July 29, 2013

On his weekend Fox News show, buff Geraldo Rivera provided a tutorial on the imperative of getting facts right when introducing guests on television. In search of an angle on the scandals surrounding New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, Rivera turned to current D.C. Council member and former mayor Marion Barry. Here’s how he handled the introduction:

Should their scandals have been a fatal blow to their political careers? Among my panelists tonight, councilman and former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry joins us. His scandal was arguably much worse than either Weiner or Filner. In 1990, Mayor Barry was videotaped smoking what the feds alleged was crack cocaine. He pled guilty, did six months in federal prison and then got re-elected mayor anyway.

With that, Rivera surely expected to begin a wide-ranging discussion about the power of forgiveness and redemption. Instead, he got stuck in the past, thanks to a bit of a fact-check from Barry: “Geraldo, you happen to be wrong about something. …You’re wrong about the fact that I got convicted of smoking crack — that didn’t happen.” The longtime D.C. politician then proceeded to dump a whole bunch of conspiratorial talk about the federal government’s vendetta against him.

At one point, Rivera questioned whether he was “rewriting history.” After some additional back and forth, Barry told his interviewer to “stop this bull**** about me doing something that’s not factual.”

As Barry pointed out, the offense that got him in trouble stemmed from an incident at the Mayflower Hotel in fall 1989 — which preceded the famous Vista Hotel video sting — in which Barry was alleged to have used cocaine with a friend. This detail indeed gets lost in the retelling of the Barry saga; people remember the grainy Vista video and Barry’s prison sentence, and they connect the two in their memory. Not accurate.

The fact-checking took nearly three minutes, leaving Barry a narrow window to punditize the Weiner situation. He said nothing of note.

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