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HOWARD ROSENBERG

The New Odd Couple: Metzger, Innis Take Their Feud on Road

November 28, 1988|HOWARD ROSENBERG

The TV talk show circuit has a new act.

There they were Friday, those co-stars of the new television hit "Race Rioting for Ratings," direct from their smash appearance on "Geraldo," together once again. Yes, it was white supremacist John Metzger and civil rights leader Roy Innis.

These days just John and Roy.

The venue now was not Geraldo Rivera's combative talk show--where Innis' throttling of Metzger after being called an "Uncle Tom" sparked a violent brawl--but "A.M. Los Angeles," the chatty KABC-TV Channel 7 morning show where controversy is usually defined as palimony suits or Hollywood stars getting tummy tucks.

Confrontational TV is rocking the airwaves, however, and Metzger vs. Innis has finally supplanted even Tyson vs. Givens as TV's juiciest topic. Feeding on his own negative publicity, Rivera himself has taped a post-brawl episode asking if television is "going too far," which is about as sincere as Adolf Eichmann questioning the excesses of genocide.

Well, if Rivera can cynically cash in on volatile racial frenzy in the crucial ratings sweeps month of November--the heavily promoted brawl gave his talk show a record national audience--so can "A.M. Los Angeles," like a jackal picking at a carcass left behind by lions.

"Were we being taken in by these guys?" "A.M. Los Angeles" co-host Steve Edwards asked earnestly about the "Geraldo" clash between Metzger and Innis, the veteran chairman of Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). "What was happening? What was going through their minds? We will meet the two fighters after this message."

The two fighters? Racial conflict now boils down to a sports metaphor?

And later, there Innis and Metzger sat, separated by Edwards and his co-host Cristine Ferrare, listening to Edwards establish the "ground rules." There would be no repeat of the "Geraldo" violence in "any way, shape or manner," he warned, else "we're going right off the air."

Yes, of course. Let's get tough now that we've teased viewers into watching. In other words, "A.M. Los Angeles" would tolerate none of the violence that it had hoped viewers would tune in to see when it decided to book Innis and Metzger in the first place.

Not that anyone need have worried about TV's latest road show, for John and Roy--as they addressed each other--were now friendly, congenial and reminiscent of former foes G. Gordon Liddy and Timothy Leary teaming to tour campuses when it became mutually beneficial.

Metzger, who heads White Aryan Resistance Youth, assured Innis that his group does not use violence to impose its racial views. "I'm glad to hear that," Innis said.

Now it was time to "go to the tape," Edwards said, and let Innis and Metzger review their own performances on "Geraldo." This was sounding like ABC's "Wide World of Sports."

See Innis. See Innis rise from his seat in anger. See Innis stand in front of and almost on top of Metzger and another white supremacist. See Metzger attempt to rise. See Innis place his hands around Metzger's throat. See the studio explode in chaos.

"What's going through your head here?" asked Edwards, thoughtfully, as if leading a scholarly investigation. Innis explained that he was motivated to strangle Metzger because he had never been "verbally assaulted like this" in his 25 years with CORE.

"Can we rerack this thing?" asked Edwards, now giving Metzger a chance to disclose his reaction to being choked by Innis.

The discussion was approaching a critical juncture. "Are you part of the hype, (or) are you victims of the hype?" Edwards asked Innis and Metzger before cutting to a Fantastic Sam's commercial.

How ironic that Metzger was to provide the half-hour segment with perhaps its only moment of truth when he bluntly described his "give-and-take" relationship with the media.

"I give them what they want," he said, "and in return, I get what I want."

What he wants is publicity. He has been "inundated" by favorable response to his role in the "Geraldo" fracas, Metzger said.

"I've gotten calls too," said Innis. "CORE's membership is swelling."

What TV wants from Metzger vs. Innis is swelling ratings.

With that in mind, "A.M. Los Angeles" was willing to stage what Edwards on Friday called a "non-ideological discussion" that seemed to elevate Metzger to a level of quasi-credibility and surely left many with the impression that this skilled propagandist was just a nice-looking young man with old-fashioned values and pride in working-class America. He wasn't denigrating blacks, only boosting whites.

The entire segment was a euphemism, with Edwards stressing that he wasn't "looking for confrontation" in noting that Metzger preached a "fairly deplorable philosophy."

Fairly deplorable. Metzger, whose father Tom Metzger is a former California grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, believes in white superiority, and he's not worthy of full condemnation?

"How do you feel facing each other now?" Ferrare asked Metzger and Innis. Her question went unanswered, but it was obvious from their smiles that they felt fine about it.

As for Innis, he apparently never met a camera he didn't like. Innis said he wished he would have been around to expose Adolf Hitler the way he claims he's exposing Metzger.

"I will do my very best to get more publicity and get more light on him," he said. ". . . John, any show you wanna be on--you want me to be on to give you more exposure--you've got my promise." Are you listening, "Oprah," "Donahue" and "Sally Jessy Raphael?"

And remember the Rev. Al Sharpton, an adviser to controversial Tawana Brawley and the man Innis earlier attacked on "The Morton Downey Jr. Show"? Innis said Friday that he and "Al" will now box for charity.

Check your TV listings.

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