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Schwarzenegger Talks to Press; Interview With Ed Gordon

Aired September 14, 2003 - 11:30   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Running right. Arnold Schwarzenegger comes out from behind the curtain, but mainly to talk to conservative radio and TV hosts, along with Howard Stern? Why does he keep stiffing the rest of the press? Why did he bash the "Los Angeles Times?" And is the press still slighting the "Terminator's" rivals?

Also, a black journalist forced the presidential candidates to talk about minorities and the poor. Anchor Ed Gordon talks about his role in the Democratic debate.

And, is ABC the most anti-war network?


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on California. The box office star of the recall is still, no surprise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was soaking up that media coverage again yesterday when he addressed the Republican state convention.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: We cannot endure three more years of Davis-Bustamante. They are the same administration. They are the twin terminators of Sacramento.


KURTZ: While the other candidates, from Gray Davis to Cruz Bustamante to Tom McClintock, have been all over the tube, Schwarzenegger has mostly blown by the press. And when he surfaces in a conservative forum, as he did with Fox's Bill O'Reilly, the actor generally offers sound bites, not specifics.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: In order to get control over the spending, you've got to cut. You've got to cut. You know where you're going to cut?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, the most important thing is -- and this is the first thing I would do when I get into office -- is to open up the books, do the auditing, look at the budget line by line, and look at where the waste really is.


KURTZ: So have journalists been reduced to mere extras in Arnold's latest blockbuster? Joining us now in San Francisco, Debra Saunders, columnist for the "San Francisco Chronicle." In Los Angeles, radio talk show host and political columnist Jill Stewart. Also in L.A., Mark Z. Barabak of the "Los Angeles Times."

Welcome. As I've mentioned before, my wife worked for Schwarzenegger's anti-school initiative -- after-school initiative last year before we were married, but has no involvement at all in his campaign.

Debra Saunders, you actually interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger this week. How much time were you given for that telephone interview?

DEBRA SAUNDERS, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Well, I was told I'd be given 20 minutes before the phone call. And when I got on the call -- and it was by speakerphone, there were aides in the room -- I was that I would have seven minutes.

KURTZ: Seven minutes?

SAUNDERS: Seven minutes.

KURTZ: And in that short amount of time, one of the things you brought up was Schwarzenegger's self-described sexual exploits of the 1970s. Why did you use some of your precious time to discuss that topic?

SAUNDERS: Well, look, I don't want to talk about what he did when he was 29. I just want to hear that if he is governor we're not going to have a lot of embarrassing stories. And that's basically what I put to him. And I didn't get the most satisfying answer, which was that he made things up. I don't think Mr. Schwarzenegger understands that that is not an answer that really works well with voters or the press.

KURTZ: Got it.

SAUNDERS: And that's the answer I got.

KURTZ: Mark Barabak, Schwarzenegger took quite a whack this week at your paper, the "L.A. Times." He was talking to Fox's Bill O'Reilly, and he blamed what he describes as negative coverage on Gray Davis. Let's take a look at that.


SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, not really, because I always knew that Davis knows how to run a negative campaign. All of the stories are fed by the campaign headquarters, I guarantee you that.

O'REILLY: If it is true, though, that the "L.A.Times" is taking their cues from the Davis campaign, why would a newspaper that's supposed to be objective do that?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, have you ever seen how many times they put Davis on the cover and Bustamante on the cover and I'm on page 12 or page 20 or something like that?

O'REILLY: Yes. I know what they're doing.


KURTZ: So why are you slighting poor Mr. Schwarzenegger?

MARK BARABAK, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, you know it is an interesting thing. Earlier in that interview, it was talked about the "Oui" magazine interview and the Nazi past of Arnold Schwarzenegger's father and the fairness of the play the paper gave the story. The day after we ran the story about Arnold Schwarzenegger's Nazi father, it was the same day that he announced that Warren Buffett was going to be his economic adviser.

We put the Warren Buffett story on page one. We put the Nazi father story inside on page 16. Maybe he thought we should have put both out front, maybe he thought that would have been another front- page story. But the interesting thing is Mr. Schwarzenegger called the editor of the "L.A. Times," John Carrol (ph), that very next day to thank us for our coverage, to say we handled that story fairly and to say overall our coverage had been very, very fair, very balanced.

He lavished praise on how fair the "L.A. Times" had been. And I talked to John Carrol (ph), the editor, on Friday, and they've had no other discussion since then. So I'm not exactly sure where Mr. Schwarzenegger got the idea that we're being fed stuff by the Davis campaign, which, by the way, has been very, very critical of our coverage.

A couple weeks ago we ran a piece that they hated. They called, tried to get the story killed. Said it was unfair. So we're getting it from both sides.

KURTZ: Tried to get the story killed. Well, by our account, the "Los Angeles Times" has done more front-page stories on Schwarzenegger than on Bustamante or Davis.

What do you make of Schwarzenegger's media strategy of mostly limiting access? For example, at yesterday's state convention, he didn't hold the traditional news conference. Instead, he's talked to conservative radio talk show hosts, he's talked to Bill O'Reilly, he's talked to Howard Stern, and the next couple of days he and his wife, Maria, are going to do "Oprah" and then later "Larry King."

BARABAK: Well, it's a strategy...

JILL STEWART, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I think it is very upsetting for the media, but I think it is working for Arnold in the sense that he's getting out the message the way he wants to get it out. The one thing I think that's hurting him, though, is that because the media is so upset with him, because the media has pretty much had it with him for not sitting down and giving one-on-one interviews, when he does come up with a very specific policy or program, they now completely ignore him, I think because they're mad at him.

He has the most specific program, for example, for ending the workers' compensation crisis in California, very, very specific. Put out his press release last weekend. He was completely ignored. And of course the Democrats just approved a non-fix, a non-fix to the crisis this week, and that's been covered as if it might fix it, but it will not end the crisis, it will not roll back prices (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KURTZ: But you're suggesting that journalists are deliberately ignoring some of the details that the Schwarzenegger campaign has put out, at least on this issue, because they're mad at him, because their feelings have been hurt?

SAUNDERS: I don't think -- no, Howard, no. I don't think they're deliberately doing it. I think journalists do pack journalism, in which they get caught up in the coverage, they get into conventional wisdom, they sit around and nod and agree at press conferences. It's a psychological process.

I don't think it's deliberate at all. I think they're humans, and I think they are caught up in this process. And I think they've decided that Schwarzenegger doesn't give specifics, and then when he does get very specific on, for example, workers' comp, which is a huge issue for voters, it's a massive issue for voters...

KURTZ: Right.

SAUNDERS: But journalists don't care about workers' compensation.


BARABAK: Howard, can I interject something real quick?

KURTZ: Go ahead, Mark.

BARABAK: Howard, I just want to interject something. I can't speak obviously for other newspapers. We did in fact have a front- page story that detailed Arnold Schwarzenegger's workmen's comp program. And as Yogi Berra said, "You can look it up."

KURTZ: Debra Saunders, it does seem from this distance that Schwarzenegger continues to be covered like a rock star. For example, Brian Bamiller (ph) of KTVU in San Francisco, gave $1,000 to the Schwarzenegger campaign so his wife could meet the "Terminator." He later asked for the money back. So isn't this kind of a huge advantage when one candidate is such a big mega celebrity?

SAUNDERS: I think it's an advantage and a disadvantage. The disadvantage part is, in a way, we're human, as Jill said, and we want him to be more of an action hero. We expect him to be perfect. I've heard a lot of journalists say, "Well, he said he wouldn't be like other politicians, so we basically have to look at every single flaw and magnify it." And he has been rather forthcoming on a number of policies. And I'll add, Cruz Bustamante hasn't been that forthcoming himself.

At a town hall meeting he was asked what he would do if he would expand the number of casinos and slot machines. He wouldn't answer it. Didn't go to the press conference afterward. The "Chronicle" reported last week how for weeks we've been trying to get an interview with him and couldn't get it. But nobody looks at that.

KURTZ: So the lieutenant governor who wants to be governor won't give an interview to the "San Francisco Chronicle." Why is he not getting criticism for being inaccessible, at least in part, to the media?

SAUNDERS: Well, I mean, the "Chronicle" wrote that in last Sunday's paper. And I haven't found his people to be particularly forthcoming. When I called them about a week ago to get an answer to the question he didn't answer at the town hall debate, I never got a call back. I mean, I got a call asking me from the assistant press secretary what my question would be, but I didn't get a call by my deadline. I didn't get a call afterward.

STEWART: I'd like to interject on what she is saying there, that although the "L.A. Times" did do a story on the workers' compensation program that Schwarzenegger proposed, that then should have been picked up. That should have been a fairly big story since the "L.A. Times" had the piece.

In fact, it was ignored. And you just didn't see it anywhere. The television didn't do it. Nobody did it.

And then Cruz Bustamante, I find this fascinating, he, in fact, does want to dismantle Proposition 13 in California. He wants to get rid of the limits on the taxes for commercial properties, even for small mom and pop grocery stores.

KURTZ: Right.

STEWART: And the media has never given him a hard time for that. All they care about is Schwarzenegger's Buffett speech, which Schwarzenegger, of course, could not control, where Warren Buffett said maybe they should look at Prop 13.

KURTZ: Right. Let me jump in here...

STEWART: I think you have a media pile-on going on in California.

KURTZ: It wouldn't be the first media pile-on.

Mark Barabak, let's talk for a moment about state Senator Tom McClintock. Obviously, has emerged as the chief Republican rival to Schwarzenegger. This guy has a lot of specifics, but every time I see him being interviewed by journalists, he seems to be asked one question over and over again. Let's take a look at his recent appearance on CNN's "INSIDE POLITICS."


JUDY WOODRUFF, INSIDE POLITICS: Are you next to drop out?

SEN. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R-CA), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, no. I'm in this race right to the finish line, Judy.

WOODRUFF: How do you know for sure what you're going to do?

MCCLINTOCK: Judy, what is it about the word "no" that you guys don't understand?


KURTZ: Mark, is it fair for journalists to keep hammering McClintock about why won't you drop out, why won't you drop out? After all, he has 18 percent of the polls, compared to Schwarzenegger's 25 percent.

BARABAK: Yes, I would say -- I mean, it is a very simple narrative to follow. You know, the race between the Republicans, two of them, one of the Democrats, so it is sort of a dumbing down of the race, if you will. I mean, he said no. Yesterday, he was at a convention and gave a very, very vigorous speech, took a lot of shots at Arnold Schwarzenegger.

So I'm with you. I mean, "no" is pretty clear to me. No means no.

Can I very quickly -- one thing -- I need to fix the record. It was Casey Stengel who said "Look it up," not Yogi Berra. So...

KURTZ: Glad to have that clear.

Debra Saunders, do you think that the press has been fair to McClintock? We all say we want specifics, but the only specific anyone seems to about is, will you drop out?

SAUNDERS: Well, you know I talked to Tom McClintock during the week and wrote a column about how he plans to run the state if he is the governor. And I mean run the state, because he's not somebody who works very well with other people. And wrote about his approach, what he wants to do with workers' comp, with the state budget, the kind of cuts he would make.

And I don't think a lot of people are as interested -- you know, the thing is the media are interested in the rift in the Republican Party and it is not -- and for good reason. The Republicans lost every single statewide office in the last election.

KURTZ: Right.

SAUNDERS: And people want to see if the GOP is going to become more pragmatic, or if it is going to stick to principles and possibly but not necessarily lose.

KURTZ: That is the issue. Jill Stewart, we have about 30 seconds. What bothers you the most about the way this race is being covered or the way Schwarzenegger is being covered?

STEWART: I think, once again, the media is incredibly shallow and incredibly lazy in California. The people actually care about some of the big issues like what's going on in Sacramento, the fact that it's gone so far to the left with illegal immigrants getting driver's licenses. And the media are actually ignoring some of the big stories. They were forced to cover driver's licenses, but they're ignoring some of the really big stories.

KURTZ: OK. Well, you're not pulling any punches here. And we are out of time. My thanks to all our guests in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Still to come, former Black Entertainment Television anchor Ed Gordon on his role in last week's Democratic presidential debate. When the candidates face off, are the mainstream media paying enough attention to minority issues? That's next.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

The Congressional Black Caucus sponsored this week's Democratic presidential debate in Baltimore, along with Fox News. And that produced a very different tone to the questioning. I sat down with one of the questioners, Ed Gordon, formerly of Black Entertainment Television, now with "Savoy" magazine to talk about his role.


KURTZ: Ed Gordon, welcome.


KURTZ: Did you come to that debate armed with an agenda?

GORDON: No. And the reason is that you have so many candidates. You have nine candidates. They only have a minute. You only have 30 seconds.

It is very difficult to really try to extract anything from them. So our hope was just to keep it moving, maybe to get a spark or two during the debate, and possibly try to force one or two of the candidates who have either flip-flopped or there have been questions about previous answers to maybe nail down.

KURTZ: Well, let's take a look at a couple of questions that you asked during the Baltimore debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GORDON: Govern Dean, let me go to you. Frankly, there's been some concern that, because of the racial makeup of Vermont, about .5 percent black, that you will have a difficult time connecting and really understanding the concerns of minorities, in particular African-Americans.

Senator Kerry, if your child faced the same opportunities the average black child in this country faces, would you feel comfortable?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would not only not feel comfortable, I'd be outraged.


KURTZ: does it seem to you, Ed Gordon, that the mainstream media largely ignore questions about minority, unemployment, poverty, racial discrimination, some of the things that were talked about in this debate?

GORDON: I don't know that they ignore them totally. Certainly, they're brought up.

KURTZ: How often are the candidates asked about it?

GORDON: Well, I think that there are certain agendas that we all have. And we tend to lean toward what is important in our lives. Seeing that mainstream media is essentially white males, I think what is important to that cadre of folks often gets asked and talked about perhaps disproportionately more than it needs to. So there is validity there.

And on a whole, I would say, no. Many of the topics that are of import to African-Americans are, frankly, ignored. But I think it's important for us to understand that the African-American community is not a monolith, and what's important to me at my age and my income status is not the same as a 22-year-old African-American, who may be unemployed and living on, you know, on assistance.

KURTZ: But that person, of course, doesn't usually get the opportunity to question presidential candidates.

GORDON: No, absolutely not.

KURTZ: But is it in part that the mainstream media, which let's face it, most of the big newspapers, big networks run by whites, most of the magazines, except for "Newsweek," run by whites, that they now regard these inner-city poverty, minority-type issues as unfashionable, not the kind of readers they're trying to reach, not the viewers they're trying to reach?

GORDON: I don't know. Maybe that is a question for you to tell me, Howard. I mean, in a real sense, you know, it is probably a question of -- I don't know if it's benign neglect, I don't know if it's intentional. I think that, again, you tend to gravitate toward what is important to you. And I think if those issues don't touch your backyard, you don't necessarily think they're of import. KURTZ: But there's no question that, at this debate, it was co- sponsored by the Black Caucus, it had three black journalists doing the questioning...


KURTZ: ... we got some different kinds of questioning than all these other debates.

GORDON: Absolutely. There's no question that we wanted to talk about things that were important to African-Americans, just as the week before the Hispanic Caucus had held their debate. And obviously they were going to talk about issues that were of importance to Hispanics.

KURTZ: Now, some critics might say, well, this is a question of sort of catering to special interests, forcing the candidates -- maybe it's a good thing -- forcing the candidates to address the concerns of one group.

GORDON: That's always been the case, though. I mean, that's politics. That's the world of politics.

And what we often don't realize in -- just in the sense of your question, don't you do that if you have a roomful of white males talking to white men in general? I mean, it is the same thing. You're catering to each other, so...

KURTZ: But when white journalists do it, perhaps they don't even realize it because...

GORDON: Well, no. They don't realize it. They don't see it. That is their world, and they think the world is that.

I mean, let's be honest, Howard. I mean, you know, even the media within itself -- often I'm asked to come on programs to talk about "black issues." And perhaps not asked enough just to come on and talk about issues.

KURTZ: Right. You get sort of categorized...


KURTZ: ... or pigeonholed. Let's take a look at one other question you asked at the debate. This one having to do with whether President Bush misled the country on Iraq.


GORDON: Mr. Graham, let me ask you the same question that I tried with Senator Kerry. We'll see perhaps if you will give me a little bit more straightforward answer.


KURTZ: Was that a fair shot at Kerry? GORDON: Maybe not. Maybe not. I mean, I thought about it after, but I must admit I was disappointed and a little frustrated because I thought all of them were evading. And not that you don't go in assuming that, but evading the question. I asked Kerry earlier, "Did you think it was intentional that the president misled the country?"

KURTZ: He said he didn't know.

GORDON: He said he didn't know. It is a fair answer in the sense of, you can't know what's in a man's heart. But let's be honest, we all have our opinions on whether or not someone did something intentionally or not. And Graham had no ifs, ands or buts about what he thought, and that's what I was hoping Kerry would speak to. But I admit now having hindsight now I probably shouldn't have said that.

KURTZ: Well, it's live television. Just briefly, do you think this Black Caucus debate is, at least a small way, changing the campaign dialogue or is it more of a flash in the pan of some of the issues that we've been talking about?

GORDON: No. I don't think it changes the dialogue. I think each candidate, as you know, Howard, each day gets ready for who they need to speak to, whether it is labor, whether it is African- Americans, whether it is females. And I think there is a broad agenda for these candidate. And, frankly, the job of the presidency of the United States is such that it's so big, I don't know in modern times whether or not it really is a job that can be held on to by one person. So it becomes an interesting play to watch it.

KURTZ: A lot of constituency groups out there.

GORDON: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Ed Gordon, thanks very much for joining us.

GORDON: Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: My interview with Ed Gordon. We'll be right back.


KURTZ: Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning at 11:30 Eastern for another critical look at the media.


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