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From ABC to Fox News: The Career Highlights of Geraldo Rivera
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Geraldo Rivera, an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist, has been a prominent figure in American media for over five decades, known for his investigative reporting, controversial talk shows, and political commentary. Born on July 4, 1943, in New York City, Rivera has worked for major networks including ABC, CNBC, and Fox News, where he served as a senior correspondent and host until 2023.

Early Life and Upbringing

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Geraldo Rivera was born on July 4, 1943, in New York City to a Puerto Rican father, Cruz Rivera, and a Jewish mother, Lillian Friedman. Rivera's father worked in sugar cane fields and odd jobs in Puerto Rico before moving to New York, where he met Lillian while working as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Times Square. Rivera grew up in Brooklyn and West Babylon, New York, where his family sometimes faced prejudice and racism due to their mixed heritage. His mother even changed the spelling of their surname to "Riviera" on Geraldo's birth certificate in an attempt to avoid discrimination. Rivera attended the State University of New York Maritime College and later transferred to the University of Arizona, where he received a B.S. in business administration. He then went on to earn a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School near the top of his class in 1969. Rivera's diverse background and experiences growing up as a Latino-Jewish American would go on to shape his perspective and influence his career as a journalist and media personality.
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Geraldo Rivera's Early Career at WABC-TV

Geraldo Rivera began his journalistic career as a reporter for WABC-TV in New York in 1970, quickly making a name for himself in investigative journalism. His groundbreaking work on the "Drug Crisis in East Harlem" series earned him the New York State Associated Press Broadcaster Association Award in 1971, making him the first Hispanic to receive this honor. Rivera's success continued as he became the first Hispanic to be named Broadcaster of the Year in both 1972 and 1974. During his time at WABC-TV, Rivera's reporting on the abuse of patients at Willowbrook State School, a New York institution for the mentally ill, earned him a prestigious Peabody Award in 1972, further cementing his reputation as a skilled investigative journalist.
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The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults

"The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults" was a highly anticipated live television special hosted by Geraldo Rivera on April 21, 1986. The two-hour event centered around the opening of a supposedly secret vault in Chicago's Lexington Hotel, once owned by notorious gangster Al Capone. Despite the presence of IRS agents, a medical examiner, and intense media hype, the vault revealed nothing but dirt and empty bottles when opened. The special garnered massive ratings, with an estimated 30 million viewers tuning in, making it the highest-rated syndicated television special in history at the time. However, the anticlimactic result became infamous, with Rivera later admitting, "Seems like we struck out". The event inadvertently launched a new form of speculative news programming, where the anticipation of potential news became the focus rather than actual reporting.
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Controversial Daytime Talk Show 'Geraldo'

Geraldo Rivera's eponymous daytime talk show "Geraldo" ran for eleven seasons from 1987 to 1998, becoming notorious for its controversial and sensationalist content. The show gained infamy for an incident on November 3, 1988, when a brawl broke out between white supremacists and civil rights activists during a taping. In the melee, Rivera's nose was broken after being struck by a chair. This event, while criticized, significantly boosted the show's ratings. "Geraldo" became emblematic of the "Trash TV" era, featuring provocative topics and confrontational guests in an attempt to outdo competing talk shows. Despite its controversial nature, the program's long run and Rivera's ability to generate headlines solidified his status as a polarizing figure in American media.
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Controversial Media Icon

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Rivera's Career-Defining Moments

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Geraldo Rivera's career has been marked by several significant highlights that have shaped both his professional trajectory and American media. Here's a concise overview of some key moments in his career:
YearCareer Highlight
1972Exposé on Willowbrook State School
1978-1985Work with ABC News (Good Morning America, 20/20)
1987-1998Syndicated talk show "Geraldo"
2001-2023Tenure at Fox News as correspondent and host
Rivera's 1972 exposé on the Willowbrook State School was a pivotal moment in his career and in disability rights advocacy. His undercover reporting revealed appalling conditions at the institution, leading to public outrage, legal action, and eventually, the closure of Willowbrook. This investigative piece earned Rivera a Peabody Award and sparked significant changes in the treatment of people with disabilities. His subsequent work with ABC News, controversial talk show "Geraldo," and long tenure at Fox News further solidified his status as a prominent figure in American media.
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Rivera's Award-Winning News Coverage

Geraldo Rivera's journalistic career spans over five decades, marked by numerous awards and coverage of significant global events. His achievements and contributions to journalism are highlighted in the following table:
AchievementDetails
Awards10 Emmy Awards (3 national, 7 local), Peabody Award, 3 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards, 3 Scripps Howard Awards
Major Event Coverage9/11 attacks, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Charleston church massacre, Baltimore riots
High-Profile CasesScott Peterson trial, Michael Jackson's death, O.J. Simpson civil trial
Investigative ReportingExposé on Willowbrook State School (1972), "Women In Prison" documentary (2000)
Rivera's career has been characterized by his fearless reporting and ability to cover a wide range of topics. He joined Fox News in 2001 as a war correspondent following the 9/11 attacks, providing extensive coverage from Afghanistan and Iraq. His reporting on high-profile cases, such as the Scott Peterson trial and Michael Jackson's death, garnered significant attention. Rivera's investigative work, particularly his 1972 exposé on the Willowbrook State School, led to significant societal changes and earned him prestigious awards. Throughout his career, Rivera has received over 170 awards for journalism, cementing his status as one of media's most enduring and accomplished broadcasters.
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Polarizing Media Personality (Interviews)

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Geraldo Rivera's Heritage and Philanthropy

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Geraldo Rivera's personal life reflects a rich cultural heritage and diverse interests. Born to a Puerto Rican father and a Russian Jewish mother, Rivera's mixed background has significantly influenced his perspective and career. Beyond his journalistic pursuits, Rivera is known for his philanthropic efforts, particularly in supporting causes related to autism and intellectual disabilities. His advocacy for these issues stems from his groundbreaking 1972 exposé on the Willowbrook State School, which led to significant reforms in the treatment of individuals with developmental disabilities. Rivera is also an avid sailor, having circumnavigated the globe and participated in four Marion to Bermuda races. His passion for sailing even led him to navigate his boat "Voyager" 1,400 miles up the Amazon River. This combination of cultural heritage, charitable work, and adventurous spirit has shaped Rivera's life beyond his public persona as a journalist and media personality.
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Geraldo Rivera: Author of Autobiographies and Social Issue Books

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Geraldo Rivera has authored several books throughout his career, including autobiographies and works on social issues. Here is a list of some of his notable publications:
  • "Exposing Myself" (1991) - Rivera's first autobiography, which became a bestseller
  • "His Panic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S." (2008) - A book addressing Hispanic issues in America
  • "The Geraldo Show: A Memoir" (2018) - His second autobiography, focusing on his life and career
  • "The Great Progression: How Hispanics Will Lead America to a New Era of Prosperity" (2009) - A book discussing the role of Hispanics in America's future
  • "Willowbrook" - A book based on his groundbreaking exposé of the Willowbrook State School
  • "A Special Kind of Courage" (1976) - One of his earlier works
  • "Miguel Robles--so far" - A lesser-known publication
  • "Puerto Rico: Island of Contrasts" - Part of the Finding-Out Books series
Rivera's books cover a range of topics, from personal memoirs to social commentary, reflecting his diverse interests and experiences as a journalist and public figure.
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Closing Thoughts on Geraldo Rivera's Career

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Geraldo Rivera's illustrious career in television journalism spans over five decades, cementing his status as a legendary figure in the industry. From his early days as a reporter at WABC-TV to his long tenure at Fox News, Rivera has left an indelible mark on the world of broadcasting. His signature investigative reporting style, showcased in programs like ABC's "Good Morning America" and "20/20," earned him numerous accolades, including multiple Emmy and Peabody Awards. Rivera's ability to captivate audiences with his bold and often controversial approach to journalism made him a household name and a true television personality. Despite the ups and downs of his career, including the infamous "The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults" special and his polarizing talk show "Geraldo," Rivera's resilience and adaptability have allowed him to remain a prominent figure in the ever-changing television landscape. As a veteran journalist with a career spanning over 50 years, Geraldo Rivera's contributions to the television industry have undoubtedly left a lasting impact, solidifying his place in the annals of broadcast history.
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