October 13, 2003

Backstage with Arnold

Why, despite devoting who knows how many thousands of column inches to the California recall and Arnold Schwarzenegger, didn't newspapers ever print a story like this one, in which Matt Labash describes the governor-elect's skin as "the color of an apricot Fruit Roll-up" and recounts that when he first espied New York Times reporter Charlie Leduff he couldn't "tell if the sinewy, leathered scribe with bandito facial hair is a former outlaw biker or a former pirate?"

Labash's gonzo-esque writing is a vivid, lively and entertaining backstage pass to Arnold's Total Recall Tour of California. Instead of complaining about lack of press access to the candidate, as the mainstream media did, Labash wrote what he saw -- with attitude.

Someone's going to argue that Labash wrote a magazine piece that is too long (6,400 words) for a newspaper. Rubbish. The San Francisco Chronicle has a Sunday magazine. So does the L.A. Times.

The N.Y. Times devoted 9,500 words Sunday to a front-page story on the arrests of al-Qaeda suspect in upstate New York, an admittedly more serious subject than shenanigans on the Schwarzenegger campaign bus, but my point is that space is available for magazine-length journalism if the editorial will is there.

It's more than a column-inch issue, though. It's also about perspective and expectation. Political reporters, for the most part, view themselves as scribblers of Serious Journalism, which doesn't include reporting on the Hollywood-meets-The Candidate-meets-Animal House nature of Arnold's campaign. Labash made the campaign itself the story.

Serious Journalism is good and necessary and I'm all for it. But there's more to politics than that and I'm still waiting for the day when newspapers cover the other stuff -- the funny, the pathetic, the human -- in a way that has the ring of reality to it.

 Matt Labash Arnold Uber Alles

Posted by Tim Porter at October 13, 2003 12:20 PM