News Ethicists: Geraldo's Senate Run “A Clear Conflict” With His Media Posts

Journalism veterans and media ethicists are urging Geraldo Rivera to give up his many media perches if he intends to run for U.S. Senate, saying his Cumulus radio program and Fox News platform give him an unfair and unethical advantage.

Since Rivera first revealed his intention to explore a run for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey on his syndicated radio show, he has promoted the idea on Fox News Channel and the Fox News Latino website.

During an appearance Friday on Fox & Friends, Rivera suggested that he will continue to appear on the network while he “hone[s] a message,” and do so until “it's no longer legal.”   

On the January 31 edition of his Cumulus radio show, Rivera told listeners that he is “truly contemplating” running for U.S. Senate in New Jersey. Following a discussion this morning of various news events, including the suicide attack in Turkey, Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson asked Rivera about the “firestorm” he had created by announcing a possible run. In response, Rivera launched into what co-host Steve Doocy appropriately labeled a “stump speech.”

In both his Fox & Friends appearance and his Fox News Latino column, Rivera touted his stance on various political issues. During the Fox & Friends interview, Rivera suggested that he is a “modern Republican” that could appeal to “a point of view that is unrepresented in states like New Jersey.” 

Asked to comment on the potential conflicts and unfair advantage of his candidacy by email, Rivera responded with this statement:

The campaign is still a year away, so I still have significant exploration ahead before I commit. In the meantime the ideas I published today in my FNL column are the ideas that I've been unabashedly articulating for years on Fox and here on Cumulus radio.

Cumulus Spokesperson Golden Davidson also defended Rivera and hinted that he is unlikely to be asked to give up his radio perch anytime soon, stating in an email:

Talk radio hosts talk about lots of things and if at some point this is more than talk we'll address the issue appropriately then.

But mixing his political aspirations and his media posts did not sit well with several news veterans and journalism observers who told Media Matters that Rivera was engaged in a clear conflict of interest that should be stopped immediately.

“When I first saw this, the thing that really concerns me again is not so much Geraldo doing this, but I am surprised that Fox News is letting itself be used this way,” said David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun's media critic. “It is really, honestly one of the most troubling [things], really wrong that Fox allows itself to play this political role the way it did with [Rick] Santorum and with [Newt] Gingrich, to go on as long as they did into those primaries and be on the air. These guys have benefited enormously from being on Fox and having access to that large and active political audience they have.

”That's what Geraldo Rivera is tapping into and bringing up again. Fox demands to be treated as a news organization and then they allow some hot dog like Rivera to drag them into politics this way."

As Zurawik notes, Rivera would only be the latest in a long line of Fox News personalities to use their position at the network as a springboard into political office.

Marvin Kalb, former host of Meet the Press and founding director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, said Rivera cannot ethically be a candidate and a news person at the same time.

“If an on-air person makes any pretense about being a journalist, then obviously he should not be using his station or network to promote his candidacy,” Kalb said in an email. "He should immediately pull himself/herself off the air, then announce his candidacy, and run. He/she cannot be both a journalist and a candidate for political office. One or the other, please." 

Sonny Albarado, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, said Geraldo's journalism and politics are “incompatible.”

“If Geraldo is planning to run for public office and he's made statements to that effect and he's using his T.V. show to promote that run for office, then that's a clear conflict in my view,” he said in an interview. “He should either be a journalist or not a journalist...If you are a journalist and you run for public office, you should give up being a journalist while you run for public office. Running for public office and being a journalist are incompatible.”

Eric Deggans, media writer for the Tampa Bay Times, said Geraldo could stay on the air for a while if he did not discuss issues related to his candidacy, an unlikely move.

“Of course I would say ethically, if you know for sure you are going to run for office maybe you should at least not talk about the election until you leave,” Deggans said. “Pundits are pundits and are many times very self-interested creatures. They are supposed to be honest brokers, open minded and fair and if you are running for office then you have a huge conflict of interest that doesn't allow you to be fair. The ethical thing to do would be to avoid talking about subjects that benefit your candidacy.”

For Marty Steffens, chair of business and financial journalism at the University of Missouri Graduate School of Journalism and former editor of the San Francisco Examiner, Geraldo's recent move towards political candidacy “crosses the line.”

“This crosses the line of independence,” she said, later adding, “We are journalists and must be independent and bipartisan. It's clearly wrong and clearly makes problems for all journalists in the future.”