NEW YORK — Geraldo Rivera is quitting his prime-time talk show on CNBC to become a war correspondent for Fox News Channel, saying Thursday he couldn’t bear to stay on the sidelines during a big story.
Rivera’s last CNBC show after seven years will be on Nov. 16. He said he’ll be leaving for Afghanistan the next day.
His legal affairs talk show is one of CNBC’s highest-rated programs, although down from its heights during the O.J. Simpson trials. His 10 years as a syndicated talk show host ended in 1998.
Rivera, who exercised an exit clause in his NBC contract, said he wanted to do more reporting but it was difficult when he was committed to a talk show four nights a week.
He was particularly frustrated recently when he asked to do a special for NBC on why Muslims hate America, and was told he couldn’t leave the country, Rivera said.
“That’s when I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,”’ he said. “I’m a reporter, that’s how I see myself. And the war on terrorism is the biggest story of our times. I’ve got to get out there. And when you’re an anchor, you’re literally anchored. I had to break the chain.”
It’s a coup for Fox News Channel, which has struggled to keep up with CNN in international coverage. Fox recently hired a former CNN correspondent, Steve Harrigan, to report from Afghanistan.
Fox News Channel chief Roger Ailes said Rivera “never got the respect he deserved as a newsman” at NBC. “He never was used in the way he should be.”
Rivera did news specials for NBC and appeared on the “Today” show. But many in NBC News’ old guard were suspicious of Rivera’s tabloid TV days searching Al Capone’s vault and getting his nose broken during a chair-throwing brawl with white supremacists.
Ailes nearly hired Rivera in 1997, but at the last minute he decided to stay at NBC. Rivera said his exit from NBC now was done in a “gentlemanly’ fashion.”
NBC News President Neal Shapiro said: “We wish him all the best.”
“Geraldo has had an up-and-down career,” Ailes said. “He wanted to, and decided to make money doing talk shows and other things. My own view is that does not destroy you as long as when you’re doing the news, you’re doing the news.
“I don’t think anyone has ever questioned his ability to do news,” he said.
Ailes said Rivera’s contract provides flexibility to use him for other things, perhaps as a talk show host again, but that’s not imminent. “Right now he’s coming in as our hot spot correspondent,” he said.
CNBC said it will fill the sudden hole in its schedule by expanding its business programming into prime-time.
Rivera planned to tell his viewers Thursday that he’s not the same man he was before Sept. 11, when “the maniacs tried to tear our heart out.”
“I’m feeling more patriotic than at any time in my life,” he said. “Itching for justice, or maybe just revenge.”
And this catharsis I’ve gone through has caused me to reassess what I do.”