JANESVILLE (AP) - Geraldo Rivera's television show about his clash with a Ku Klux Klan sympathizer was described by Janesville observers as "junk TV," "for Geraldo's personal gain" and "one-sided."
A panel of seven community leaders previewed a videotape version of the segment that Rivera and his camera crew filmed Aug. 16 when he wrestled to the pavement with another man during a KKK rally.
It was reported the panel viewed a copy of the segment scheduled for Rivera's show Monday evening.
Thomas Brien, president of the Common Council, accused Rivera of shopping for ratings when he visited the southern Wisconsin city while an estimated 130 civil-rights demonstrators objected to a gathering by about 60 people at the home of Ken Petersen, a KKK recruiter.
Near the house, Rivera got into a fist fight with John McLaughlin, 42, of Champaign, Ill. A battery charge against Rivera eventually was dropped. McLaughlin awaits trial on a disorderly conduct charge.
"It's a highly sensationalized home video event," William Mears, executive director of Forward Janesville, said after watching the "Hate in the Heartland" episode.
"It's junk TV you can watch every night if you want," Mears added.
"A lot of it's for Geraldo's personal gain," Brien said. "If Geraldo had not been there, it would not have happened."
In an interview last month, Rivera said his Janesville appearance was part of a segment on white supremacists. He said he was interviewing Petersen when McLaughlin "called me a spic, then a dirty Jew, then threw something at me."
"I didn't get all this way letting little Nazis push me around," said Rivera who scuffled with members of a skinhead group while taping a program in October 1988. "Obviously because of my history with some of these organizations I expect hostility and some suspicion…"
"I don't think the Geraldo show is representative of the people in Janesville," said Edna Brooks-Pittman, chairwoman of the Janesville Human Rights Task Force which was organized after Petersen issued his membership invitation.
"Ninety-nine percent of the people in the video are from out of (town)," Brooks-Pittman said.
Watching the preview with Mears, Brien and Brooks-Pittman were alderman Tom Stehura, school board vice president Tod Daniel, Positive Action Group organizer Dave Feingold and YWCA executive director Kathleen Madsen.
The scrap with McLaughlin, shown twice in the videotape, was orchestrated, Brien said.
"He told the police officer that the fight was supposed to happen at the end of the interview, not at the start," Brien said, referring to a comment in the official police report.
"He had to get involved in some kind of confrontation, otherwise it would have been a boring story," Mears said.
"At the same time this was going, 2,000 to 4,000 people were at the Rotary corn roast having fun," Mears said. The events outside Petersen's house "involved at most 225 people in a town of 52,000, but all these events revolve around the camera being there."
Daniel laughed at the segment's suggestion that Petersen is a national Klan leader.
"He's no more a national leader of a right-wing supremacist group than I'm the pope," Daniel said. "They showed up here because of Geraldo."
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