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Rogues' Gallery

What do Rush Limbaugh, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Karl Rove, and I all have in common? We’re all guilty as charged! (Kidding. Sort of.)

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So Arnold has triumphed over his bad press.

In the media telling, what happened was that women were simply not convinced that Arnold’s bad behavior was of greater significance than Gray Davis’s mishandling of the economy.

But really, Arnold just outplayed the media (not something the media ever wants to admit). The media, in the final week of the campaign, went all out to get him, and Arnold parried with a better strategy.

A few weeks from now, “Governor Groper” will sound like some vastly out-of-date reference.

The other Republicans in major media trouble—notably Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove—will surely be studying the Schwarzenegger reversal. Here he was accused not just of significant anti-soccer-mom tendencies but of Nazi nostalgia, and yet he made it. Compared with that, Rush’s racial dustups and OxyContin addiction, and White House imagemeister Karl Rove’s national-security betrayals, seem like minor flaps.

Indeed, as I was thinking about Arnold’s success, and how Republicans have all the luck, and about whether Rush and Karl will get away with it, too, I started to realize that the subtext here may not be politics proper but media politics.

What all of these semi-scandals and this copious bad press may fundamentally be about is how the media responds to people in the media.

Which got me thinking about my own media condition—that I have something in common with the groper, the doper, and the leaker.

The weekend before the recall election, when Arnold’s media life was in disarray, when Karl Rove was waiting for the next wave of spy-story fallout, when Rush was girding for lots of reporters working the illicit prescription-drug story, I was waiting for my own press comeuppance. The New York Times (a company that I have dealt harshly with in this column) was getting ready to deal with me—the hatchet was ready. I was facing a profile in the Monday media pages.

Yom Kippur. For my sins.

“Everybody wants me to blow him up, get the elbows out—give him a hard time,” a colleague of mine reported the Times reporter saying.

So, like Arnold, Rush, and Karl, with their vast media skills and resources, I too was trying, that weekend, to manage and improve my media fate.

The question, it struck me, is whether we media people—the actor, the radio host, the media manipulator, the media columnist—have an advantage when it comes to dealing with the media, or whether our media provenance has caused us our media problems.

If the former is true, this lends obvious weight to the political trend suggested by Arnold and, arguably, by Michael Bloomberg (he may not be good before the camera, but it certainly seemed to have helped his campaign that he knew the moguls who owned the cameras). If the entire point about politics is media—a fair thesis—then, duh, get media people to run for office.

Of course, we media people don’t really believe we’re getting a break.

Indeed, the media, which has for so long capitalized on Arnold (many of the companies whose news divisions criticized Arnold have profited handsomely off him in the past; many, owning the various movies on whose sets Arnold did what he did, may have countenanced his groping), sharply turned on him.

Arnold, Rush, and Karl undoubtedly feel they are being punished for their success.

Now, trying to become the governor of California without ever having worked in politics, or even in an office, is something of an obvious overreach.

Rush’s move from his audience of 20 million dittoheads into the media mainstream—with his ESPN sportscasting job—is also a leap.

And for Karl Rove, well, the war in Iraq is proving to be quite a dramatic stretch. As for me, New York Magazine is for sale and I have been trying to put together a group of investors to buy it—which is bound to elicit some suspicion of hubris.

We feel the spite, the envy, the resentment, and the sharp knives of our media colleagues.

We all feel like Martha.

It is true that Arnold has admitted to casual and heedless groping, if not fondness for Hitler; and Rush obviously made the remarks he’s accused of making, and now has been accused by various unsavory types of buying small mountains of the prescription drug OxyContin; and Karl may or may not have feloniously revealed or countenanced the revelation of a covert CIA agent; and I have deep-sixed at least one previous enterpreneurial enterprise (certain to come up in the Times story), and dissed just about everyone in the media business.

But none of us, on this side of the media gun, think that the stated grudges against us are really the reasons for our present media predicaments. Arnold, Rush, and Karl surely think there are larger political currents, bigger enemies, structural prejudices—“puke politics,” as Arnold has called it—aligned against them. And now, looking down the barrel of the gun, I am suddenly inclined to agree: We’re up against it. The media is against us!


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