I'm just checking with the copy editors here to see, uh, yes, all right, I'm getting the go - ahead. I just hope . . . wait a minute . It's happening and it's real, you see and I have no control and . . . OK. I'm being told the review is here in the next paragraph.
Can you believe this guy? Geraldo Rivera the human drug, injected into your home like a rusty needle.
Tuesday's "American Vice: The Doping of a Nation" was Rivera in all his journalusting repugnance. What acting. What corn. What sanctimonious slop. The paradox is that you almost had to be on drugs to stand this two-hour duping of the nation on KTLA Channel 5.
"American Vice: The Doping of a Nation" was less sham but more shameful than Rivera's "Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults," whose enormous audience in April got Rivera a rich contract with Tribune Entertainment for a series of syndicated specials.
This latest program was probably a hit too.
There's no explanation for Rivera's attraction other than people must be drawn to him as they are to a freeway crash or a three-alarm fire.
The topic was illicit drug use, but the message was Rivera.
A serious probe would not have used such stunts as Rivera announcing that he and his New York studio audience had submitted to urine tests before the show. The results were announced later --Rivera was clean--but in a terrible oversight, he forgot to show live shots of the urine.
The core of the show was a series of live drug busts in a number of cities that were shown on a three-hour delay on the West Coast, accompanied by heart-thumping music and Rivera's hysterical commentary:
"On live television, a pusher may soon be going down for the count."
On this show, everyone went down for the count. This was live TV at its most revolting, with cops kicking down doors and bagging alleged pushers in front of TV cameras that beamed coast-to-coast pictures of suspects along with apparently innocent bystanders. In the confusion, it was hard telling who was who, and the ultimate disposition of these cases will never be known.
A woman was led away under the white glare of TV lights. Was she charged? Was she guilty? No time to worry about smearing the innocent. "This is real life," Rivera said.
Green-jacketed sheriff's deputies pushed down a door and rushed into a house, wrestling a suspected drug dealer to the floor in full view of the camera. But what if the man was not guilty? There was no taking back the pictures.
"It's live television," Rivera reminded viewers. "We have no control over it. There's nothing we can do."
Drug busts flew by like flash cards. That old softie Rivera expressed concern and compassion for the poor children of suspected pushers caught up in these televised drug sweeps. I tell you his heart was mush. It was tapioca pudding. He was so emotional and distraught he could hardly continue.
"It's the kids who suffer the most," he said with the camera full front on small children in raided homes. What hypocrisy! Do you protect innocent children by showing close-ups of their faces on national TV?
Rivera accused a woman of using an infant as a cover for drugs.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"I'm someone who's ashamed for you."
"But who are you?"
"I'm Geraldo Rivera."
Will someone please stuff Super Narc back into his phone booth? He even went undercover twice, one time looking like Capt. Blood in his red bandanna and dark glasses, another time being recognized by a pusher, but tough-talking his way out of his predicament, because he's . . . GERALDO RIVERA!
But back to Houston for another live bust. "This is reality," said Rivera. "This is happening. This isn't a television program. This isn't a made-for-TV movie. This is real life."
Made-for-TV real life.
The truth is that "American Vice: The Doping of a Nation" was merely a bizarre extension of the live TV fraud that local TV stations daily put over on the public in their newscasts. There is usually no valid reason for a live shot. It's almost always a gimmick whose only purpose is to convey false excitement to viewers.
There was nothing in Tuesday's program that could not have worked as well--and been more responsible--on videotape. The "live" angle was a carrot to draw viewers into the tent, and a dangerous one that afforded the producers (Rivera was executive producer) no time to contemplate or weigh information. No time for second guesses. It was real. It was happening.
It was disgusting.
"American Vice: The Doping of a Nation" reminded me of a screwball scheme for a syndicated series that a producer unsuccessfully tried to float a few years ago. He was compassionate, too. He wanted to rush out to poor souls contemplating suicide and have them tell their stories on TV. And if they committed suicide while he was there, what could he do? It was real. It was happening.
On Tuesday, a breathless Rivera acted as if he'd just discovered America's drug problem on his own. He discovered what everyone else knew, that some prostitutes sell sex to finance their drug habits. He quizzed a teen streetwalker. "Don't you have any self-esteem?" he asked. She could have asked him the same question.
The real tragedy of this program is that it contained some good information at times, but that its worthwhile elements were overshadowed by the melodramatic showboating of its host. How can anyone trust a man to report a story when his primary goal is to publicize himself?
The problem has reached crisis proportions. Guard your children. Somehow, America, we must stop the flow of Geraldo Rivera into our homes.