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Cauldron Boils Over Geraldo’s ‘Devil Worship’ : . . . and a Critic Falls Under a Diabolic Spell

Times Television Critic

P lease, parents, do not let your children read this column! Many elements of Geraldo worship are so offensive and gruesome that they have been omitted. Still, I urge you, ladies and gentlemen, to get your children away from this newspaper before it is too late. Geraldo worship is no passing fad.

A spirit visited me in a dream Monday night.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Geraldo Rivera,” the spirit replied.

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“What do you want?” I asked.

“Join with me,” he replied. “We can do great things together. For starters, I want you to watch my NBC special, ‘Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground,’ Tuesday night.”

I felt myself falling under his power and was helpless to resist. I’d heard of Geraldo worship, knew I was looking into his dark soul, but could do nothing about it. So I obediently watched his special.

Later Tuesday night, I dreamed again, and again Geraldo spoke to me.

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“So, what did you think?” he asked.

“The mutilated facts, the dismembered truths, the informational atrocities, all committed in your name,” I replied. “I was shocked.”

“Yes, it was beautiful, wasn’t it?” he said.

“Aren’t you the least bit ashamed?” I continued. “No one’s denying that Satanism exists. But you gathered a bunch of bizarre people and made their creepy satanic stories a metaphor for the nation. A San Francisco police detective’s statement that Satanism is ‘all over the United States and probably all over the world’ went unchallenged and, in fact, there was hardly a dissenting word during the entire two hours except for a black-clad satanic priest with his hair brushed demonically forward. Some credibility.”

“I’m getting a rush,” Geraldo moaned euphorically.

“You had people making undocumented claims that Satanists engage in widespread breeding of babies for sacrifice,” I said, “and you gratuitously showed grotesque pictures of corpses and carcasses. Your show added more cloudy rumor and innuendo to the McMartin School case, and you even interviewed alleged sexually abused children yourself to support the premise that the school staff engaged in devil worship. And you left the impression that half the Manhattan Beach population were Satanists.”

“Yes, that was a nice touch,” said Geraldo.

“You were exploitative and irresponsible,” I said. “Your entire show was out of context and out of control. You fed the paranoia of a nation already terrified and panicky from watching rampant violence on TV. You played to viewers receptive to your cockeyed theory that bloodthirsty Satanists are behind every violent crime and every bush.”

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“Have I done wrong?” Geraldo asked.

“It’s not your fault,” I answered. “You are who you are, your shrill opportunism and hip-shooting show-boating having been demonstrated again and again. It is NBC that is at fault, knowing who you are and what you do, yet still granting you two hours to do it, and permitting excesses from you that would never be tolerated from the network’s news division. And all in the name of ratings.”

“You can’t argue with ratings,” Geraldo said.

“Ratings aren’t the whole story,” I said. “Why does Geraldo worship exist, anyway? And why does it appeal to so many vulnerable people? Where did this all begin? You’re a good-looking guy, and smart. When did Geraldo himself become possessed and start worshiping Geraldo?”

“I was a young lawyer who cared about people,” Geraldo said. “Then I joined ‘Eyewitness News’ at WABC-TV in New York as an advocacy journalist. I was wild and I was hot, but I also did good things. I revealed the deplorable conditions at a state institution for retarded children and aired other socially conscious exposes for which I was applauded. I went on to do late-night specials for ABC, appear regularly on ‘Good Morning America’ and ultimately become a reporter for ’20/20.’

“But I had begun to change. I noticed this . . . thing growing in me, this enormous demonic thing growing out of control, larger and larger and larger until it consumed my entire being and could not be contained.”

“What was it?” I asked.

“My ego,” Geraldo answered. “I began to realize that I was more important than the stories I was covering, that ultimately the message was not drugs or pornography or hookers or poverty. The message was me.

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“So I left ’20/20' and later formed my own production company so that I could expand my following by making syndicated documentaries my way, featuring more of me. And now I have it all, including a blockbuster expose of Satan’s underground.”

“Yes, but it’s time to move on,” I said. “There are so many other important stories to cover--bestiality, mad scientists who turn their patients into frogs. You know the turf.”

“Maybe you’re right,” said Geraldo, his voice and face now fading.

Suddenly, another spirit appeared in my dream.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Brandon Tartikoff, president of NBC Entertainment,” the spirit replied.

“What has happened to NBC’s standards?” I asked. “You used to be the class of television.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Brandon said. “That Geraldo can really deliver the numbers.”

“So you’re into Geraldo worship, too,” I said.

“No, ratings worship is my cult,” Brandon said. “And your charge that NBC has lowered its standards baffles me. Why, if you saw Geraldo’s special, you must have also seen our promo for the ghost hunters on ‘Unsolved Mysteries.’ You must have seen our promo for the serial killer on ‘Midnight Caller.’ You must have seen our promo for an insane killer hunting a helpless child on ‘Something Is Out There.’ You must have seen our promo for the shootings on ‘Hunter.’ And you must have seen our assassination/garter belt promo for ‘Favorite Son,’ our miniseries about power, passion and the presidency.”

“I guess I was mistaken,” I said.

“Don’t worry about it,” Brandon said. “Everybody has a bad dream now and then. Cheer up--you’ll love Geraldo’s next special.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

He replied, “ ‘Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underwear.’ ”


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