WOR radio's Steve Malzberg likely had no idea the hornets nest he was walking into Monday when he decided to discuss race relations with Fox News's Geraldo Rivera.
Regardless of the tension on display or the uncomfortable conclusion, what transpired perfectly demonstrated how far we as a nation are from ending racism.
At first, Rivera seemed rather reasonable when he called CNN's Rick Sanchez a jerk for his comment a few months ago that Hispanics working for Fox News are all sellouts.
But when the discussion turned to the confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, and whether her comments concerning a wise Latina woman making better decisions than a white man could be perceived as racist and sexist, Rivera got quite defensive and eventually hung up on his host (15-minute audio available here, rough transcript below the fold):
GERALDO RIVERA (After Malzberg asked him about what CNN's Rick Sanchez had said about Hispanics on Fox News all being sellouts): I think he’s a jerk. And, you know, there aren’t enough, there aren’t, you know, that many Hispanics at Fox News Channel for him not to have included me in his blast. I, you know, I didn’t respond at the time because Rick Sanchez is such a loser and, you know, nobody watches his show. And so, it’s a typical ploy of the under-viewed to, you know, make a spectacle…It’s certainly a lazy, sloppy, self-promoting, you know, transparent attempt to attract attention on the back of someone else.
Good answer. But things became far less cordial when Malzberg brought up Sotomayor:
STEVE MALZBERG: To me, Sonia Sotomayor is a blatant sexist and racist. And just because she’s Hispanic…
RIVERA: I think that’s outrageous that you say that. I mean, you base that on her speech at a college in the year 2000? Have you read her decisions? I mean, that is, this is the most eminently qualified, new jurist on the high court ever…She grew up in the same building as my Aunt Anna and my Uncle (?).
Wow. She grew up in the same building as his aunt and uncle, and that means she's not a racist and/or sexist?
Moments later, when Malzberg pointed out that Sotomayor gave practically the same speech numerous times over several years, Rivera got agitated:
It is exactly that attitude that is the reason the Republican Party will never again have the presidency.
Republicans will NEVER win the White House again? Ever? Wow! Why, Geraldo?
Because here is the most, here is the best among us, someone who has overcome enormous obstacles. A single-parent home, her Dad died when she was eight-years old, she’s in the East Bronx, her mother’s working two jobs, her mother a veteran of the Army, an Army nurse working two jobs. Puts her brother through school, her brother becomes a doctor, she becomes this eminently qualified lawyer whose decisions are flawless.
Hmmm. So that not only means she's not racist and/or sexist, but also makes her qualified to be on the Supreme Court?
When Malzberg questioned this reasoning, Rivera predictably went after Justice Clarence Thomas:
Who do you like on the Supreme Court? Do you like Clarence Thomas? Is he your guy?...Have you ever heard Clarence Thomas utter one word on that high court?...I mean, what was his record like? What was his? Have you examined his record?
Malzberg tried to bring it back to Sotomayor saying, “I said to you she was a racist and a sexist.” Rivera wasn't having any of it:
I think that’s absolutely slanderous, Steve. It’s lazy, it’s anti-intellectual. She hasn’t done a racist thing in her life.
Malzberg followed with a great question: “Have you ever said that you are better than a white male because of your ethnicity and sex or better than a white female? Have you ever said that Geraldo?” That seemed to really fluster Rivera:
I don’t, in terms of the statements you make before college kids, I’ve done a hundred college speeches, and I’m sure if you parsed every…she hasn’t said it over and over again. You’re distorting her record, and you are, you’re being anti-intellectual, and you certainly have never read her decisions…What is open to debate is your characterization of her as a racist. You sound like Glenn Beck calling the President a racist. I mean, you don’t throw those words around, they mean something.
From there, the discussion devolved further, with Rivera eventually hanging up in disgust, leaving Malzberg to finish the segment by himself:
Into the great abyss, Geraldo hangs up. Very nice. I guess when you can’t argue the point, and all you can do is say, “You’re lazy, that’s intellectually lazy,” or whatever. Imagine, I called Sonia Sotomayor a racist for saying that she’s better than a white man because she’s Latina, and she’s a woman, and I just asked Geraldo if that was racist, and he hung up. Very disappointed in Geraldo. I thought he could handle himself better than that.
Actually, I'm not surprised, for the segment demonstrated perfectly what was at the heart of the Sotomayor confirmation process, and the dirty secret about racism: it is indeed very difficult for people -- even journalists -- to separate their own background and experience from their views on the world thereby making it tough for most to be completely impartial.
Rivera during this interview couldn't separate himself from his upbringing to honestly answer the questions being thrown at him, and most people can't.
But folks that are sitting on a court -- especially the highest court in the land -- have to be able to do that, or they're not qualified for the position.
As an attorney himself, Rivera should know this, but clearly his own background and experience are clouding his judgement.
In the end, we will never conquer racism in this nation until we eliminate all ethnic classifications, and just consider ourselves Americans.
On a personal note, Steve Malzberg's father passed away Monday night. Please say a prayer for him, his family, and his friends.