MEDIA WATCH: Arnold's pending political decision creates media cliffhanger

There has been plenty of media buzz surrounding the possibility of Arnold Schwarzenegger running for governor of California. In a cover story in July's Esquire, the muscle-bound actor said point-blank, "I would love to be governor."

There has been plenty of media buzz surrounding the possibility of Arnold Schwarzenegger running for governor of California. In a cover story in July's Esquire, the muscle-bound actor said point-blank, "I would love to be governor."

Even so, no one seems sure whether he's in the race or not. He's been playing coy, saying he'll make up his mind once he's done with publicity work for Terminator 3, which opened earlier this month. Media coverage over the last month has been reaching a fever pitch as Californians gather signatures to force a recall vote on Gov. Gray Davis, whose approval ratings have wallowed at less than 25% in recent months, as voters increasingly opine that Davis' incompetence is what led the Golden State into its $38 billion deficit crisis. While Arnold insists that his latest round on the publicity circuit is to promote his new film, the media has recognized that the actor has devised a way to earn publicity for both his film and his political aspirations. He is "the undisputed master of Hollywood public relations," according to the San Francisco Chronicle (July 13). Although Arnold refuses to field questions on a possible campaign, he continues to drop hints and talk around his as-yet unannounced candidacy. Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Cal State-Sacramento, told the San Jose Mercury-News (July 13), "Arnold's getting more free media than God." Reports have also frequently noted that if the Austrian-born Republican is ever going to run for governor (as he has been expected to do for years), the recall is his perfect opportunity. In the judgment of several pundits, such a situation would be ideally suited to an independently wealthy candidate with huge name recognition. The recall format avoids a primary runoff and allows less time for the candidate to shoot himself in the foot with his words or actions. For these reasons, a political consultant who has worked with Arnold told CNN (June 20) that the current opportunity is "the perfect storm ... this recall election has been served up on a platter for him, in a sense." Another recurring theme in the reporting has been Arnold's focus, with repeated warnings that he should not be underestimated. A few reports addressed the skeletons that could be used against him in a campaign: past steroid and marijuana use, allegations of him groping women, and impolitic statements about women - not to mention the fact that he lacks real political experience. Reports indicated that Democrats already have dirt that they would use. A Berkeley political science professor told The Christian Science Monitor (July 3), "Even when he mentioned running a few years ago, the Democrats leaked some stuff and it drove [Schwarzenegger's] PR people crazy." About one out of three analyzed stories identified the consent of his wife, Maria Shriver, as a wild card in his decision. Arnold himself has acknowledged that Shriver, John F. Kennedy's niece, is not comfortable with the media scrutiny that accompanies political life. With enough signatures to force a recall, the vote could take place as early as this November. Arnold is expected to make his decision in the next few weeks. Although there are mixed predictions as to whether he'd win, the race would no doubt be much more widely covered if he were a candidate.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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