Jewish World Review Oct. 13, 2003 / 17 Tishrei, 5764

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A full court press | So what are we to think of an election where a powerful newspaper unleashes a squad of reporters to expose a political candidate's boorish behavior toward women, and the targeted candidate wins in a landslide? What the heck is going on here?

That's the primary question emerging from Arnold Schwarzenegger's stunning victory over the combined forces of the Democratic Party and the Los Angeles Times in the California recall election.

Think about it. Did the Los Angeles Times send a squad of reporters to Arkansas to investigate Bill Clinton's situation with women? Did that newspaper spend its resources probing into the backgrounds of Cruz Bustamante and Tom McClintock? The answer to those questions is, wait for it, no it did not.

So I can report quite accurately that the Los Angeles Times is guilty of "selective reporting" -- that is, it set out to find dirt on Schwarzenegger and did. That's not to say the dirt wasn't valid, it was. We the people have the right and the need to know if our elected officials are "gropers." But it seems the good folks of California did not care.

Exit polling showed more women voted for Arnold then his primary Democratic rival Bustamante. Polls also demonstrated that the more the Los Angeles Times slimed Schwarzenegger, the more Republican and independent support he gathered. The logical conclusion is that many voters thought what the Times was doing was worse than Arnold's touchy-feely propensity.

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This is interesting because the left-wing media hit the actor with everything it had. Arnold admired Hitler; Arnold's father was a Nazi; Arnold himself was a bully and was disrespectful to women. The hits just kept on coming. In my nearly 30 years in journalism, I have never seen a more vicious campaign to keep a person from assuming power.

The media reported, and the folks decided. They hated the media. They didn't particularly approve of what Mr. Happy Hands did, but the slime machine was worse. Thousands of people cancelled their subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times.

The perception among many in California is that the Times and the Gray Davis campaign were working together. This is probably not true, but perceptions win and lose elections. And there was some circumstantial evidence indicating that Davis had the Times in his pocket. The folks didn't like it.

In 1974, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said that the primary purpose of the First Amendment was "to create a fourth institution outside the government as an additional check on the three official branches" (the executive, the legislative and the judiciary). That institution, of course, is the press. It is supposed to be a watchdog of, not a lapdog for, the powerful.

But today in America, the media have become increasingly ideological. We've always had editorial pages that supported politicians, but now we have news pages being used to push agendas both social and political.

This is dangerous to our democracy. When campaign finance reform kicks in next year, the press will have even more power in the exposition of political candidates and issues. If we have powerful newspapers and TV networks actively working to undermine selected candidates, we have trouble. And guess what? We have trouble.

Whether the Los Angeles Times knows it or not, it had an enormous effect on the recall election in California. Instead of helping people focus on the issues and on the attributes of leadership, the Times succeeded in angering so many voters that Arnold didn't even need to make a power grab. For once, he kept his hands in his pockets. The more they smeared him, the more popular he became. They pumped him up.

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JWR contributor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," and author of, most recently, "Who's Looking Out for You?" Comments by clicking here.

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© 2003 Creators Syndicate