Are You Threatening Me

by Geraldo Rivera | Jan 13, 2012

Sitting at the bar in Paolo's Restaurant at 92nd Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan Saturday afternoon, December 10th, I was shocked by the tone the conversation with my old ABC News colleague Lowell Bergman had taken. He was heading to London and had urgently requested that we get together before his afternoon flight from JFK. 

 I remembered Lowell as a brave, competent, but hugely self-righteous old school investigative reporter, who famously produced the Mike Wallace expose of the major tobacco companies for '60 Minutes.' Al Pacino played him in the movie version of the saga, 'The Insider.'

Although I hadn't seen the now 60-year old veteran reporter since he parted ways with ABC back in 1982, I recognized him immediately.  Like most out-of-town, old-timers, who persistently request an unscheduled meeting to "talk about some projects I'm working on," I assumed Lowell had fallen on hard times and wanted a job. 

I was stunned, therefore, when after some small talk about our children (five each) and now dead fellow colleagues, his eyes narrowed, his smile turned into a grimace, and he began interrogating me about News Corporation's hacking scandal.

To be fair, he prefaced his questioning with a broad history of the scandal as reported in the New York Times. After I cracked how the Times ran a story a day about their rival's woes in England, and virtually none about equally serious allegations concerning any of the other British tabloids, Lowell dropped his bomb.

He explained that his investigative reporting program at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, in association with reporters from ProPublica are probing our corporate parent, News Corp's U.S. properties; specifically the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News.

The expose is due to run on PBS' 'Frontline,' "in the next few months," he told me in an ominous tone.

For the next half hour, Lowell explained how he has been frustrated in his efforts to get anyone from any of those news organizations to talk to him. He seemed especially incensed and eager to dig up dirt on one of the editors of the New York Post.

"I don't know anything about hacking telephones," I said indignantly, "and I've never heard anything about that kind of tactic being used by anybody in my building."

At that point, his eyes flaring, he asked an obviously prepared ambush question about whether we had ever used a certain old time private eye on the West Coast who works with numerous media companies on and off camera.

The gumshoe's specialty is digging through court documents and other public records. Although I've never met him personally or even spoken with him off camera, and told Lowell as much, the P.I. has appeared on my Sunday night program via satellite. Nothing he has ever done for us rises above the ordinary or is remotely illegal, immoral, improper or unusual.

I said as much to my old pal Lowell, and suggested that if he was really interested in news organizations using underhanded tactics to get dirt on celebrities then he should investigate the many and varied celebrity programs that nightly live or die based on their juicy, often paid-for tips and scoops.

Deflated, he seemed to agree, but insisting that he wanted to get "their side of the story," he renewed his pleas that I intervene on his behalf to get Fox News management, reporters or insiders to go on the record with derogatory information about News Corp.

Then, his chest re-puffed, he lectured me, saying, according to my notes, "You're a news organization. You say you have the right to wear a press pass. Well, that comes with certain obligations to defend your company."

When I told him I was still not interested, and that I was going to report everything he had said to my superiors, his frustrated tone turned threatening, "I've got all these journalism students at Berkeley straining at the bit to contact every reporter working for Fox News."

Now glaring back at the indefatigable Mr. Bergman, I asked, "Are you threatening me?" which he denied, then I said, "Let me get this straight. You are the most left-wing reporter in television news, a Berkley professor no less, and you're working with ProPublica, the most hard-left reporters' group in the business, and you're going to air your documentary on Public Television, and you expect me to convince my colleagues at Fox News that you're going to give us a fair-shake? Give me a break."

The confrontation over, he gave me his card. We shook hands, and he went off to London to complete the British side of his tax-payer subsidized smack-down. That was exactly a month ago. Today a van from PBS' "Frontline" is parked outside our office. I hope they're not hacking my phone.

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