Politics & Policy

Did Arnold Grope Leni Riefenstahl?

The last stretch.

–An 80-year-old man confesses the details of a lurid affair with a college co-ed. The priest responds, “Moishe, you’re Jewish. Why are you telling me?” Moishe: “I’m telling everyone!” And so is Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Maybe I did go overboard sometimes,” Arnold confessed. Today, he argues, you’ve got a “different Arnold” running for California governor.

On Friday, Arnold’s apology and Maria Shriver’s speech were superb. But extended discussion of the matter is not helpful for Schwarzenegger. He’s off-message as he questions why the women waited so long to report the gropings. If the recall election is seen as a ballot measure with the burden of proof on proponents, then risk-averse voters might stay with the Davis-devil they know.

Meanwhile, Democrats insist Arnold’s business partner made a deal all along with tabloids to lay off the stories. But cartels never hold. For example, on Sunday, the Los Angeles Enquirer (I mean Times) headlined “4 More Women Go Public Against Schwarzenegger.” And, “In all, 15 women have now accused….” Arnold’s lucky the story didn’t break two weeks ago. Imagine: “164 women have now charged….” Yet, in at least one prior campaign, the Times editors met privately with an accused candidate, then decided not to publish the story. That was then, this is now. And now, Gov. Gray Davis wants Arnold Schwarzenegger prosecuted for sexual battery. But a pro-Arnold weekend sign read: “Gray Davis groped me when he reached into my wallet.” Fear not–there’s still time for TV spots featuring Davis campaigner Bill Clinton; he can attack Arnold as a misogynist.

And the Oakland Tribune, in what the Times called an “unusual move,” withdrew its Arnold endorsement. Here’s the tortured syntax: “Called a ’sexual harasser’ by one female and a ‘predator’ by others, we can no longer in good conscience recommend him for governor.” Ironically, the Los Angeles Times> itself once withdrew an endorsement in 1976. The open congressional seat was in a district that included, in Soviet days, Moscow-by-the-Sea (Santa Monica). The paper, in the then-costliest House race, had endorsed Democrat Gary Familian, favored over my Republican client, a former actor named Bob Dornan (who eventually won, in an upset). But when Familian behaved, as a Times editor told me, “like Dornan,” the paper simply and quietly dropped Familian’s name from its Election Day endorsements. At least the Oakland newspaper was straightforward.

Wasn’t it progressive Gov. Hiram Johnson, father of California’s recall, whom the Los Angeles Times opposed in 1910? Republican analyst Tony Quinn quotes Johnson that year describing the newspaper and its publisher Harrison Gray Otis as “degrading…disreputable…vile… infamous.” Democrat analyst Bill Bradley faults the Times now for describing Jodie Evans, who urged Arnold’s accusers, as simply a peace activist. Democrat operative Evans was married to liberal sugar-daddy Max Palevsky, who gave Davis his start in politics. “Maybe the reporters and editors just didn’t know,” responds a Times veteran columnist. Indeed, many reporters here lack an institutional memory. But such ignorance mainly has helped, not hurt, Arnold. For example, when Arnold held his economic summit, the presumably hostile Times inexplicably covered the photo-op lavishly, but failed to report that “outsider” Arnold had implausibly appointed insiders to the summit–including a top Davis donor.

And now, Hitler! Real people want to know, did Arnold grope Leni Riefenstahl? “Arnold admired Hitler for the way he acquired power,” observed Charles Krauthammer Sunday on Fox. “He’s after power for his own sake.” The columnist remains properly troubled that Arnold toasted Arnold-Maria wedding guest Kurt Waldheim after he was outed as a Nazi. That disturbing fact was barely covered. (Arnold has since repudiated the toast.) Krauthammer notes: “Obviously Arnold is not a Nazi [and] has promoted Jewish causes.” Recall that decades ago, when asked whether President Eisenhower was (as John Birchers had suggested) a Communist, conservative icon Russell Kirk replied: “Eisenhower’s not a Communist. He’s a golfer.” Are they saying Arnold’s not a Nazi, he’s a groper?

“Puke politics,” says Arnold. That’s how Democrat Attorney General Bill Lockyer earlier this year described a typical Gray Davis campaign. Bill Carrick, consultant for Democrat Dick Gephardt, notes that if the personality-challenged Davis loses, “he’s not going to get up on some sitcom, playing a warm and fuzzy dad.” Then, there’s Bustamante, which means undertaker. His moribund campaign is run by conflict-laden lobbyist Richie Ross, who now gloats: “Arnold’s bus is named predator. “Is that unbelievable or what?” Low-key Bustamante keeps mumbling something about his daughter and Arnold. But Dems have less chance to elect Cruz than to defeat the recall. And even that’s problematic, given the pro-recall mail ballots. Still, “late” absentees, mailed this weekend or delivered at precincts on Election Day–and there are many–could reflect second thoughts on the recall.

Weekend tracking polls differ widely. The Republicans show consistent landslides for both the recall and Arnold. The Democrats show small, declining margins for both the recall and for Arnold.

Arnold Steinberg is a California-based political consultant.

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