This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," February 20, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELISABETH HASSELBECK, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": I think this is finally a time where we're seeing the New York Times being exposed for their liberal bias. We've seen it in their op. ed pages before.

And I also feel that these are unfounded attacks. They are damaging. What is their intention? If it's a newspaper, then when it is news you release it when it's news.

Video: Watch the Interview

The New York Times right now, in my mind, has erred on the side of being a tabloid at this point. Because this is not an op-ed piece. This is something that was on the front page of the New York Times. Oddly enough the left-hand side of the front cover.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RICH LOWRY, "HANNITY & COLMES" GUEST CO-HOST: That was Elisabeth Hasselbeck on "The View," responding to today's New York Times story. So is this a liberal smear job against John McCain?

Joining us now is the host of "Geraldo at Large," Geraldo Rivera — Geraldo.

GERALDO RIVERA, HOST, "GERALDO AT LARGE": Elisabeth Hasselbeck and then me.

LOWRY: Natural segue.

RIVERA: I can see the new Mount Rushmore.

LOWRY: So Geraldo, you are Bill Keller, who makes this decision for The New York Times, for a day. What do you do?

RIVERA: You know, that's a tough way to phrase it. But if I can't...

LOWRY: See? I'm good. I'm good. It's not easy.

RIVERA: Whether or not the story is valid is - it depends on whether or not it's true.

If this story is true, then nobody can deny that it is a powerful, important — profoundly important story, as framed. This is an alleged romance. And I love John McCain, and I said on this program I'd be proud to vote for him. If there is an alleged romance with a lobbyist and then he did something for the client of the lobbyist, then I think that his candidacy is finished. I think it's that big a deal. I think the ramifications from that, if that were central to the story.

But the allegation isn't that. The allegation is that a couple of people, his associates, as you've stressed tonight, had to intervene to protect the senator from himself, from the appearance of impropriety. Now, whether or not that story is legit will depend on whether or not that story is true.

For instance, do these people exist? Do they have dates of specific meetings with the senator and the lobbyist? Can they trace specific acts done in a quid pro quo basis? That's the problem.

LOWRY: This is the problem. This is the problem, Geraldo. Well, this is the problem. What you just said, which is entirely reasonable. It's if, if, if, if.

The problem is you read this front-page New York Times story, and you have more questions than when you started. So my question again to you, if that's what you have, if that's what you have to put in the paper, do you run with it?

RIVERA: You know, I hate to use the word "if." Again, I cannot imagine that the New York Times would go with this story as printed today if that's all they have. They have no more arrows left in the quiver. I cannot believe that that story would be thrown out there in such a way to hang and cause such a stink and, you know, such a malignancy over the political climate right now. I can't believe it. I anticipate the Times will follow it up.

LOWRY: But that's what we have — that's what we have in the black and the white now.

RIVERA: It seems...

LOWRY: There's not even an allegation of adultery. They're saying their associates who thought maybe this relationship had became — had become romantic. That's all they have in the paper. And it's shocking to me that they ran with that.

RIVERA: That's all they have in the paper. But that may not be all they have. And I think in fairness we have to see can they now respond to this firestorm that they have created?

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: And here's an issue, Geraldo. Shouldn't they have, in their initial story, have had enough substantiation so we wouldn't be asking all these questions. Because it's a pretty thin story, thinly sources with a word, as we mentioned a number of times, "associates."

Shouldn't they have made a better case in their initial foray into covering this if it's a true story?

RIVERA: But you know, Alan, I don't know the answer to that, because you have correctly pointed out the Washington Post ran a story on it in December. Drudge broke the story in December. The Washington Post has a big story today that's not the New York Times.

Now, is it a vast, liberal, left-wing conspiracy to undermine this fine man running for president?

COLMES: That's what the conservatives would like to make it out to be.

RIVERA: You know, I don't — I don't buy right-wing conspiracies or left-wing conspiracies. I think that what you have there is a journalistic competition. Are we going to get this story out before the New Republic scoops us on our own story?

Is this story — I asked — is it a story that aides intervened to protect Senator McCain from the appearance of impropriety with a female lobbyist? Is that a story?

COLMES: Well, is it a front page story? What about the timing of the story? Why go with it now? What information came to light in the last few days that made it now publishable when they wouldn't publish it a month ago?

RIVERA: I have had horrible relationships with the New York Times.

COLMES: Yes, you have.

RIVERA: I have been burned. They have lied about me and had to retract a story about me. I don't carry any water for the New York Times.

COLMES: They accused you of nudging a...

RIVERA: Nudging an Air Force man in Hurricane Katrina to get my face on camera. Which was absolutely untrue, and they said it was on tape.

COLMES: And they wouldn't we tract it.

RIVERA: And they wouldn't retract it until we beat them and finally they retracted it. So I don't — The New York Times and I have a strained relationship at best.

But you have to — you have to really sit back and say what if it was some other publication, you know, in a nonpolitical climate, and the story was aides had to — or associates had to intervene to protect the senator...

LOWRY: Eight years ago. Eight years ago.

COLMES: Wait a minute. Hold on, hold on. Can you remove those caveats and say — because it is a political climate...?

RIVERA: If tomorrow the New York Times says the meetings happened on December 11, whether it was eight years ago or 80 years ago, and they were in this place.

And — for instance, did the McCain — did the McCain executive or official, did they meet this woman at the Washington union station and tell her to scram.

COLMES: Should they not have had — should they not have had that locked up and published in their initial story to give it the depth and breadth it needs to be more credible? Should they not have said that initially? If that's true, if they had that information.

RIVERA: We will see. I don't know. I cannot imagine that that's all there is. That's all...

COLMES: So they must be holding back.

RIVERA: They' ae a great newspaper. I agree with you.

COLMES: I don't like going after them.

RIVERA: I can't stand them half the time but — I can't believe that they would be guilty of such shoddy journalism.

LOWRY: Maybe they smeared him just like they smeared you.

RIVERA: It is possible, Rich. Listen, it is possible but I just...

COLMES: Is it a liberal hit piece against Geraldo Rivera when the New York Times...

(CROSSTALK)

RIVERA: ... The New York Times.

COLMES: Go after him?

RIVERA: I want to bring this back to where I started because I really think that, because of the rage directed at the New York Times, Rich, we're missing a really important point.

If John McCain had an affair with a lobbyist eight years ago and he also, coincidentally or not, did something positive for that lobbyist client, everyone agrees that's a gigantic — but they have got to prove.

COLMES: ... McCain.

RIVERA: They have not proven it. If all they have is all they went with today, then shame on them.

COLMES: All right, Geraldo. We've got to run. Thank you so much for being here. And we'll talk about your book next week.

Copy: Content and Programming Copyright 2008 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2008 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, LLC'S and Voxant, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.