Arnie's Past Sins Won't Sink Him

The Republican spin is that Arnold Schwarzenegger's flip, off-color jokes, cracks and jibes about gang sex (maybe rape), smoking dope, profanity, and boasts about his lewd, even bizarre, conduct that he made a quarter century ago in an interview in Oui Magazine is mostly a guys will be guys, rite of passage kind of thing. It won't do his campaign in. They're probably right.

Arnie's loose-lipped remarks fittingly enough were plastered on the Drudge Report web site. Drudge's racy peek-through-the bedroom keyhole slams of ex-president Bill Clinton certainly didn't sink his presidency. Nor has gossip torpedoed the careers of the legions of public figures that have been exposed as liars, cheats, and hypocrites. After a few gratuitous mea culpas, most have continued their careers. With Arnold the dope and sex hit pieces will probably wrap the Teflon even more tightly around him. He has made no attempt to cover-up his alleged unsavory past. In his 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, he boasts about undercutting his competitors, toking a joint, and his devil-may-care attitude toward his father's funeral. There's even a tell all book, Arnold: An Unauthorized Biography by Wendy Leigh in 1990 that hammers him for womanizing, and cozying up to alleged Nazi war criminal Kurt Waldheim.

For years adoring fans have reveled in mayhem and the piles of bodies in his films, and the pithy one-liners he tosses out. This is the Arnie that drove crowds to mob him at the Los Angles County Registrar-Recorder's office when he filed papers to run for governor. And despite his initial mute silence on the issues he continues to be one of the favorites to replace Governor Gray Davis in the recall campaign.

But even if Schwarzenegger didn't have hyper star power allure, dumping sludge on him still wouldn't be enough to knock him out the box. The National Enquirer, Star, the Examiner, and the other tabloids and the legion of daytime gossipy talk shows have conditioned much of the public to expect, even delight, in character hits on celebrities. They have successfully parlayed gossip, innuendo, rumor, half-truths, and outright lies into hugely profitable empires. They have millions of devoted readers who rely on them as much for "hard news" as they do the L. A. Times, New York Times, or Washington Post. The tabloids are the consummate journalistic pack rats. Though they're now leaping over each other to top one another in dredging up whatever sleaze they can on Schwarzenegger, they've long since wrung the shock out of their gossipy revelations about the sexual and personal escapades of public figures.

Many staid publications and cable TV programs have also taken their cue from the tabloids and have at times elevated kinky titillation stories to hard news. The moment Schwarzenegger hinted that he might consider a run for governor several major magazines splashed his mug across their covers. Even then the stories made generous references to his alleged sex, drug, and violence-laced screen exploits.

TV network executives and newspaper editors deny that they aid and abet in turning much of the public into gossip junkies. They claim they give the public the type of information and programming that it wants. Yet, if senior editors and TV producers decide that the public has an insatiable appetite for tidbits of rumor and gossip about the private lives of celebrities, that's what the public gets.

This in itself is not evil or malicious. Newsgathering is a business and sensational news does sell. Magazine advertisers depend on those increased sales to more effectively market their products. Many editors do succumb to the pressure to stay ahead of the competition and run the stories and features that they think will enhance sales to attract greater ad revenue.

In recent days, the major networks have anguished over the big plunge in their ratings. They say that Americans have turned off to hard news, and crave even more escapist fare. The Schwarzenegger as celebrity governor story is heaven sent for them. Arnie gossip has amply watered the unquenchable thirst of many Americans for titillation.

Arnie has spoken in sketchy, glib soundbites about the budget crisis, health care, education, prison reform, the environment, and civil liberties issues, not to mention his duck and dodge of U.C. Regent Ward Connerly's Proposition 54 that would virtually bar the state from collecting any racial data on forms.

This lordly, "I'll let you know what I think when I'm ready" conceit should be enough to do him in. But he's Arnie, and thanks to the tabloids and a mainstream media that at times imitates them and peddles muck as hard news, his stock won't fall, in fact it might even rise.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. Visit his news and opinion website: He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).


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