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Jewish World Review Oct. 17, 2003 / 21 Tishrei, 5764

Roger Simon

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No cheering in the press box | It is easy to forget, given his stunning victory, that Arnold Schwarzenegger is not exactly an expert on the ways of politics or government.

Even though he went from promoting "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" to governor-elect of California in a dazzling 60 days, in one area he is downright naive.

Schwarzenegger actually thinks the political press corps is on his side. Or, at the very least, he thinks the media can be charmed, cajoled or threatened into being on his side.

Obviously, he knows that the Los Angeles Times, which printed the accounts of 15 women accusing him of groping or otherwise molesting them, is not on his side. But his staff has now targeted the Times as one of the forces of evil that Schwarzenegger defeated.

On election night, I asked Rob Stutzman, a top Schwarzenegger aide, about the significance of the Schwarzenegger victory, and he said: "This was a large victory not just in the rejection of (incumbent governor) Gray Davis, but the last-minute, gotcha journalism of the Los Angeles Times. It was a repudiation of Gray and the media."

Stutzman didn't mean the whole media. In general, the Schwarzenegger campaign loved the media, especially television celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno, who were very helpful to Schwarzenegger. (Leno went so far as to introduce Schwarzenegger at his victory celebration. Leno is not a journalist, so I guess he has no ethical line to cross, but it makes you wonder how ordinary candidates can compete when superstar candidates and superstar media personalities band together.)

But why do I say Schwarzenegger really doesn't get the news media? Because of this: Schwarzenegger held a press conference the day after his victory (which was a very good sign, I thought) in a large ballroom. Some 60 camera crews from around the world set up their equipment early in the day, and print and still photographers showed up an hour early to grab seats.

Schwarzenegger entered from stage right, trailing his ever-present security team and Stutzman. His supporting cast walked only a few paces with him, however, and then let him make the longish walk to the lectern alone.

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It was very dramatic and cried out for applause — except the press doesn't applaud. Ever. We don't applaud presidents, and we don't applaud governors. We don't applaud the newsmakers we cover. The rule is a simple one: no cheering in the press box.

Which Schwarzenegger didn't seem to realize and didn't seem to like.

"Don't get too excited with your applause," he said sarcastically when he took his place.

I don't think he was upset. But I do think he was surprised. He actually thought the press would applaud for him. He was a performer who had just given a star performance. He had just won this terrific election! Didn't that deserve a little applause? A little recognition? A little love?

An excellent article last Sunday by Todd Purdum in the New York Times quotes Leo Braudy, a professor of English at the University of Southern California who is an expert on celebrities. Braudy explained why pro-wrestler-turned-politician Jesse Ventura had a difficult time as governor of Minnesota. "Celebrities are used to adulation, used to having their own way, used to having everybody happy to see them," Braudy said. "You walk into the State Senate, the budget committee, they're not happy to see you."

Schwarzenegger will face the same problem. The audience is different now, and there won't necessarily be the roar of the crowd when he enters a room. In fact, he sometimes will face audiences — especially in a California state legislature controlled by Democrats — that are hostile, and this may be a first for him.

The press is not hostile (or is not supposed to be.) It is indifferent. Which has come as a surprise to Schwarzenegger. At the end of his first press conference, he made an extraordinary statement, which shows, I believe, how little he understands the media treatment he is about to get as governor.

"Please do me a favor," he said to the reporters. "Stay with me the next three years, because you are absolutely essential for me to get my message out there. I really appreciate your being a part of this campaign."

Part of this campaign? Stay with him? Is that what he really expects? Well, on that day he did. But maybe not any more.

At his first press conference, he got no tough questions. At his second, the next day, however, a reporter shouted to him as he was walking away from the lectern that he had promised NBC's Tom Brokaw that he would explain the specifics of the groping incidents "as soon as the campaign is over."

Well, the campaign was now over, so how about those specifics?

"Old news," Schwarzenegger said tersely and continued walking.

Since then, he has stopped having daily press conferences. Since then, I'll bet he has been wondering how a reporter who was supposed to "stay with" him could ask such a nasty question, and whether it will be asked again and again.

So welcome to the real world, Gov. Schwarzenegger.

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