Scrubbing Schwarzenegger

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

There's been too much media hand wringing over whether outlets should have named the housekeeper who had Arnold Schwarzenegger's secret baby.

The thinking is that, by naming the mother, media are in effect publicly naming the son. Legitimate questions have been put forth on both sides.

But, inevitably, the mother's name did get out. There was never any question of that.

There's a bigger media lesson from the whole episode.

And that's the importance of the initial look into Schwarzenegger's past that the Los Angeles Times undertook during the recall campaign, in 2003, that gave us the Terminator as governor.

When I covered politics for the paper, and when I was an editor after that, we called it scrubbing.

The idea's that when a newcomer came onto the political scene, you'd ask basic questions about their past. Did they really have that degree from the London School of Economics? That purple heart from Da Nang?

Do they have a history of not paying their taxes? Or not voting?

Plenty of candidates say one thing when the truth says another. Plenty of Hollywood celebrities do too.

In Schwarzenegger, the news media had a two-fer. He was both a mega-celebrity who some people felt they knew everything about.

AND a first-time candidate who we actually knew very little about.

The real stuff, not the image written for him by consultants and friendly culture influencers like Jay Leno.

Arnold actually was a three-fer. He'd been accused, previously, of using his star power and physical presence to make women let him manhandle them.

That's what the cops might call reasonable cause to dig deeper.

If I'm the politics editor at the LA Times in 2003 – and I wasn't – I absolutely send reporters out to find out the truth. Urgently, before the election.

That's what the Times did. And the paper got slammed for it, in part because the stories ran just before the final weekend of the recall campaign.

The timing was a legitimate fault, and the editors knew it. They tried to get the reporting done sooner. But women were reticent to talk openly.

Some only went on the record in the last few days.

Schwarzenegger's delirious fans, and the Republican leaders who were the beneficiaries of his decision to run in their party, called foul.

But it was an easy call then. Of course you ask the questions. Do the reporting.

And once you find out that, yes, credible women had credible complaints against the possible next governor, of course you put the story in the paper. Why sit on it?

The basic news decisions made then look even better now that we finally do know more of the real Arnold.

If anything, the editors and reporters – most of them long gone from the paper – are probably kicking themselves.

They knew about the women Arnold had groped. They must have heard the gossip about a child.

They didn't get that story. They'd need documents, real hard evidence.

Those didn't surface until eight years later, again in the L.A. Times.

You can bet that the journalists would love to have nailed it down then, in 2003. It's to their credit that they waited until they had the goods.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.