Can Fox News handle internal dissent?

That’s the question raised by the latest flareup regarding Fox News and Geraldo Rivera. On Nov. 2, just days before the presidential election, Rivera engaged in a phenomenal debate on the set of “Fox & Friends” over Benghazi. Fox News talent Eric Bolling infuriated Rivera when he said the U.S. military failed to send help to embattled U.S. personnel in Libya: “Washington, the State Department, the CIA does nothing, sends no help.”

Rivera responded: “You are a politician looking to make a political point.”

It was a great intramural Fox disagreement. And if we are to believe a book by Jonathan Alter, it horrified Fox’s boss. In “The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies,” Alter writes that Fox News Chief Roger Ailes, “called the control room and told the producers to cut Rivera’s mic” after the argument got heated. (The New York Times’s Brian Stelter revealed this reveal yesterday.)

Fox News sprang to the offensive today. Here’s its counternarrative, via Mediaite:

Mediaite has learned from a Fox News spokesperson that Ailes never called the control room that morning, but rather, Bill Shine (Fox’s EVP of Programming) did. Shine did not order Rivera’s mic to be cut. Instead his call was to urge the show to move on because the segment had come to its conclusion, as the EVP seemed to believe that two Fox personalities calling each other liars with an escalating tone made for bad morning television and could potentially alienate their audience if it continued.

Fox News didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Erik Wemple Blog. Media Matters, Fox News’s most dogged critics, claim to find a volume drop in Geraldo’s mic late in the segment, as the hosts are trying to wrap things up. The Erik Wemple Blog is going to stay on the sidelines of that judgment. Rivera himself insists there’s nothing going on here:

On his radio show today, Rivera had Bolling on as a guest to chat about this piece of history. After playing an audio clip of their clash, Rivera said, “I hear some noise about people cutting off my microphone. That never happened.”

Bolling noted, “In that clip, you called me a liar for my opinions.” Rivera: “Did I call you a liar?” Bolling: “Yes, you did.”

More good stuff.

Whatever Ailes or Shine may or may not have done back in November, the Rivera-Bolling face-off represents not a worrisome departure from morning-show programming norms but rather a great moment in Fox News history. Here was a member of the Fox News family sitting on a Fox News couch, trashing Fox News reporting on a key issue in the presidential campaign. Consider: This discussion took place just one week after Fox News had reported that the CIA chain of command, the Obama administration — you name it — had bungled the response to the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

In the days leading up to Rivera’s appearance on “Fox & Friends,” the network had repeated those claims in broadcast after broadcast. Even as Superstorm Sandy lashed New Jersey and New York, Fox News’s “Hannity” filleted the Obama administration’s response to Benghazi.

Then along came Rivera to attack both the thrust and the particulars of Fox News reporting. A glorious spectacle it was — proof that Fox News could handle and even promote internal dissent on sensitive topics. If there really was an attempt to truncate this conversation, it’s clear that it failed, to the eternal credit of Fox News.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.