Tracy Webber of Pro Publica, formerly a Pulitzer winner from the LA Times, has posted an essay about what it was like, in 2003, to be thrust into reporting on the growing story that would-be governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had serially groped a lot of women who worked on his films. In the light of the Mr. Shwarzenegger’s most recent admissions, not to mention the whole, awful DSK matter, it is interesting to read Webber’s recollections and musings on the subject of “When Powerful Men Cross Lines.”
She remembers, among other things, how much fury and criticism the reporting on Arnold’s purported gropings engendered—not toward Arnold, but toward the journalists, the paper, and the women who had, despite their trepidations, agreed to tell their stories.
Eventually 10,000 readers would cancel their subscriptions to the Times.
Reading Weber’s essay, I remembered how then LA Weekly columnist Bill Bradley would accuse the LA Times editors of being willing pawns of “democratic operatives.” I also recalled Jill Stewart writing in the Daily News that the Times deliberately hold the story so that the charges could not be refuted before the election. Schwarzenegger-friendly local radio hosts would cavalierly and falsely trash the reputation of a stuntwoman who was one of those who said that Arnold had molested her. (Nikki Finke, who reported on the dirty tricks against the woman, was one of the few who went against the Schwarzenegger defending, Times-trashing current.)
It was repeatedly suggested that the women’s testimonies were exaggerated, that they were no big deal. But even after the Times stopped working on the story, women kept coming forward, very, very tentatively to tell their own Arnold stories. I know because some of the women contacted me because this or that person told them that I was a trustworthy journalist. I remember I connected up two of those women—both very credible sounding—to one of the other Times reporters working with Weber on the project, Charlie Ornstein, I think it was. But by that time, the storm of criticism had rained down on the paper and they had all but pulled the plug on additional work on the story.
Here’s a clip from Weber’s essay:
The week’s news about the sexual conduct of politically powerful men gives me a queasy feeling of déjà vu.
As the French agonize over whether Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s star power quashed past allegations, I can respond cynically: Yes, that probably happened. But we should not automatically assume that timelier reporting about Strauss-Kahn’s sexually aggressive behavior (including an alleged violent incident in 2002) would have slowed the 62-year old Socialist’s march towards the French presidency.
I speak from experience.
Eight years ago I was dragged scowling and complaining into an investigation of allegations that Arnold Schwarzenegger – the leading candidate for governor of California – had sexually harassed and molested women, including those who worked on his movies.
A team of reporters for The Los Angeles Times, where I then worked, had been pursuing the story for weeks and were about to publish a first piece. With the election days away, I was pulled in. At the time I was deep into an investigative project about a troubled Los Angeles hospital that had a history of harming or even killing its patients. Digging into The Terminator’s salacious back story seemed a tawdry detour…..
Steve Lopez also has a look back at the 2003 groping stories—and the reaction to them.
NOTE: Light posting this morning due to a pile of conflicts and a very sad funeral I must attend. However it’s worth mentioning that Steve Cooley has officially said he won’t seek reelection, and officially endorsed firmly someone other than Carmen Trutanich. More on all this as time goes along.