A Bad Idea

by Geraldo Rivera | Jul 26, 2013

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Of course the time was 2:30 Sunday morning, and one of my hard-learned life rules is that nothing good happens at that hour of the deep dark night, especially after a couple of tequila shots, except sweet dreams and maybe an intimate snuggle. Our little house in Edgewater New Jersey with the spectacular view of Manhattan across the Hudson River was quiet, even the dogs were asleep. Hot and muggy out, I had just gone for a moon-lit swim in our little pool on the dock. Drying myself upstairs in the kitchen, I picked up my company-issued Blackberry and checked emails concerning the Saturday night program just aired a few hours earlier on the Fox New Channel.

Much of the show concerned the continuing fallout from the dramatic but not unexpected verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder case. I had spent the day tracking the Reverend Al Sharpton's demonstration in downtown Manhattan and wanted to check out how the audience felt about how I had covered the events of the day.

A personal highlight had been meeting Jay Z and Beyonce, who could not have been nicer, even though they disagreed with my take on the controversial case. Many in the crowd had been less friendly, remembering my provocative statement that the slain teenager's hoodie was as responsible as George Zimmerman for the unarmed youngster's death.

Holding this hand-held digital portal to the world, after going through the emails, I started perusing some photos I had taken of the big event, including one of the celebrity couple that I had tweeted out earlier.

As I scrolled through the archived shots, I saw two of myself that I had taken Saturday morning before going out on the assignment. Only later would I learn the word "Selfie." Having celebrated my 70th birthday just two weeks before, I peered intensely at the semi-risqué shots searching for signs of aging and decrepitude.  At that moment, I was a like a geriatric male version of the wicked queen in Snow White who keeps asking her mirror, 'Who is the fairest of them all?'

"Damn, I look pretty good for an old man," I laughed out loud waking the slumbering dogs who are named Ricky and Lucy, both of which barked at the disturbance.

Then came the struggle over who to share the photos with; Erica's seen so many similar shots it hardly seemed worth the effort. 'I got it, I'm going to tweet them out to the world!' I thought, 'what could possibly go wrong?'

That's the trouble with Twitter. With the click of a button you can reach the world. I clicked, laughed out loud, turned off the Blackberry and went downstairs to sleep.

We had scheduled a boat ride for Sunday. Since it is my only day off, I try not to connect with the outside world, figuring that if there is a true emergency people will find me.  I was out on Voyager our old sailboat anchored in front of the house as our guests arrived on the dock. Driving the dinghy ashore to pick them up, my mood was light. I was feeling like the naughty kid who had just pulled a successful prank.

As Erica stepped on board the dinghy, I could tell by her pained smile that I had screwed up. Stepping into the inflatable boat she told me that she had just heard from her friend Robyn who works for Oprah who warned her that she was in for a long day. I made light of the whole situation, and concentrated on getting everyone safely to Voyager on her mooring.

We sailed up the Hudson with the boat load of friends and children, still relatively light-hearted until reaction started piling into Erica's phone. Finally, when we were back at the house, she looked at me with a pained expression and asked why I had done it. So did my adult children.

When they and my boss at Fox News told me to take down the instantly notorious photo I did but of course that was way too late to stop the hurricane of displeasure.

All that day Sunday and through Monday, the reaction mounted as the controversy over my "Selfie" went viral. Having survived a few of these virtual thrill rides, there is nothing quite as exhilarating and as frightening as a personal controversy going viral. Once the digital monster takes over, no one can control it. And where and when it stops nobody knows.

My twitter account bulged with mostly negative responses to my impetuous posting. Followers vied to out insult me, accusing me of everything from pornography to narcissism. The vehemence of the reaction surpassed any critique I had ever received. Then the late-night comics took over and the ridicule began. Still, considering how many had commented, I felt like I had survived.

That's when the tweeting scandal involving disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner re-emerged with the publication of the mayoral candidate's truly salacious Selfie's including full-frontal nudity. Suddenly, my relatively benign scandal was cast in a darker light. Since we had both used Twitter, we were examples of the same shameful narcissistic excess. Eventually, as the week wore on most folks saw the difference between my simply showing off and his virtual adultery, but the timing could not have been worse.

I've apologized to Erica and the kids and to anyone else who was offended by my regrettable stunt. My 94-year old mom has forgiven me. And I've vowed never again to tweet before bedtime.

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