Was Rivera Muzzled? A Tale of the Tape

One man’s cut is another man’s dip is another man’s “Sorry, I’m not hearing anything.”

On Monday NYT‘s Brian Stelter reported on a bit from an upcoming book by Bloomberg View‘s Jonathan Alter. The part in question alleges that just days before the 2012 presidential election, nearly two months after terrorist attacks on a U.S. consulate in Libya, FNC CEO Roger Ailes personally called one of his channel’s producers and ordered that Geraldo Rivera’s mic be cut.

In the segment in which Rivera appeared, he criticized his colleague Eric Bolling for what he said was politicizing the attack. As the segment droned on for seven minutes, Ailes ordered the muzzling of Rivera, according to Alter’s book.

Stelter wrote that he sought comment from FNC, which never returned his request (not unusual for the channel’s illustriously choosy PR department). Instead, a spokesperson for FNC went to Mediaite and gave them their side: It was that FNC Executive Vice President of Programming Bill Shine, who called up the producer and ordered not Rivera’s mic be cut, but that the show’s hosts move on to another, less emotionally-charged subject. (The next segment was on immigration, not at all an polarizing topic).

Rivera denied Alter’s account in a tweet. Alter replied, asking why Rivera’s “office” didn’t deny the claim when he called to ask about it. “Specifically to Jonathan Alter, I like you mate,” Rivera countered, “but you never spoke with me about Benghazi and you never asked if Roger Ailes cut my mic.”

Mediaite‘s Andrew Kirell posted the full video from the segment in question, noting that “At no point during the segment is Rivera inaudible.”

Oliver Willis over at the anti-FNC Media Matters disagreed. He also posted the full video, claiming to hear “a change in Rivera’s microphone volume.”

What you can take away from watching and listening to either clip…

Mediaite‘s Kirell is right that there is no point where Rivera is inaudible. Even heading into the next segment on immigration, River can be heard sarcastically saying something to the effect of, “Oh great… Now we’re going to get lynched.” He says that while another FNC host is in the middle of a voice over.

Though Rivera is never inaudible, he is, at points, unintelligible. That is either due to the cross talking taking place on set or, as Willis implies, a change in Rivera’s audio levels. Willis writes that Rivera can still be heard because his voice “appears” to be picked up by another host’s mic.

Eliana Johnson, who identifies herself as a former FNC producer, wrote on Twitter, “From a former producer perspective, I don’t think mic was cut. Should’ve been!”

A separate opinion from Dave Kolesar, a senior broadcast engineer at WTOP: “It sounds to me like the person in the control room simply turned Rivera’s microphone down but not quite off, because he was shouting over the hosts.  Whether the controller intended to mute Geraldo entirely, I don’t know.  But when you’re shouting in a studio, there is always some ‘bleed-through’ to other microphones, which gave Geraldo’s voice the ‘hollow’ sound at the very end of the clip.”

Here’s what’s not being said…

Even if Rivera’s audio levels had been tampered with, that’s not proof that he was muzzled for his opinions. In any newsroom, it is common to reduce the mic levels of a show’s guest while the lead host or anchor does a voice over or a news package airs. This way, the show avoids any Jesse Jacksonesque “cut his nuts off” incidents. FNC may have actually experienced such a moment with Rivera. His apparent mentioning of “lynch” in the midst of a voice over on immigration isn’t exactly something producers want to hear.

At this point, it’s FNC’s word against Alter’s. But even if Alter’s assertion that Rivera had his mic cut is accurate, the actual tape makes it impossible to prove.