October 14, 2003


The Story Behind the Story: How The Times decided to publish the accounts of 16 women who said they had been sexually mistreated and humiliated by Arnold Schwarzenegger. (John S. Carroll, October 12, 2003, Los Angeles Times)

The volcanic passions of the recall are largely spent, though we'll no doubt be feeling their effects for many years. Today, on this Sunday of relative calm, I'd like to tell you how the Los Angeles Times decided to publish the stories of 16 women who said they had been sexually mistreated and humiliated by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I'll also tell you why we published the first of those articles a mere five days before voters went to the polls, a decision that has prompted an outpouring of campaign denunciations, talk-show rants and blistering e-mails.

Critics have accused the newspaper of malice toward Republicans and of collaboration with Gray Davis and the Democrats. It has been suggested that we cynically concealed the completed story for weeks before detonating it as a last-minute bomb. Some used the term "October surprise."

I'll begin this accounting with a bit of background: One of our goals is to do more investigative reporting. At the risk of offending still more readers, I'll say that if you're put off by investigative reporting, this probably won't be the right newspaper for you in the years to come.

Investigative skills were needed when Schwarzenegger announced for governor on Aug. 6. For years, he'd had a reputation in Hollywood as a man who treated women crassly. The gossip about him reached a peak after Premiere magazine published an article in March 2001 titled "Arnold the Barbarian."

Because Schwarzenegger had a chance of becoming our next governor, we decided on the day he entered the race to see whether this reputation was warranted.

So one of the leading figures in the most important industry in Los Angeles was outed as a serial sexual harasser thirty months ago, but the hometown paper only got around to the story when it became obvious he'd be the Republican governor of CA--this is supposed to be their defense of their editorial judgment? Suppose the same stories were circulating about Ken Lay, a leading figure in another important business to CA--would they wait until he announced for office to look into them?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 14, 2003 11:48 AM

It is widely known That Davis has an uncontrollable temper which often escalates to violence against employees.

The LAT saw no reason to alert voters about that through any number of elections.

Oh. That media bias.

Posted by: erp at October 14, 2003 4:38 PM

Had the Times' coverage of the recall been fair overall, and equally probing as to all the serious candidates, there would have been far less outrage over the hit piece. Other than a bland acknolwledgement of the bias criticism, Carrtoll saw no need to address this in his defense.

As to the answer to the title of this piece, "Does anybody edit the LA Times?" One can read the paper with the assurance that a certain worldview is so embedded in the culture there that little editorial control is needed. Pravda showed more diversity of views in its heyday.

Posted by: Dave in LA at October 14, 2003 6:41 PM

Dave is correct: if the Times had spent the same energy on Davis' violence with subordinates, and on Bustamante's semi-fake college degree and oddly low-taxed slumlord business, then they could have avoided 90% of the flak they got for the Arnold piece. (Though they were famously shy about printing sexual allegations about Clinton, so they'd still be open to some criticism for changing their standards when it comes to Republicans.)

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 14, 2003 6:54 PM

Here is the response to Carroll's L.A. Times story from Jill Stewart whose story about the Times spiking a story on Davis' abuse of staffers in 1997 helped fuel the current fire.

Stewart also has a long description from a Times staffer about the final days before the election. It does not reflect well either on Carroll or on the Times' newsroom staff as a whole.

Posted by: John at October 15, 2003 12:02 AM

John- just saw the new Stewart piece. Up to 24 reporters on the thing? Carroll acting like Captain Ahab on the bridge?

If this holds up, there would be hell to pay, except that this is L.A, so probably no one will pick it up. Too bad.

Posted by: Dave in LA at October 15, 2003 6:08 AM