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How Are Media Covering Schwarzenegger's Run?

Aired August 10, 2003 - 11:30   ET


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Now it's time for me to give something back to California. This is what this is all about.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): "Total Recall," the movie star candidate turns the California race upside down. But will the press now get tough with Arnold Schwarzenegger? Can he oust Gray Davis by dealing with the likes of Jay Leno? And will he move beyond cliches with the likes of Matt Lauer and Diane Sawyer? Will the mainstream press bite on those rumors about Schwarzenegger's past? And how are journalists covering all those wacky candidates, from a pornographer to a buxom billboard queen?


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on the media. I'm Howard Kurtz.

It was the moment journalists around the world were anxiously awaiting, a celebrity campaign starring the Terminator, and it's been a box office smash.


KURTZ (voice-over): When Arnold Schwarzenegger made his surprise announcement, it was not at a news conference, but with his Hollywood pal, Jay Leno.

SCHWARZENEGGER: This is why I'm going to run for governor of the state of California.

KURTZ: And the reporters in "The Tonight Show" press room were used as a foil.

Within minutes, the media coverage was wall to wall Arnold.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Arnold Schwarzenegger has just announced that he is going to run for governor of the state of California.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Arnold Schwarzenegger is looking to terminate the competition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Arnold Schwarzenegger filed papers to run for governor. BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": It is "Total Recall" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

KURTZ: The Republican gubernatorial candidate answered a few questions after fighting papers on Thursday, but offered no details, such as when he was asked about his stance on environmental issues.

SCHWARZENEGGER: And I will fight for the environment. Nothing to worry about that.

KURTZ: By Friday, he was making the morning talk show rounds. Six programs in all. But when the anchors pressed for specifics, Schwarzenegger stuck to his vague stalking points about leadership and cleaning house in Sacramento.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about gay marriage?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I don't want to get into that right now, because as we come to go on with our campaign, we will be addressing all of those issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your personal behavior will become a subject of this campaign. Are you prepared to defend yourself?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I'm not interested even in talking about anything negative because my campaign will be positive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You talk about the budget deficit, you talk about the energy crisis, the slumping economy, people leaving California. Give me some specifics, Arnold, how are you going to turn it around?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I think the first and most important thing is is to know is it takes leadership.


KURTZ: And joining us now in San Francisco, Karen Breslau of "Newsweek" magazine. In Los Angeles, syndicated political columnist and radio talk show host Jill Stewart, and here in Washington, Linda Douglass of ABC News, and Marc Sandalow, "The San Francisco Chronicle's" Washington bureau chief.

First, a disclosure. My wife worked for Schwarzenegger's after- school initiative in California last year before we were married, but has had no further connection to him or his campaign.

Linda Douglass, hasn't Arnold always been coddled by the press as a Hollywood big shot and is that about to change dramatically?

LINDA DOUGLASS, ABC NEWS: Well, he's been cuddled by the press mainly because he hasn't been running for governor before. I mean, that's absolutely true that there really wasn't any reason to go through his positions on issues, because all the talk about his running for governor was just talk. Now he's really going to have a rough ride. KURTZ: A rough ride?

DOUGLASS: A rough ride, because in California, the local press, the people who are writing for the state of California are going to have to go through his positions on all kinds of very complicated issues, and then at the time same there is going to be parallel media coverage nationally looking at his, you know, Hollywood life, looking at whether he was a womanizer, looking at everything else this "The National Enquirer" can think of.

KURTZ: It will be quite a frenzy. Jill Stewart, does Arnold have to demonstrate that he understands water policy, that he has an education policy, or you know, does his celebrity candidacy just kind of transcend all that?

JILL STEWART, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: No, I don't think it transcends that. The media are going to pile on him. I think the media have a sheep-like mentality. The political press in California have been very, very lazy in recent years. They did not cover the budget disaster last year. If you look at the coverage, you cannot find any real in-depth coverage. They have a guilt complex about what's going on, and they are going to do a big pile-on on Schwarzenegger, because he is the front-runner. That's how they handle front runners, and they have their guilt to bring into it, so they're going to be -- I predict a lot of bias and a serious attack on everything -- every little bobble that he does they are going to go after it big time. It's going to be a media pile-on.

KURTZ: Well, I guess you may be right, but I guess I haven't seen a lot of evidence of that yet. Marc Sandalow, you saw those morning show interviews, people's governor, fighting against the special interests. Will the press allow Arnold to continue to speak in cliches, as he did on those shows, or will he not be able to get away with that after a while?

MARC SANDALOW, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Well, I hate to be characterized as a lazy sheep, so I'm not exactly sure that would let him off that easy. No, the Jay Leno moment is over. I mean, he had his sound bites and they were good. They were spectacular. He made a mockery of the traditional press. You saw in the green room there.

KURTZ: A mockery?

SANDALOW: Oh, these guys were out there, no one thought -- all of us who knew anything about politics said he's not in. How could a Hollywood actor, once we saw he said he was going to be on Jay Leno, say he's getting into a California governor's race on national TV, on the Leno show, can't happen. It did happen. And I think it was brilliant PR, but already the questions are coming. Fifteen hundred bills out of the state legislature. What does he do with those? The state's bond rating. You don't have to see the movie "Chinatown" to know that the water policy is serious. You heard that answer he gave in your little set-up here about the environment. He said, "nothing to worry about."

KURTZ: Nothing to worry about. Are you worried? You don't need to worry.

SANDALOW: That is not exactly Earth in the balance, but people of San Francisco might not go for it.

KURTZ: Linda Douglass, you mentioned the tabloid allegations about womanizing, for example. They've been out there for a long time. Will the mainstream press now recycle them and dignify them?

DOUGLASS: The mainstream press doesn't necessarily have to in this case. As I say, this is going to be an unprecedented campaign running on parallel tracks. The mainstream press can be responsible and look at what he is going to do about the bond rating and look at what he is going to do about the $38 billion deficit, and look at his policies on the environment, what the heck is he talking about? They have the luxury of being serious here, because there's going to be massive coverage by the tabloids and by the less than tabloids, entertainment magazines, "People" magazine and so forth. And then, of course, that gives the mainstream press the opening that it always needs to get into these issues without having to open that door themselves.

KURTZ: Well, here's a "New York Post" story that begins: "The husband of a Kennedy, the son of a Nazi, a dad of four who's been accused of groping other women." Jill Stewart, it seems to me that his finances, his real estate holdings, whether he has voted in past elections, some of which he hasn't, all of that is fair game for the press. But why should the press traffic in this extramarital garbage?

STEWART: Well, I don't know if they should traffic in it, but it's reality and they're going to go after it. It is going to be an interesting story for a lot of the media that Linda has mentioned, but really in California, the question will be does the public care or will they shrug it off? There's that old saying about is it going to be a scandal unless it involves a dead girl or a live boy, excuse the phrases, and I think that applies here. The California public are a little bit jaded about some of these kinds of issues and I'm not sure it's not going to be more than just fun water cooler talk in California. But they will be looking to after the first couple of weeks, what are his specifics? Workers' compensation is a disaster under the Democrats. How is he going to fix it? That's going to be a big, big issue. You're going to hear about it from now on I think.

KURTZ: Those are certainly questions that reporters will be asking, how well or how detailed answers we get, I think, very much remains to be seen.

Karen Breslau, you co-authored this week's "Newsweek" cover story on Arnold Schwarzenegger. "TIME" has got Arnold on the cover as well. We can take a brief look at that. You are out there. Isn't there kind of a breathless quality to at least the early days of this coverage as if journalists are just delirious that he's even in the race?

KAREN BRESLAU, "NEWSWEEK": Yes, I think the delirium lasted for about 12 to 24 hours. I think by -- by Friday when Arnold made those morning shows appearances, I think some of the fever had broken, and certainly yesterday when all the questions about the tax returns and the financial disclosure and the voting records came up, I think the tide is turning.

KURTZ: Well, Karen, MSNBC reported last week that Arnold was definitely not running, that obviously turned out not to be the case, as Marc Sandalow said a lot of pundits said no way would he get into this race. Did he kind of stick it to the press by faking reporters out and by making the announcement on "The Tonight Show"?

BRESLAU: I think he was showing who was the master of the show. And that was clearly Arnold. And you know, for sheer both entertainment value and political drama and news value, it was certainly, you know, the most masterful moment I think many of us had seen in an awfully long time, if ever. So was he sticking it to the press? I think he was saying, look, this is all going to happen on Arnold's terms, and we're starting right now by the way.

SANDALOW: And you can't underestimate how big the fun factor is. I mean, I disagree with Karen that the glamour of this is fading yet. Not only reporters but voters are fascinated by this story, and you know, if there's a rap against Gray Davis, and you can go into all the politics of it, he is a gray politician. He's boring. Why did Al Gore not win the presidency? One of the reasons is people didn't want to turn on their TV set every night for four years and listen to him. Gray Davis fits that category. Arnold by all definition doesn't. There is a gee-whiz quality not only in the press but in the public. That helps Arnold enormously.

DOUGLASS: There's also...

BRESLAU: Let me clarify. I don't think it's just that we're mesmerized. I mean, yes, we are, because we're all sitting here talking about it, but what will the quality of the coverage be? I think you started to see a slight shift of that in the last day or so, and that's what I was referring to.

STEWART: I agree with her, and also I think the cameras are going to focus on three or four of the candidates very, very quickly. They are going to by necessity start to cut out the rest of the candidates very quickly, and so you're going to see incidents like Arianna Huffington accidentally knocking over all of the microphones yesterday to get her time in front of Arnold. Other candidates are going to shadow Arnold. He is going to be on TV all the time, even after the excitement wears off.

KURTZ: Linda, go ahead.

DOUGLASS: But there also is this rap on the California press corps, which is that they -- as you heard Jill say, that they were lazy.

Well, in defense of the California press corps, there's really been a tradition of fairly boring politicians for many years in California. You had Governor George Dukmejian (ph), you had Governor Pete Wilson. You have many politicians whose names you haven't heard of. Rarely is...

KURTZ: Local television stations in Los Angeles barely cover politics.

DOUGLASS: Local television stations are going to pay a lot of attention to this, because it's a phenomenon of a completely inexperienced person running in this recall that is going to happen in a month and a half, and you also have this famous movie actor, so there's going to be a lot of attention paid to this and it is going to be serious.

KURTZ: There was a mention of yesterday's appearance by Arnold Schwarzenegger at the courthouse, where he actually filed the papers, produced this front page picture in "The New York Times" of Arianna Huffington elbowing her way into the shot. It was also the first time we heard during this brief campaign from Schwarzenegger's wife Maria Shriver who has taken a leave from NBC News. Let's take a brief look at the scene there at the courthouse.

All right, I thought we had the sound bite there, but we're just seeing it. My question is, anybody can grab this, Jill Stewart, why don't you take this, you know, there were cheering crowds there. Maria says a few words. Arnold says he wants to be the people's governor, 500 reporters, no answers, no question, no press conference. How much longer can he get away with that sort of photo-op politics?

STEWART: Not very long at all, and of course Arianna Huffington gave a half-hour interview while he was inside registering, and almost none of her comments made the media anywhere, and hers was very detailed on policy. Whether you agree with her or not, she got no coverage.

Now, Arnold is going to have to start answering very detailed questions. Today in Los Angeles at 10:00 a.m., he is releasing his IRS and his statements of economic interest, because he had that little problem yesterday about how he answered. So I think we're going to start seeing much more specifics, very quickly. He's got a very seasoned, very, very seasoned campaign team, and they're not going to let him screw up too long.

KURTZ: Marc Sandalow, you mentioned Gray Davis. I've barely seen Gray Davis covered in the last few days. He is the governor of the state. The question is whether he should be recalled. And I'm just wondering, how does he compete with a guy who every time he sneezes there are 20 cameras there?

SANDALOW: Well, the line from Davis will be, there will be a couple. This is the most Democratic state in the nation. Do you want them, the Republicans, to be able to throw us out? That will be one.

KURTZ: No, no, I don't mean how does he compete politically. I mean how does he compete for media oxygen? How does he get his face on TV? How does he avoid being steamrolled by the Schwarzenegger phenomenon? SANDALOW: Well, he is the loyal opposition at this point to the Hollywood set, and I think he uses that to his advantage. He says, you got glamour. Sure, turn on people television and you'll see Arnold. You want to solve the state's problems, turn to me. The problem is, the state's problems are in terrible shape right now.

DOUGLASS: And he is really not trying to be visible. He is declining many requests for interviews right now, Gray Davis is. He is not out there trying to get on television. It behooves him -- and this is advice that we know that he's getting from former President Bill Clinton -- to be sitting at his desk, claiming to be doing his job, much too busy running the state to be running around trying to knock over microphone stands and get on television and compete with a movie star. This is the image that he is going to try to create for himself to redeem himself in the eyes of the voters.

KURTZ: Jill Stewart, let me just throw -- go ahead.

STEWART: I was just going to say that he -- the problem is he's going to do that. Linda is right, but the media is going to start asking him similar questions to what they're going to ask Schwarzenegger. Yeah, you want to be the leader, Gray, you say you're sitting at your desk. You've been sitting at your desk for four years. The state is in its current position. What good is sitting at your desk going to do us at this point? What are you going to do differently? How can you change your personality, your reality, what is any different now? And he is going to have a lot of trouble answering that question.

KURTZ: Karen Breslau, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante gets into the race. It's a really important development, because he's the first major Democrat to break with Governor Davis, holds a press conference. Cable shows it for about two seconds, doesn't even cover it. So isn't there just a real media mismatch here, where none of these candidates will be able to command the kind of sustained, continuous, 24-hour media attention as we've seen with Arnold?

BRESLAU: I think you're absolutely right, Howie. That was probably the biggest development, the breaching of the Democratic wall, but don't forget that happened within really a few hours of Darrell Issa, you know, breaking into tears on TV. And so we're going to have this constant tension between the reality TV show and the political drama, and for -- at least for now, you know, the reality show is going to trump. The question is, what happens, you know, as we get closer and closer to the election and some of the novelty wears off and we're -- we've seen enough of Arianna showing up like a canary on Arnold's shoulder, we've been through the gimmicks, and you know, does the voter anger then refocus, and people say, look, we don't have enough answers? California...

SANDALOW: Fame will get you a seat at the table, but there is a reason that Sonny Bono never became speaker of the House of Representatives, that Fred Thompson never became president. It gives you a seat at the table. Schwarzenegger has got a great shot at becoming governor. It does not put you into the victory column.

KURTZ: But they did become members of the Congress, obviously in part on their fame.

We need to get a break. When we come back, Arnold isn't the only unconventional candidate taking the plunge in California. We'll check out the rest of the rogue's gallery in a moment.


KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. With more than 100 candidates on the ballot, it's hard to tell who is running in California these days. But some folks have a way of attracting those cameras.


KURTZ (voice-over): There's the other actor, Gary Coleman, trying out for a bigger role. Columnist Arianna Huffington, a conservative turned fiery anti-SUV populist. Georgy Russell, a 26- year-old woman who sells "Georgy for Governor" thong underwear. "Hustler" publisher Larry Flynt, the self-described "smut peddler with a heart." And billboard queen Angelyne, who brags about her treasure chest of self-promotion.


KURTZ: I thought Kobe Bryant was going to get into the race just to change the subject.

Linda Douglass, all these fringe and not-so-fringe candidates, are they going to get their 15 minutes from the media?

DOUGLASS: Oh, no doubt. Because that's the most fun part of this. It also keeps you from having to do too much substance. There is also somebody on the ballot named Dan Feinstein. Now, remember, a lot of people wanted Dianne Feinstein, the senator from California, to run for this, so there's been some concern that that person could get some votes.

Angelyne has been on billboards and around Los Angeles looking exactly like that for at least 30 years. I mean, she is a phenomenon in her own right.

KURTZ: So she's got name recognition, or perhaps body recognition.

DOUGLASS: Exactly.

KURTZ: Jill Stewart, are journalists just suckers for these kinds of colorful candidates, whether it's the porn star or the thong girl who have, you know, absolutely no chance of winning this race?

STEWART: Absolutely. And you know what, the people like to read about it, too, and I noticed the East Coast media has been using the term "chaos," "chaos and confusion," "chaos and confusion," but California voters aren't finding that much chaos. They are enjoying the stories. Angelyne, if you live in Los Angeles, we've all seen her at one point or another. She's ancient in actually close-up. It's kind of scary. Everybody feels kind of close to these people. Gary Coleman has been giving amazing, very articulate interviews about what's wrong with the state. He threw his support to Schwarzenegger the other day, even though he is running. People think it's fun. They are getting involved in politics.

Three-quarters of Californians who are registered to vote did not vote in the gubernatorial race last year because it was so ugly, it was so boring and it was so negative. I think a lot of those three- quarters of the voters might come out this time.

KURTZ: Well, a lot of them obviously buy movie tickets even if they don't vote. Karen Breslau, the media, at least the East Coast journalists who are parachuting into the scene there, seem to be depicting California as a crazy, insane, sunshine, adult la-la land. People there resenting that sort of coverage?

BRESLAU: Not yet, because I think many of the people here are experiencing the same thing. And yeah, there is a cartoon quality to all of this, but I want to hold out hope. Half of the voters didn't turn out last time, and if this in any way revives civic participation in California, then I think the carnival is not completely wasted. I'm not entirely hopeful, but maybe that's, you know, kind of a pipe dream at this point.

KURTZ: Who's to say that...

BRESLAU: I think it changes political culture in California, and that is going to be I think the lasting impact of this.

SANDALOW: You guys know out there, California has a rap of being apathetic about politics. We've got 130 people who want to be governor themselves. That should dispel that a little.

But just, Linda, just briefly, not all of them can get their 15 minutes. And that is going to be a problem. I mean, Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to get more than 15 minutes. He'll get two months. Davis, the other guys will, too, but we'll give the "Hustlers" and the Gary Colemans and those people their 15 minutes, but I've got a list here from the AP. This thing goes on and on and on. You can't give these people 15 minutes, because there's not time on a television show to do it, and this is going to be a problem for the traditional media. If "The San Francisco Chronicle" decides -- and we're talking about it -- about holding some sort of debate, how do you do that?


KURTZ: Look, most of these people don't deserve 15 seconds. Let's face it. But I'm wondering whether there will be a subtle favoritism for Arnold Schwarzenegger for this reason, nobody wants the story to go after 60 days. Who would they rather cover, Governor Bustamante or Governor Terminator? DOUGLASS: But his rise or his fall. Seeing him succeed or seeing him fail, either one is a good story. Don't forget, too, there are some serious other candidates in the race. There are a couple -- there is a conservative, Bill Simon, who ran for governor before, and the conservative movement in California is extremely strong. There's Peter Ueberroth, you know, who is a businessman. This is actually -- this is actually a very serious story about the Republican Party, a serious story about California, and a serious story about governing in a state where they now basically take the law into their own hands when they get mad. The initiative process, whether it's term limits, and now recalling the governor when they get mad. It is both a disengaged by impulsive electorate.

SANDALOW: And don't forget how fun it would be for the media and for the public to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger not only succeed, as you say, but fail. Matt Lauer on the "Today" show is asking a national audience, he's asking Arnold, how do you feel about California's family leave law? Do you think any "Today Show" viewers could care less? Most Californians don't know about it. The real question is, is the buffoon in "Terminator" smart enough to handle a serious policy question? That's entertainment, and now that's politics.

KURTZ: That's the question for the media, and we will have to blow the whistle. Sorry, guys, out of time. Jill Stewart, Karen Breslau in California, Linda Douglass, Marc Sandalow, thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back, what if 500 reporters showed up and there was no news? Kobe Bryant in court next.


KURTZ: Welcome back. In other media news this week, they might have been the most intensively covered two words in journalistic history.




KURTZ: Five hundred reporters were on hand to cover a procedural hearing in the Kobe Bryant case. It took all of seven minutes and produced no real news. But that didn't stop CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Court TV, ESPN, even the E! Entertainment Network from taking it live.

And Judge Frederick Gannett is trying to give reporters in Eagle, Colorado even less to cover. He's asked a special investigators to look into alleged leaks from the D.A.'s office that Bryant's lawyers say will make it harder to find an impartial jury. We'll be right back with your viewer e-mail.


KURTZ: Time now for our viewer e-mail. Last week, we asked whether the media are overplaying negative news from Iraq. Mike in Kansas wrote -- "Is there any positive press at all? To watch, one would think the only thing that happens over there is that U.S. soldiers are getting killed."

But Jeanie in Maine said -- "No, the media are not overplaying the negative happenings in Iraq. It would take months of unrelenting media negativity to balance the frenzied, non-stop jingoistic coverage during the invasion itself."

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning at 11:30 Eastern for another critical look at the media. "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" begins right after this check of the hour's top stories.


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