At 61, Geraldo Rivera says he’s growing up.

“Maybe I’m immature, and it took me longer than it takes most people. The gravity of family is very strong. I want to be a more settled person.”

With his fifth wife, Erica, 30, expecting their first baby in August, Rivera decided this week to re-up with Fox News Channel for four years.

As correspondent-at-large, a new title, Rivera will keep his 10 p.m. weekend show, “At Large.” He says he got a promotion.

Rivera quit CNBC to join Fox News as a war correspondent soon after Sept. 11. Now he says he’s looking for less hazardous duty. (This from a dude who takes a helicopter to work.)

“I’m very respectful of this stage in my life,” says Rivera, headed to Cape Cod, Mass., on Wednesday to skipper his 70-foot ketch, Voyager, in a race to Bermuda.

“Maybe I won’t get shot at as much. I’ve got four other kids. How many near-death experiences can one guy have? I’ve had more near-death experiences than I’ve had divorces.”

Rivera came under fire several times in Iraq, in more ways than one. In March “03, the Pentagon asked Fox to pull Rivera from Iraq following a report in which he outlined planned troop movements in the sand. He said it was inadvertent, apologized and returned a week later.

Before re-signing with Fox News, Rivera “could have gone anywhere, at least in cable,” he says. But he loves it at Fox, where he and blustery boss Roger Ailes “are like old buddies. We get each other. We complement each other.”

Democratic Party boss Howard Dean “calls Fox the mouthpiece of the Republican Party,” Rivera says. “If he had the guts to say that to my face, I’d smack him. Our shop is a place where ideas flourish.”

Fox News heavyweights Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity “are easy targets. Why discount me? My image is more ambiguous. I was Bill Clinton’s No. 1 supporter, and I’m proud of it. I adore his lovely wife,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D., N.Y.

Rivera, a Brooklyn Law School grad, raised eyebrows (again) recently when he promised to shave off his “iconic” mustache if Michael Jackson were found guilty in his child-molestation trial. The jury came back with innocent verdicts Monday.

Rivera wasn’t really worried about losing his whiskers.

The case “was just thin. Once I read the indictment and saw the timing, it was all so stupid, so recklessly implausible, so patently absurd. The prosecutors had to bend over backwards to make the charges fit the available dates on the calendar.”

Because Rivera “had so much at stake,” follicly, in the outcome, he recused himself from coverage. He says he didn’t mention it for three months, until jury deliberations began June 3.

“I didn’t want to be like certain other people in cable news with an ax to grind and a vested interest,” he says, not naming names. (We will: Court TV/CNN Headline News’ Nancy Grace, for one.)

“They made it look a lot worse for Michael Jackson than it was. I was the only person to stand against the avalanche, the drumbeat to get this guy, on the flimsiest of evidence.”

Moreover, Rivera became a participant “once I put the mustache on the line. It was a major thing for me. It’s like Pamela Anderson putting her (breasts) on the line.” (Maybe not, G.)

It may not sound like it, but Rivera insists that he’s mellowing in his seventh decade “unless someone makes me angry.”

“I’m like the old lion. I’m fine, as long as I get my way.”


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