And yet, of no small importance, our media roots, our media savvy, our media connections quite likely mean that we have some greater ability to take on the media and prevail against it—greater than, say, Dick Grasso’s or Dennis Kozlowski’s abilities.
We are at least without illusion: The media, we know, reflects us not as we are but as a function of how well or how poorly we’ve played it.
We understand the nature and the extent of the negotiation.
This is spin. But that is in some sense the least of it. The media process is more akin to the legislative process. Marshaling allies, identifying and isolating foes, pressuring friends, calling in favors, offering up trades, bringing influence to bear, implying the counter-threat, establishing the power equation.
Arnold, for instance, surely knew the L.A. Times groping story was coming. This must have been the primary issue for his campaign from the beginning. His campaign consultants had certainly war-gamed and story-conferenced the issue to death. It’s been up there on the white board: XXX STORY. All the variations and the variable outcomes.
The challenge was to circumscribe and limit the story itself—and delay it. And then, when it came, to be ready on a dime to respond to it. This is a long way from Bill Clinton’s relative naïveté.
“There may be no better media managers than Hollywood people. Media, Hollywood people understand, is a transaction.”
Indeed, Arnold has been cleaning up reality for years. He bought the documentary Pumping Iron, which showed him disadvantageously, and took the prints out of circulation (a popular thing to do, if you can afford it, in Hollywood); he made appropriate contributions to help him with the Hitler mess; and most recently, he’s been able to take advantage of the fact that the company (American Media) that owns the tabloids, which have so annoyingly hounded him over the years (they’ve had the groping story cold), bought the company (Weider publications) that owns the country’s leading muscle magazines—for which Arnold is a major commercial draw (American Media can’t damage Arnold without damaging itself).
There may be no better media managers than Hollywood people. Media, Hollywood people understand, is a transaction.
Such media war-gaming has certainly been going on at Rush’s and Karl’s houses, too.
For Rush, the strategy is to ask for forgiveness (just like Arnold did) and fall back on his base—the 20 million. They protect Rush. What’s more, Rush has for a long time been able to surgically focus his most ardent listeners where he wants them focused. They’re a force for him. He can unleash his media on anti-Rush media—or, say, on an ambitious Florida prosecutor. The Rush beast is a beast that no one wants to provoke.
Karl Rove, meanwhile, was wounded most of all by an image: Joe Wilson (husband of the unveiled CIA agent) saying Rove should be “frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.” That was, for Rove, unfortunately vivid. It broke through the clutter. The Rove mission now is to restore the clutter. To reestablish the complexity, the nebulousness, the conflicting accounts of who said what to whom. To lay the blame nowhere and everywhere. For Rove, this is relative child’s play.
As for me, for five years I’ve been banging away here at the various people who own and control the media business. It seemed reasonable to fear that I might be taken apart just as gleefully, a possibility engendering in me a certain low-level nausea.
“You can dish it out, but you can’t take it,” my wife said censoriously.
“This is not about justice,” I argued.
Now, the reporter at the Times who was writing the story about me had, within the past few years, worked for New York Magazine. So this was either an advantage of being in the media (one is written about by one’s “friends”—indeed, my friends are his friends) or a disadvantage (one is written about by one’s enemies). The connections are baroque and intricate. We’re all working the myriad relationships. (Don’t forget about Maria.)
We media people are like the Saudi royal family.
This does not necessarily mean that we get a free pass (although it often means just that). But it does mean that it’s all fraught and inbred and opaque (at least to you, the reader).
Arnold, the neophyte politician, is the consummate media player—with media skills (not to mention branding) possibly more valuable than any virtues a politician could ever bring to a political campaign. Rush’s raw media power may be enough to get him out of any jam. And it would be foolish to assume that Karl Rove has suddenly lost his media teeth—that he can’t chew himself out of his security breach.
As for me, I did okayI mostly avoided the hatchet. The Times story, after much maneuvering on my part and working the phones and deft staging of reality, and with a timely intercession of mutual friends petitioning the reporter on my behalf, turned out to be a genial balance of potshots and compliments (I only wish the jibe about my supposedly Grasso-like salary was true). Even the reporter seemed impressed, however begrudgingly, with my media-management abilities.
So if I don’t buy New York Magazine, then it’s a Senate seat for me.