Kurtz Backs Geraldo in ‘NYT’ Dispute Over Katrina Incident

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By: E&P Staff

At the time, it seemed like a minor, one-day story — amid the tragedy of the hurricane catastrophe — but is The New York Times, normally quick to run a correction or clarification, making it much more than that by stonewalling?

On Monday, Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post defended Geraldo Rivera in his campaign to gain an apology from the Times for accusing him of showboating during his Katrina coverage last week. The Chicago Tribune also covered the dispute today.

The Times’s TV critic Alessandra Stanley wrote last week that the flamboyant Fox correspondent had “nudged an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so his camera crew could tape him as he helped lift an older woman in a wheelchair to safety.”

Rivera has denied this from the start, claimed that a tape of the incident does not bear this out, threatened to sue, accused Stanley of being “Jayson Blair in a cocktail dress,” and suggested that if a male reporter had made similar allegations he would settle the dispute with his fists.

Meanwhile, the Times has not issued a correction, and Stanley has said her description was accurate.

In his Monday column on the front page of the Style section, Kurtz writes that “a review of the videotape shows no nudging or other physical contact by Rivera. At a nursing home, Rivera and a staffer are shown lifting the woman’s wheelchair down an interior flight of stairs. Then one Air Force man takes the wheelchair and a second one comes into the picture, looking as though he is going to help carry the elderly woman down the outside stairs. The second Air Force man leaves the picture and Rivera reappears, helping the first airman carry the wheelchair outside as the camera rolled.”

He then quotes New York Times Editor Bill Keller: “It was a semi-close call, in that the video does not literally show how Mr. Rivera insinuated himself between the wheelchair-bound storm victim and the Air Force rescuers who were waiting to carry her from the building. Whether Mr. Rivera gently edged the airman out of the way with an elbow (literally ‘nudged’), or told him to step aside, or threw a body block, or just barged into an opening — it’s hard to tell, since it happened just off-camera. Frankly, given Mr. Rivera’s behavior since Ms. Stanley’s review appeared … Ms. Stanley would have been justified in assuming brute force. … Ms. Stanley’s point was that Mr. Rivera was showboating.”

But Kurtz concludes: “Still, the tape shows no nudging, so the refusal to even run a clarification gives Rivera free rein to call the paper ‘arrogant.'”

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