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Limbaugh Admits Drug Addiction; A Look at Coverage of Governor- Elect Schwarzenegger

Aired October 12, 2003 - 11:30   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Rush's addiction. Limbaugh admits he's hooked on painkillers and checks into rehab for 30 days. Will the controversy damage his radio career?

GOVERNOR-ELECT ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: I know that together we can make this again the greatest state of the greatest country in the world.

KURTZ: Governor Arnold. Is the press suddenly making nice to Schwarzenegger? How much could he benefit from bypassing the mainstream media and slamming the "Los Angeles Times?" Will journalists keep pursuing the sexual harassment allegations, or are they just extras in the "Terminator's" latest extravaganza?


JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: The governor of the great state of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

KURTZ: Jay Leno becomes the governor's sidekick. Should the late night comic be choosing sides?


KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz.

For a week after the "National Enquirer" reported he had a drug problem, Rush Limbaugh stayed silent until his dramatic confession on Friday.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I am addicted to prescription pain medication.


KURTZ: And he didn't ask for public sympathy.


LIMBAUGH: Well I want you to know that I'm no role model. And I refuse to let anybody think that I'm doing something heroic here, or doing something great here.


KURTZ: In checking into a rehab clinic for 30 days, Limbaugh leaves America's most popular radio show in a swirl of controversy. He has to deal with a Florida drug investigation into the matter, and has to kick the habit, which may be far harder than struggling to cope with deafness, as he discussed with me in an interview last fall.


LIMBAUGH: It's just something to deal with. I mean, it's a medical miracle to be able to hear.


KURTZ: But the real problem is this: Rush Limbaugh is a two- fisted conservative who smacks people around. Bill Clinton, feminazis, environmental whackos, the liberal media, and, on occasion, drug addicts. So Limbaugh's detractors -- and there are many -- are already saying, "What a hypocrite. He doesn't deserve our compassion because he shows so little for his political opponents."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no question that his hypocrisy is relevant to the story. The man has said that anybody who is addicted to drugs should be sent out of the country.


KURTZ: But I suspect that most people will be careful about condemning him for struggling with his personal demons. Liberals who believe addiction is a disease, who defend coked-up movie stars in rehab, will look hard at themselves if they use a different standard for their nemesis.


LIMBAUGH: Now I want to ask for your prayers.


KURTZ: Limbaugh, in my view, should be hammered the way he hammers others. But for his political views not his drug problem.

We turn now to election night in California, when the only question was whether there will be a Hollywood-style ending. Time to put the recall and the press through the "Spin Cycle."


KURTZ (voice-over): The networks were sitting on exit polls showing a big Schwarzenegger victory. And at exactly 11:00 p.m. Eastern, they told the country what they had been hinting at for hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we project that for the first time in this state's history, a governor will be recalled.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: We can report that the next governor of California will be Arnold Schwarzenegger.

KURTZ: If the anchors and reporters seemed more excited than usual, it was because Governor Schwarzenegger, as opposed to, say, Governor Bustamante, is a more scintillating story. The "Terminator's" victory caps almost two months of almost unbelievable rock star coverage of the actor's every move, and that of his wife, the NBC journalist who will become first lady of California.

Schwarzenegger largely ducked the establishment press as he dealt with the likes of Oprah, Bill O'Reilly and Larry King. And he lashed out against the "Los Angeles Times" of allegations of groping and harassing 15 women.

By the time he held his first post-victory news conference this week, the press tigers had turned into pussycats. Not a single question about the sexual harassment accounts. Instead, such penetrating questions as, "How was the first day with the family?"

SCHWARZENEGGER: My daughter brought me coffee this morning to my bed. And she woke me up and whispered in my ear and says, "Mr. Governor, your coffee is ready."

KURTZ: The movie star auditioned for his new role with some nice words for the reporters he had mostly ignored.

SCHWARZENEGGER: And please do me a favor, stay with me the next three years, OK? Because you are absolutely essential for me to get my message out there.


KURTZ: Does he really need us to govern? Probably not. But it sounded gracious.

Well, joining us now in San Francisco, Mark Sandalow, Washington bureau chief for the "San Francisco Chronicle." In Los Angeles, syndicated columnist and radio talk show host, Jill Stewart. And here in Washington, Doyle McManus, Washington bureau chief for the "Los Angeles Times."

As I've mentioned before, my wife worked for Schwarzenegger's after-school initiative last year before we were married, and we have no connection to his campaign.

Doyle McManus, I'm not expecting reporters at a post-election news conference to be hostile or confrontational, but these look like a bunch of puppies having their tummies scratched. Why no question about, can you now name a single program that you might even consider cutting? DOYLE MCMANUS, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, it did look like the beginning of a honeymoon, Howie. But the problem is, in a sense, Arnold Schwarzenegger takes every detailed question these days about the budget, about taxes, about the deficit, and says, well, my staff is working on it, my transition team is working on it. And after you've asked it once or twice, there's not much more to get.

But the other aspect, I think, as you said in your introduction, is that every reporter in California, including even those terrible reporters at the "L.A. Times," including even the editor of the "L.A. Times," is just delighted that Arnold Schwarzenegger won this election. Why? Because he's a great story to cover.

KURTZ: Thank you for that burst of candor.

Mark Sandalow, at the second Schwarzenegger news conference on Thursday, when he introduced his transition team, after it was over and he was walking away, there was a shouted question that I want you to take a look at.


QUESTION: The specifics of sexual allegations, Governor-Elect, as you said over the weekend?


QUESTION: No, it's not.


KURTZ: "Old news," said Schwarzenegger. Now, these sexual harassment allegations dominated the coverage of the final week of the campaign. Why did no reporter muster the courage to ask about them during either of these news conferences?

MARK SANDALOW, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Well, going back to what Doyle said, I think the answer was, because they figured they wouldn't get much more details. There is a phony quality about Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is not only true in the public, clearly true in the media.

It is very different talking to Arnold Schwarzenegger than it is interviewing somebody like Orrin Hatch. Reporters are somewhat in awe. And just like that playoff crowd you showed in your opening at Wrigley Field, it's a different crowd than the usual baseball crowd at Wrigley Field. It's the guys in the suits and ties who got the playoff tickets; same holds true in the press conferences.

We've got reporters from "Entertainment Tonight," from South African television, from Danish TV. It's a different crowd covering the first couple of days of the Schwarzenegger administration. Come back in six months and I think you'll hear more of those questions.

KURTZ: Who let those people in?

Jill Stewart, is the press just making nice to the new governor now that they perhaps need access now to the new governor?

JILL STEWART, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think that's part of it. I think, also, the media is a little bit queasy, because they've seen the backlash against the "L.A. Times." And the third issue is that the California media tend to softball people who have just been elected to high office.

I saw it last year when Gray Davis was elected and he had his big press conference to announce the $21 billion deficit. And they threw him softball after softball. And no one argued with his, I think, bizarre claim that it was all the fault of the economy, and that he had done absolutely nothing wrong in creating this $21 billion deficit.

I was appalled. I couldn't believe no one threw him a single tough question. It happens after major elections. And I do think the media are a little nervous now that they've seen what's happening to the "L.A. Times" because of all the sex charges.

KURTZ: Well, since you brought that up, Doyle McManus, I want to play you a scene from the campaign trail a couple of weeks ago. Conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt warming up a decidedly pro-Arnold crowd.


HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: do you believe the "Los Angeles Times?"




HEWITT: Would anyone in their right mind trust the "Los Angeles Times?"





KURTZ: The "L.A. Times" really became the issue in the final week of the campaign. Why do so many people apparently believe that the paper was trying to stop Schwarzenegger?

MCMANUS: Well, the story did come late. It took a long time to get the story done. One reason, the big reason for that is it was a very short campaign. A nine-week campaign, seven weeks to do the story.

The other thing is, though, look, it's convenient for anybody on the wrong side of a story like that, on the Schwarzenegger side to say, well, this is a vendetta. That's a convenient way of avoiding the fact that the story is true. You know everybody's blowing right past the fact that the story is true.

KURTZ: Mark Sandalow, was the "Terminator's" sheer celebrity star power a part of what enabled him to get away with not answering these questions about harassment, or, you know, just doing kind of a modified limited apology, whereas another candidate would not have been able to take that route?

SANDALOW: Well, actually, to the contrary, Howie. I think that the reason this was not only a national story, but an international story, is because people were fascinated by the possibility that the "Terminator" was treating women this way.

You know, there is a vetting process. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from becoming a Hollywood superstar to becoming one of the most powerful politicians in the world in a matter of about 10 weeks. It would be, to steal a phrase from Jill Stewart, journalistic malpractice for newspapers like the "Los Angeles Times" or the "San Francisco Chronicle" not to devote resources to try and learn everything we can, good or bad, about this guy. And I think that while it comes out to opponents as a yellow journalistic way of selling papers, there's actually something noble about trying to figure out who these people are before they serve.

KURTZ: Right. Jill Stewart, since Schwarzenegger admitted that he had behaved badly in unspecified instances, why have you been so critical of the "L.A. Times" coverage involving these 15 or 16 women?

STEWART: Well, beyond the fact that we don't know which of the stories are true or not, because there was so much that was off the record, and they couldn't find very many eyewitnesses, and Schwarzenegger himself said some of them aren't true, but that's not the real issue. To me, the real issue here is, I think there's absolutely nothing noble about what the "L.A. Times" did for this reason. They assigned two teams of I believe six or seven reporters total to go after the steroids issue and to go after the sex harassment issue on Schwarzenegger for seven full weeks.

We all know in California that Gray Davis has had many allegations of improper behavior, violence against his staff, violent fits. I have written about it. It's been broadcast in the San Francisco Bay area a number of times. It's been on radio talk shows.

The "L.A. Times" has avoided this story. They looked at it a little bit in 1997 and then they walked away from it because they didn't find enough proof. They did not assign a team this time, and that's the problem. Though team was assigned.

MCMANUS: Jill, you know, the "L.A. Times," -- you're right, the "L.A. Times" has had four different reporters look at those allegations in two separate teams at two separate points. In both cases, after an exhaustive, more than seven-week look, decided there wasn't a story there. And it's not as if the "L.A. Times" has left Gray Davis alone. The "L.A. Times" has been reporting for years on Gray Davis' campaign contributions, his mixing of campaign contributions and the public interest. The "L.A. Times" in the middle of the campaign put right on the front page an entire digest of all of Gray Davis' problems. The contributions, the special interests, the budget, the energy.

We ain't going soft on Gray Davis. Your problem is, you had a story that you wanted us to stand up for you, and we couldn't make that story work. We couldn't find it.

KURTZ: Jill.

STEWART: Well, I respect the covers that you've had in there that you're talking about. But when you decide to become the sex police and go back 30 years into somebody's life, you have to do the same thing to the other side. Thirty years back into Gray Davis' personal behavior, you didn't do it. And there are a million stories out there.

MCMANUS: And we did do it.

STEWART: Last year, on election night, when he thought he was losing, he threw a violent fit in his hotel room in Century City. It was well known among the media.

An "L.A. Times" reporter called me. I was an unemployed freelance journalist at the time, and asked me to take a look at it because they weren't about to. It was widely broadcast in the bay area.

MCMANUS: And you weren't the only one we called.

STEWART: It's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) television set in a hotel room. You know, we should know about the dual personality of Gray Davis.

MCMANUS: Well you weren't the only one we called, Jill. We were looking into it. The story didn't pan out. I'm sorry.

KURTZ: Mark Sandalow, let me move on with you. What was it like covering this Schwarzenegger bus trip in the final days, 200 reporters? And the only interviews that the candidate granted were to Tom Brokaw, who he's known for years, and Peter Jennings.

SANDALOW: You know this was modeled after John McCain's straight talk express. The problem was, there was a fundamental difference. The straight talk express was aimed at giving reporters access to John McCain. There was no access for the political press corps to Schwarzenegger.

KURTZ: And did that make journalists angry, frustrated, unhappy?

SANDALOW: No question. I mean, do you know the names of the buses? He was on "Running Man," after one of his movies. He named the press buses "True Lies" and "Predator."

There was clearly a message to the political press of what Schwarzenegger thought of them. Yes, they were mad. They were angry.

They were annoyed that Jennings and Brokaw got the interview and they didn't. They wrote news stories with a tone that was slightly different as a result. And let me tell you, in the end, it made no difference. And as somebody who is part of the political press, it's a little bit annoying to realize that they can go right around you and get what they want. And I think that there are probably some strategists who will look at this and say, you know what, mainstream media is not necessary.

KURTZ: Mean stories. Some of our viewers will be shocked to hear that.

Now, I want to look at the question of these exit polls, because the television anchors had them all day and they weren't supposed to talk about them until the polls had closed. But some people kind of winked and nodded and skirted the issue. Let's take a look.


DAN RATHER, CBS: CBS News exit polls, for whatever -- if anything they may be worth, now indicate many voters made up their minds weeks ago.



RATHER: If he is recalled, there are widespread expectations again, for whatever they may be worth, that Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger would replace Davis.


KURTZ: That kind of thing bother you at all?

MCMANUS: No. I'll tell you why. In this case, this one was so clear. It would be one thing if this had turned out to be a 50-50 election. We didn't know, in fact, how close it was going to be.

KURTZ: Sure.

MCMANUS: But this one was running away with it. It wasn't going to drive anybody away from the polls to say that.

KURTZ: Mark Sandalow?

SANDALOW: Yes, I think in some ways it's an outrage to hint at information -- look at that. Dan Rather had the one information that viewers wanted, what was going to happen in the election. Now, there was a conventional wisdom that it would turn off West Coast voters. If you shared that information, they wouldn't vote.

Who said the West Coast voters couldn't be trusted with that information? We do not want a situation, which happened on Tuesday, where there were 5,000 of us in the elite media who knew the results, but were intentionally withholding that from the voters. You don't want to trust the media managers to make that decision.


SANDALOW: I don't see any reason the exit polls shouldn't be public information.

KURTZ: Jill Stewart, one last point. Does the outcome of the recall show that you can get away with bypassing, stiffing, and otherwise not engaging the mainstream media and still get elected governor of California? Or is this unique to Arnold Schwarzenegger?

STEWART: I think it might be unique to very famous people, not just to Schwarzenegger. I think other very famous people might try it. And you're going to see some other differences.

I've heard that some of the major TV stations in Los Angeles might be opening -- going back and opening studios in Sacramento, which has long not been covered by the major TV stations. And nobody knows. The public doesn't know what goes on in Sacramento, in part, because they tend to watch TV, unfortunately, not newspaper reading.

KURTZ: Right.

STEWART: And in a way, our Sacramento capital is anonymous.

KURTZ: Local TV covering state politics. What a concept.

We've got to take a break. When we come back, what was Jay Leno doing as Arnold's warm-up act? And can Maria Shriver go back to her day job as an NBC news correspondent?

Stay with us.



Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger launched his campaign on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show," and, as governor-elect, he was back.


SCHWARZENEGGER: I have a bone to pick with you, because when you were listening to my speech, I mean did you like my speech yesterday?

JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: I thought the speech was good. Sure, I enjoyed it. It was a terrific speech.

SCHWARZENEGGER: OK. So you were not bored at all?

LENO: Bored? No, I wasn't bored. I was thrilled to be there.



KURTZ: Don McManus, should America's most popular late-night comic be cheerleading for one candidate of one political party?

MCMANUS: No, probably not. I don't think there's a problem with Arnold Schwarzenegger going on Jay Leno. That melding of entertainment and politics has gone on all the time.

It's when Jay Leno introduces Arnold Schwarzenegger at a political rally...

KURTZ: At the victory party.

MCMANUS: ... that I think he may have crossed over a line.

KURTZ: Jill Stewart, we never knew what Johnny Carson thought politically. Do you have any hesitation about this political engagement?

STEWART: It reminds me a little bit of when Peter Jennings wore his heart on his sleeve after Bill Clinton was elected. And that was inappropriate I thought.

I think Leno is going to back off after the initial excitement. He will get some criticism. I don't think you're going to see Schwarzenegger as a regular rah-rah on his show. Maybe once or twice.

But I know they're close friends, long-time friends, and that's probably what the overriding decision was this time. I think you'll see him back off.

KURTZ: And meanwhile, Gray Davis doing David Letterman. I'll describe that as a mercy booking.

Moving on to Maria Shriver, suddenly there's been all of these puffy profiles, Mark Sandalow, of Maria Shriver, the secret weapon in the campaign and that sort of thing. But let's take a look at a little exchange she had during the campaign.


MARIA SHRIVER, NBC NEWS: I'm not going to go down this road because I don't believe in gutter politics and I don't believe in gutter journalism.


KURTZ: Does it bother you at all that a journalist refused to give any interviews, except to her friend, Oprah, during the campaign and engaged in that kind of criticism of the press?

SANDALOW: No. I mean, I think it's totally her right. She is now a political wife and she certainly is entitled to that.

It's a problem if she goes back to NBC, as she says she's going to do, and start doing political reporting. For her to start covering floods and earthquakes, not a problem at all. But if Maria Shriver starts to interview Howard Dean on his views on offshore oil in California, you've got to wonder is she trying to elicit information or is she trying to help her husband's political career? There's a problem.

KURTZ: Well, I don't think she'll be doing any political reporting. But should a first lady be more accessible to the press than Maria Shriver was during the campaign? A campaign in which she wasn't just a wife. She was a strategist, she played a key role.

MCMANUS: Yes, but first ladies get to make that call. They get to decide whether they want to be public or whether they want to be private, whether they want to bake cookies and open supermarkets or I guess, in this case, go back to network television.


STEWART: And I totally agree with that. Also, it's always their role to be as loyal and fiercely loyal as they wish. And I don't think anybody judges them for that, as she was.


KURTZ: But Maria Shriver is not just any first lady or first lady to be. She is a long-time journalist, and yet she was one of the architects of the avoid the press strategy -- Mark Sandalow.

SANDALOW: Yes, I mean she may well understand that talking to mainstream reporters is not a smart way. Both with Shriver and Jay Leno, they do take a risk. California voted overwhelmingly for the recall. Where I'm sitting in San Francisco, 80 percent of the people voted against the recall.

Are they going to look at Jay Leno the same way? Are they going to look at Maria Shriver the same way? I doubt it. So they can get involved in this, but there's clearly a popularity risk for them when they do that.

MCMANUS: Howie, don't forget that Maria Shriver isn't just a journalist, she's also a Kennedy. She knows her politics.

KURTZ: I do seem to remember reading about that. Let me just ask you in the minute that we have left, you said earlier in the program that reporters were excited, thrilled, really pumped that they now have the Schwarzenegger story. It will go on for at least three more years in Sacramento. But will the coverage continue to be -- will it be more traditional now that he actually has to govern, deal with the budget deficits, or will it still have this sort of starry- eyed quality?

MCMANUS: I think it will morph from the starry-eyed thing to the traditional because the real question is, can this guy govern? Can he do anything here? And you know, I hate to say it, reporters love to cover the rise and they love to cover the fall. We are not ideologically driven, unfortunately.

People can hate this about us if they want. We just love the drama of it.

KURTZ: Jill Stewart, we're almost out of time. Do you think reporters will be itching to write the first story about, well, it looks like he doesn't really know anything about government after all?

STEWART: I do think they're going to be waiting for the first fall. I think they're going to like him, but at the same time they're going to hate him. And I do think they're ideologically driven.

All the reporters I know in Sacramento are liberal Democrats, and they love to see Republicans fail. And that's just the simple truth. I would like to see more diversity in the press, but it doesn't exist yet.

KURTZ: Well, I'm sure some journalists would take exception to that and say that they're not partisans of one side or the other. But that's a debate for another day.

Jill Stewart, Mark Sandalow, Doyle McManus, thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back, why are copy editors are having nightmares about Governor-Elect Schwarzenegger. I'll explain when I go "Behind the Headlines" after this.


KURTZ: There's one other journalistic limit involving Governor Schwarzenegger, not so much behind the headlines as in the headlines, as in, how do you make that 14-letter name fit? So much easier to use Arnold. Everybody knows Arnold.

Kind of like Madonna, Kobe and Gwyneth. But is that too cozy for an elected leader? One California editor considered initials like JFK or LBJ, but was scared off by AAS. What if there was a typo?

The newspapers called Eisenhower "Ike," but nicknames don't always work. "Terminator" is also pretty long. So you may not see much of Schwarzenegger in large type, but the anchors had better brush up on pronouncing it, Schwarzenegger. And maybe we better all learn how to say, California.

We'll be right back.


KURTZ: 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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