Geraldo Rivera is an Immigration Advocate Embedded Inside Fox News

Geraldo Rivera - Getty - H 2018
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The host regularly takes his colleagues, his network and his friend, the president, to task on the issue.

Geraldo Rivera frequently clashes with his Fox News colleagues on air, occasionally calls out a president supported by the network's opinion hosts and founder and frustrates hard-right viewers who don't like his progressive positions on issues like immigration. But, that doesn't mean he's in jeopardy. Quite the contrary, actually.

"I feel very confident that I can say whatever I have to say about any topic that exists, whether it hurts the president or helps the president," he said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "I just know that I appreciate the freedom to say what I have to say."

Sparks fly frequently during Rivera's regular appearances on morning show Fox & Friends, mid-day show The Five and evening show Hannity.

Whenever Rivera hits Fox News, it makes headlines. Most recently, on Aug. 23, he tussled with news anchor Martha MacCallum when he said their network is using the murder of an Iowa college student, Mollie Tibbetts, as a cudgel to demonize undocumented immigrants. "We at this network are putting that spin on this story," he said during the segment. "This is a murder story. This is not an immigration story."

Earlier this month, he told the right-leaning cast of Fox & Friends that people in this country want a new border wall "because we’re scared that the demographic makeup of the country is changing."

Back in June, he got into a shouting match with Sean Hannity, his good friend, over the child-parent separations necessitated by the Trump's administration's zero-tolerance policies on immigration. "History will judge us, Sean," he said. "History will judge us. We must take a stand on something. Here is where we draw the line." ("Hannity's one of my best friends, and we don't agree that today's Thursday," Rivera says now.)

While guests espousing liberal views on immigration are often shouted down during debates with opinion hosts like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, Rivera is not. "I think I get the benefit of the doubt, even though I think it's fair to say that ... many of the people in the building disagree with me," he said.

Rivera said he's "very respected" at Fox, a "deference" he's earned by virtue of his age and time served at the network, which he joined back in 2001. He has two and a half more years on his contract, he said, and is "delighted" to be where he is.

That exalted status at the network makes him a strong spokesman for immigrants, according to people who advocate for them professionally.

"The interesting thing about Geraldo is that he's developed this credibility within the Fox News world," said Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum. "It's hard for them to just write him off because they have long-standing personal relationships with him."

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, who, like Noorani, appears occasionally on Fox News to spar with opinion hosts like Carlson about immigration, said that Rivera provides a service to both the immigrant community and the network's audience.

"There is no question that all immigrants, both legal and undocumented, are less likely to be criminals than U.S. citizens and are a boom to the economy," Ramos said in an email. "But, you wouldn’t know that if you are a longtime viewer of Fox. That’s why it’s important to have Geraldo there."

"There are few other consistently dissenting voices on Fox when it comes to immigration," Noorani said.

Rivera's occasional ideological divergence also benefits Fox News, providing cover from detractors who say the network is a right-wing monolith. "The fact that they have me on ... belies the notion that Fox News is propaganda," he told the cast of The View in a March interview to promote his memoir, The Geraldo Show.

On immigration, he said, "I think that what i'm trying to do, aside from letting people know where I stand on an issue, is also letting people know that my network is not speaking with one voice."

Sometimes things get heated when he's asked to answer for the network's most vocal right-wingers. HBO host Bill Maher got under his skin during an April appearance on Real Time, when he said Rivera is no longer the truth-teller he once was, and said, "Now you are the spin. ... You're a smart guy. This befuddles me. I looked up to you."

"I thought Bill Maher was very unfair, and I should have popped him," Rivera said. "Because, he was ... assigning to me the collective guilt of my colleagues. It was total bullshit. He's known me forever."

Rivera's colleagues, most notably Ingraham and Carlson, have drawn attention recently for espousing positions that some have decried as xenophobic or racist, charges both hosts reject. Asked if he's disagreed with their commentary on immigration, Rivera said, "First off, they didn't hire me to criticize Fox hosts." But, he said of Ingraham, "It's obvious that I disagree very passionately with many of her editorial positions. But, she's got an absolute right to say what she has to say. I detest this whole move to try to boycott certain commentators to try to steer them editorially or to try to hurt commercially the company they work for."

He also disagrees occasionally with his friend of 45 years, Donald Trump, and takes him to task on Twitter, chiding him most recently for calling Omarosa Manigault Newman "that dog." "I love the guy," he said. "Sometimes, he gets way out of line."

A frequent Fox News viewer who takes policy ideas from the network, most recently wading into South African racial politics after watching an episode of Carlson's show, Trump's eyes raise the stakes for the network, Rivera argued: "If indeed it is true, and I'm not saying it is, but if indeed it is true that the president of the United States gets his ideas on some of these controversial issues by watching Fox News or Fox & Friends, then my goodness, you see the profound responsibility of the commentator making the point, or the editorial team on that show helping the commentator making that point. This is real-life stuff now. This is not just noise or media. This is about the direction of the country, issues, where we're going."

Rivera said he talks less frequently with the president than does Hannity. "I say Sean Hannity's the second most powerful person in America, because the president and Hannity are — they have a wavelength," he said. "They are both on the same page. They have unspoken communication. It's almost like the president says, 'What would Sean Hannity do or say? Or vice versa. That's the sweet spot. With me, I think the president just likes me for nostalgic reasons."

While he's the network's most high-profile immigration advocate, Rivera is not alone on Fox News. On The Five, he gets an assist sometimes from co-host Juan Williams, a former newspaper journalist who frequently argues the "liberal position."

Asked if Fox News needs to hire more on-air progressives to argue for his causes, Rivera, who lives in Cleveland, said he wishes he could spend more time in the Fox News office in Manhattan "and lobby for the next generation." Citing left-leaning contributors Jessica Tarlov and Marie Harf, a former Obama administration official, Rivera said the network "is starting to get more of a fair-fight roster." But, he's not naive. "You can't deny that Fox is different than MSNBC, and they're both different from CNN," he added.