Friday, August 12, 2005

Media Cover-ups and the “Gropenator”

[[S C A N D A L S]] * Editor & Publisher reports that the September issue of Vanity Fair includes a story charging that America’s “greatest news organizations,” particularly Time magazine and The New York Times, failed the voting public--and were complicit in a government cover-up--by refusing to divulge what they knew about Bush advisor Karl Rove’s role in exposing the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame for political reasons. Author Michael Wolff, a former media columnist for New York magazine, goes on in “All Roads Lead to Rove” to contend that, had the press been willing to reveal Rove’s “crime,” it would have been “of such consequences that it might, reasonably, have presaged the defeat of the president, might have even--to be slightly melodramatic--altered the course of the war in Iraq.” However, he observes, the news media acted in their own interests, to retain a highly placed government “source,” rather than in the interests of truth and public awareness.

Meanwhile, Think Progress, a liberal think tank, has released a handy guide to 21 Bush administration officials “with known connections” to Plamegate. It’s an intriguing inventory of suspects, both well known and not so, each name accompanied by notes about how they are involved in this expanding (and potentially treasonous) outrage. The list begins with Rove himself and cascades down through Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, White House chief of staff Andrew Card, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former vice-presidential senior advisor Mary Matalin, ex-White House press secretary Ari Fleisher, and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, with Dick Cheney and George W. Bush pulling up the rear. A terrific resource for the 41 percent of Americans who, in a recent CBS News poll, said that they view the CIA leak scandal as of “great importance” to the nation, and are watching for further developments.

* * *
Clear across the country, another case of disgrace brews anew. The Los Angeles Times reports today that “only days after” bodybuilder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger leapt into the race for California governor in 2003, American Media Inc. (which publishes the National Enquirer) promised to pay $20,000 to Gigi Goyette of Malibu, who had been previously described in the Enquirer as having had a seven-year relationship with Schwarzenegger during his marriage to NBC-TV newswoman Maria Shriver. “Under the agreement,” the Times explains, “Goyette must disclose to no one but American Media any information about her ‘interactions’ with Schwarzenegger.” Another $1,000 was paid, with similar restrictions, to a friend of Goyette, Judy Mora. Both women say that American Media has not since approached them for information.

The Times quotes an unnamed source “who worked at the company when the contracts were signed,” as saying that “American Media was effectively protecting Schwarzenegger’s political interests. ... AMI systematically bought the silence” of the women to prevent the scandal from undermining his chances of being elected. However, Rob Stutzman, Schwarzenegger’s communications director, insisted the governor wasn't privy to any such deals between American Media and the two women.

While the monetary arrangements with Goyette and Mora were in the works, Schwarzenegger was himself negotiating with an American Media subsidiary, Weider Publications, for his consultation services. Under that agreement--formalized just two days before Schwarzenegger took his oath of office--AMI agreed to pay the governor $8 million or more over a five-year period. But Schwarzenegger abruptly cancelled the deal only last month, after questions were raised about conflicts of interest.

During the 2003 gubernatorial race, which recalled Democratic Governor Gray Davis, newly minted Republican politician Schwarzenegger was dogged by stories of extramarital affairs, inappropriate “groping,” and sexual profligacy from his past. The candidate admitted to “behaving badly sometimes” with women, yet he managed to calm the worst impact of these allegations, partly by promising to launch an independent investigation into the charges after his election. He later dropped the investigation, citing the political motivations of his critics. Yet similar claims against him have subsequently arisen in the press and courts, adding to the history of Republican sex scandals.

Already besieged by woes, Schwarzenegger--whose approval ratings have fallen even lower than Bush’s, and whose special-election ballot attempt to take away the state legislature’s power to redraw political boundaries was rejected by a Sacramento judge--must be wondering about now why he ever agreed to trade his lucrative career as a movie tough guy for the real-life rough and tumble of modern politics.

UPDATE: The California Supreme Court on Friday gave Schwarzenegger at least a respite from his bad news of date, by overturning lower court decisions and putting back on California’s November 8 special-election ballot the governor’s initiative to change how legislative districts are drawn. Proposition 77 would remove the once-a-decade power to rearrange districts from the hands of the state legislature, and give it instead to a panel of three retired judges. Even this victory, though, doesn’t ensure the initiative’s passage; Californians have rejected four redistricting initiatives over the last 23 years, and a recent Field Poll found only 35 percent approval for Prop. 77, with 46 percent of respondents opposing it.

READ MORE: Thank Heaven for Arnold’s Little Gigi,” by Steve Lopez (Los Angeles Times); “The Price of Paying for News,” by Tim Rutten (Los Angeles Times).

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