The Media Get Recalled

Arnold won and Davis lost, as did Bustamante, as did Huffington. But no one was more rejected in this 61 percent Republican tidal wave in an overwhelming Democratic state than the liberal press. Consider the media recalled.

From the first signatures on recall petitions, the press was huffing and puffing with hysteria. Newsweek said the state "was in thrall to an earnest the grip of what can only be described as a civic crackup." The New York Times called it a "throbbing political hangover." Peter Jennings warned "the recall is on the verge of unleashing a political tempest. Some in California would say political madness."

When it was over, the press was still howling "Foul!" Remember how, after the GOP landslide in 1994, Jennings compared the public to two-year-olds and complained "the voters had a temper tantrum last week"? There must be something in the drinking water at ABC. On the morning of the Schwarzenegger victory, there was his colleague Linda Douglass claiming (with no evidence provided) that "Schwarzenegger acknowledged that the recall campaign was the result of a statewide temper tantrum."

Of course voters were upset, but national reporters didn't dare to tread near what might be causing this troublesome discontent: skyrocketing spending, tripled car taxes, slipping bond ratings, overpaid public-employee unions. Once the movie star entered the race, all the spotlights - and all the nit-picking scrutiny - was directed at him.

It didn't matter that the people felt very obviously that Gov. Gray Davis was an incompetent in need of sudden retirement. It didn't matter that the Lieutenant Governor who aspired to replace him had ties to a bizarre group believing several southwestern states should be sawed off America and handed back to the Mexicans. It didn't matter than Gov. Davis tried to save himself by signing a bill to award illegal aliens with state-sanctioned driver's licenses, making it easier for homeland-security threats to move right into the mainstream of California - and perhaps other states as well.

What mattered were mangled statements Arnold supposedly made in 1975 during the filming of his breakthrough documentary "Pumping Iron." What mattered were wild claims about group sex at the gym that Arnold made in the pornographic magazine Oui in 1977. What mattered was an anonymous female, "a former pro beach volleyball player," who claimed that Arnold touched her breast on a Santa Monica street in 1980. No longer were we being admonished by the press to "move on." Now they were instructing the voters to back up.

The media labored hard against the recall. First it was a "circus," a freak show for pornographers, porn actresses, disgruntled child stars, and thong-underwear-selling self-promoters. Then it was Arnold, obviously too stupid even to form complete sentences in a debate. Then it was so unfair that a dedicated long-time public servant should be overturned by an actor with zero administrative experience, as if Davis's experience ruining the state wasn't the issue.

When these lines didn't work, it was the media - not just Democratic partisans, but the media - who reached into the ugly bag and started throwing the unsubstantiated rumors and groping stories. The Los Angeles Times, which dismissed last-minute entreaties in 1992 to bring Juanita Broaddrick's rape story to public scrutiny as "toxic waste," spent weeks goading women into telling anonymous tales about a comparatively meaningless boob squeeze in the 1970s. Tom Brokaw, who couldn't bear to touch Broaddrick's rape story with a ten-foot pole, even as it aired on his own network, dared to lecture Arnold that his behavior "could be criminal." The media hypocrisy is so obvious as to be transparent.

Which brings us back to ABC reporter Linda Douglass, who mangled Arnold's alleged 1975 praise of Adolf Hitler. In 1975 he told an interviewer that he admired Hitler's "way of getting to the people," but then added, "But I don't admire him for what he did with it." Douglass artfully changed the quote and reported that he had said, "I admire him for being such a good public speaker and for what he did with it," which gave license to Terry McAuliffe and Gray Davis to spend the final weekend pretending out loud that Arnold had swastikas tattooed to his biceps. When Arnold protested the story to Peter Jennings, the anchorman replied, "But you had to know that this was all going to come out in a campaign. It is, after all, your past - it isn't made up, is it?" In fact, ABC was making stuff up.

It's obvious that Schwarzenegger, with his libertine movie-star misbehavior and social positions, not to mention his utter lack of political finesse in his pre-candidate days, was not the ideal conservative role model. But in the end, California voters just told the media to take their bias and shove it.