- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

The Democratic Party may no longer be able to find a California governor mediocre enough to avoid getting recalled or a time-serving hack minimally competent enough to replace him, but by golly it still knows how to spring the ol’ weekend-before-polling-day surprise. At the same point in the 2000 presidential election, a story about an ancient drunk-driving conviction by George W Bush hit the headlines and drove just enough still undecided voters into the Gore camp to make it a cliffhanger election.

This time round, instead of DWI, it was GWF (Groping While Famous). On Thursday, The Los Angeles Times ran an exhaustive account of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wandering hands over the last 30 years, as told by six women, four of whom preferred to remain anonymous. One of the remaining two is a British TV “personality.” That leaves precisely one named US citizen, who claims Arnold touched her left breast. In 1975. Not a lot to show for months of opposition research.

In early August, on the weekend Arnold entered the race, I wrote in the Sunday Telegraph of London that whatever they had on him had better be good: ” ‘Womanizing’ won’t cut it, not for a movie star. If it’s oral sex with a starlet in his trailer, the public will shrug. If it’s beating up a pre-op transsexual hooker, you’re in business.” In the end, they turned up some off-the-record twice-per-decade accounts of boorish grabbing. And Arnold, in contrast to recent noted political gropers, didn’t send his aides out to trash the women involved but instead gave a generous if generalized apology. The net result? No change. On Tuesday, Gray Davis will be recalled and Mr. Schwarzenegger will be elected governor. As predicted by yours truly two months ago, “Hasta la vista, Grayby.”

Indeed, I would reckon the Los Angeles Times’ reputation is likely to suffer more long-term damage than Arnold’s. If you’ve never read the paper, let me say that, if there’s a major world-class city anywhere on the planet with a duller choice of reading material over the breakfast table, I’ve yet to find it. Handed an unprecedented local story, the Times has spent the entire election campaign oscillating between weary patrician disdain at the vulgarity of it all and laughable boosterism for the beleagured governor.

Only a week ago they ran a story headlined “Aides feel Davis may pull it off” — as his numbers continued sliding, and Mr. Schwarzenegger opened up an ever bigger lead over dim bulb Cruz Bustamante.

So things must be pretty desperate if the Times has been driven to “go negative” — or, more to the point, to “go readable.” I never thought, for example, I would see this line in the L.A. Times:

“Have you ever had a man slide his tongue in your … ?”

Arnie, supposedly, to a crew member on “Terminator 2.” Unlike yours truly, the Times didn’t leave their brackets (elipsis) blank. In an ingenious bit of editing, they replaced the offensive colloquialism with the precise anatomical term, and managed to make the image far more graphic. Coming upon the phrase halfway through the story, I couldn’t have been more surprised if the editor had personally whispered in my ear, “Have you ever had a man slide his tongue in your brackets?”

After all, this is a paper that has never lowered itself to print many of the credibly sourced remarks attributed to President Clinton by those on the receiving end of his attentions. (“You might want to put some ice on that.”)

But the lofty ethics bores of American journalism apparently have no problem opening up their front page for anonymous uncorroborated accusations of ancient improper advances.

Or, if the issue is the violent grabbing of anonymous women, how about this? “He just went into one of his rants of [profanity] … . I can still hear his screams ringing in my ears. When I stood up to insist he not talk to me that way, he grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me until my teeth rattled. I was so stunned I said, ‘Good God, Gray. Stop and look at what you are doing. Think what you are doing to me.’ And he just could not stop.” That’s a former staffer of Mr. Davis, as reported by Jill Stewart in a November 1997 edition of New Times LA.

But I wouldn’t put that on the front page, either. Let us stipulate that movie stars get a lot more opportunities for cheap meaningless sexual encounters than, say, newspaper columnists do, and that Arnold has availed himself of at least a portion of these opportunities over the years. He’s not my kind of Republican. He’s barely any kind of Republican. But he’s not at issue. The state is.

Gray Davis and Cruz Bustamante couldn’t grab your breasts even if they wanted to: Their hands are too full of Indian casino money and tripled car tax and giveaway driver’s licenses for illegal aliens.

The story here is that California is in crisis. And if it stays in the hands of its sleazy incompetent political establishment the crisis will become terminal.

The electorate understands that, their media don’t. It’s CNN who, while sniffing that this election is a “circus,” runs tedious featurettes on the pornographers, sitcom actors and other fringe candidates. Meanwhile, the public winnowed the 130 runners down to a quartet almost immediately. Indeed, the only folks obsessed with joke candidates were the media professionals who took Arianna Huffington’s campaign seriously.

In the one big debate, Arianna and Arnold bickered constantly, and the pundits assured us Arianna had bested him. The next poll showed her with 0.4 percent and she withdrew from the race shortly thereafter. So much for media savvy.

The only bottom that’s an issue in this election is Gray Davis’, and on Tuesday all it will be feeling is the electorate’s boot.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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