August 08, 2003

Ganging Up on Arnold

William Babcock, the head of the journalism department at Cal State Long Beach, writes in the L.A. Times, argues that "the vast bulk of coverage now needs to be centered on (Arnold) Schwarzenegger."

We know all about Gov. Gray Davis, the recall target, says Babcock, but precious little about Schwarzenegger that was written in a script.

Babcock says pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura won the gubernatorial race in Minnesota in 1998 because the local press gave him equal treatment to his two competitors, presumably allowing his buffoonish persona to slip unnoticed past voters.

Setting aside Babcock's underestimation of the pop-culture difference between "The Terminator" and "The Body," he does have a point.

The San Francisco Chronicle today, perhaps anticipating the call to pencils from Babcock, takes a run at defining Arnold.

Best quote from the candidate himself: "I will fight for the environment. Nothing to worry about."

Best quote from someone who is not the candidate:

"It's like going through a buffet line where you find all sorts of things, on the left and the right, that you can chose from," said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, who advised Schwarzenegger in 2001 and analyzed his public positions. "Reporters are going to try very hard to put him in a box, but I don't think there is a box that would fit Arnold," said Whalen. "He said something very interesting to me once: 'You have to understand I am internally conflicted. I have an Austrian upbringing, but an adult life in California.' "

The Sacramento Bee, the governor's hometown asks the prosaic question: "Who is this larger-than-life guy, really, and what does he know about running the state of California?"

Unfortunately, the Bee gets distracted by interviews with political consultants arguing over whether Schwarzenegger can win and failed to answer its own question.

Best quote: "It remains to be seen whether this is 'Seabiscuit' or 'Gigli,' " said Ken Khachigian, a Republican campaign consultant.

The L.A. Times, in a story about the entertainment value of the California race and Schwarzenegger's "Q factor," points out that unmasking the "real" Arnold (assuming that what we see isn't it) won't be easy.

" 'What will access to Arnold be?' said Harvey Englander, a Los Angeles political consultant. 'Is it going to be the walk and wave? How many in-depth interviews will he do? How many sit-downs will he have with the media who cover government and politics in California?'

" Philip Trounstine, who heads the Survey and Policy Institute at San Jose State, said it is critical for political writers to pose serious policy questions.

" 'Arnold may try to sidestep the political writers,' he said. "As long as Jay Leno is your only interviewer and you don't have to face a [veteran political reporter], it can be a cakewalk.' "

Best quote: "He's not going to pick up a ray gun the way he does in the movies and splatter it across the Assembly."

This is reporting you have to love. Babcock's right: Everybody in the ring!

 William Babcock Put Schwarzenegger Under Media Microscope
 San Francisco Chronicle Views of actor-candidate not easy to put in usual categories
 Sacramento Bee Now the big question: What does Schwarzenegger know?
 Los Angeles Times Campaign Is the Ultimate Reality Show

Posted by Tim Porter at August 8, 2003 08:16 AM

I agree. The closer the media peer into what's behind Arnold, the better off California voters will be.

But it's not like Arnold has come from nowhere. The man has been in the media for decades. I imagine a look at his interviews over that time -- bodybuilder Arnold and actor Arnold -- would result in a pretty good read and serve as a starting point for a fresh look at candidate Arnold.

Posted by: Bill Bowman on August 8, 2003 07:48 PM
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