Los Angeles Times media columnist James Rainey picks a good time to revisit the allegations of groping on “rowdy movie sets” against Arnold Schwarzenegger, as filtered through the former California governor’s recent split from wife Maria Shriver.
Still, the quotes attributed to former Times editors don’t entirely pass the smell test — not because they’re lying about harboring a politically motivated desire to torpedo Schwarzenegger’s candidacy, as many argued at the time, but because their expose was calculated to yield maximum impact by running mere days before the recall election.
In the full disclosure dept., I left the paper in 2003, a few months before the election. So I worked for John Carroll and Dean Baquet, who are quoted in Rainey’s column, but wasn’t there when the “bombshell” landed.
Still, I accept that the Times’ purpose wasn’t to derail Schwarzenegger’s run. The questions were legitimate. But what they wanted to do was time their story to a moment when everybody was focused on the election, and that’s what backfired on them.
Taking additional time to report on the story was doubtless helpful. But the allegations weren’t new (there had been rumors about Schwarzenegger’s womanizing long before), and the paper had months to vet sources had they wanted to pull the trigger earlier, as they should have.
As it was, the stories that ran carried enough dirt to be titillating and put Schwarzenegger on the defensive (he apologized to anyone he might have offended), but not enough to be completely damning. Instead, they boomeranged back at the Times — and inadvertently fed paranoia among conservatives about the liberal media conspiracy against them.
Worst of all, the timing made it look as if the Times had a vendetta against the action star, when the motivation of top editors was likely more dismissive — namely, how can a Hollywood actor be taken seriously? This wasn’t so much about liberal bias as another bias common among top editors at the Times — namely, we want to cover Hollywood because it’s in our backyard and we make a lot of money off of it, but that doesn’t mean we respect it. And back then, that attitude filtered down through the ranks.
So yes, the sexual indiscretions of politicians are clearly fair game. But that doesn’t mean the Times’ hands were completely clean in the way they handled the Schwarzenegger, er, affair.