TV drug raids rated a 'G'—for goofy
December 5, 1986
The other night, while watching Geraldo Rivera attempt his now-famous undercover TV drug deal, I found myself sort of wishing that some crazed doper would do us all a favor and shoot him.
Not kill him or anything truly serious—maybe just a flesh wound to the buttocks, though the irony of such an injury would have been lost on most viewers.
In case you missed the action, Rivera hosted a two-hour documentary that included live drug busts from several cities, including Pompano Beach and Miami. The audience got to see real-life footage of cops pulling their guns, busting down crack-house doors, handcuffing squirming suspects and seizing relatively minuscule amounts of dope.
I can't say it wasn't exciting—drug raids are. Whether staging one for a national television audience is smart law enforcement or self-serving hokum is another matter.
In Houston, for example, the big take was less than a gram of cocaine and an ounce of grass; on the positive side, a reporter there says it was the first time in recent memory that the sheriff had bothered to show up at a crime scene.
As expected, Rivera's toughest critics were those most intimate with the narcotics business. Lou Garcia, a retired smuggler I've known for several years, tuned in to Geraldo's performance Tuesday night and quickly became disgusted. "It was a joke," he said. "I didn't finish. I switched over to HBO."
The problem wasn't the subject matter, but the show biz approach. Rivera gets so excited by the sight of his own face on camera that he darn near hyperventilates. You want to put a cold compress on his forehead and make him lie down for a while.
The program's goofiest moment came when Geraldo announced that he was going undercover to do a drug deal himself. The first time, he looked like he was on his way to a casting call for Pirates of Penzance. You had to see this getup to appreciate it. As luck would have it, the drugs turned out to be fake, too.
The next time, Geraldo waited alone in a "plush" Fort Lauderdale hotel, where he posed as a cocaine customer from New York.
(Of all the police departments in the country, leave it to the Broward Sheriffs Office to go along with this nutty scheme. Imagine how they must have explained it to their liability lawyers: "OK, guys, what we thought we'd do is get one of the most recognizable TV journalists in America and let him go into a room to buy a kilo of coke from a bunch of armed criminals, just for fun … ")
So guess what happened. The bad guy recognized Geraldo. And why not, since this time his entire disguise consisted of Brylcreem and a pair of sunglasses. He might as well have worn an ABC blazer and had Barbara Walters on his arm.
Anyway, after a bit of bluster the deal gets done, the cops burst in and Geraldo gets the last laugh. Afterward, a Broward detective chortles at the hapless coke peddler: "You're now the most famous dope dealer in America." Make that the dumbest dope dealer in America.
The apparent message of this little escapade is that any media yahoo can do a drug agent's job, though I'm not too sure. Last week a coke dealer opened fire on three DBA agents in Miami, and I'm kind of sorry Geraldo wasn't there to see how the part is really played.
Maybe Media Vice Cops will become an exciting new weekly series. I'm sure that Nick (Prime-Time) Navarro, the Broward sheriff, would happily sign on as celebrity technical adviser.
Personally, I'd tune in anytime to see Jane Pauley try an undercover drug deal. Granted, it would have to be an unusually perky drug deal, but I bet the Nielsens would be monstrous. Likewise Dan Rather could probably be persuaded to score a dime of black-tar heroin, if he were careful not to get beat up.
Pretty soon they'd all be lined up to take a turn undercover in the fast lane—Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, all the big shots, with the possible exception of Irving R. Levine. I don't think smugglers go for bow ties.