The headlines everywhere are focusing on the California recall election, and everywhere you turn you're hearing a reporter focus on the "wacky" or "circus" element. But to what extent are the media accurately reporting the electoral madness coming out of that goofy state, and to what extent are they feeding on, and advancing, the silliness?
California's budget is some $110 billion, making it the world's fifth-largest economy (it recently surpassed France), and it's in shambles. The state's in real crisis, with an anticipated deficit this year of $38.2 billion, enough to sink most countries. And what is the press focusing on? Not this. Far more important -- which is to say, interesting -- is the bizarre nature of a 240-man field made up mostly of very unserious people looking for their Warholian moment.
The media stopped the streaking craze in the '70s when they announced they wouldn't cover and give attention to naked runners disrupting events. They should be doing the same in California. Instead they're emboldening those who are making a mockery of the system.
This is not to say the media are to be blamed entirely. Let's face it: The political picture is silly, and more to the point, it's embarrassing. What do midget actor Gary Coleman, porno king Larry Flynt, billboard queen Angelyne, hybrid driver Arianna Huffington and that 100-year-old woman who's also running have in common? None is qualified to serve, and all are desperate, pathetically desperate, for attention.
They deserved about a minute's media time before being escorted back into the circus freak show tent. Instead, they're all the press can talk about.
Then there's Arnold. One cannot dispute the media frenzy surrounding Schwarzenegger's announcement. After all, he is quite possibly the largest box-office draw in the world; and his choice of the Leno show from which to make his announcement was something out of a Hollywood script. The media were right to focus on the glitz, but not to be blinded by it.
Only now are some in the press coming to their senses and realizing just how vacuous this candidate's announcement tour has been. Obviously he was coached to give crowd-thrilling one-liners like "I will pump up Sacramento!" and "Say 'Hasta la vista,' Gray Davis!" OK, we can understand the glibness, and we will admit that we chuckled a bit, but once you get beyond that and into policy, it's far less acceptable.
When a reporter asked Schwarzenegger last week to detail his position on the environment, Arnold made do with "I will fight for the environment. Nothing to worry about." Uh-huh. When Diane Sawyer asked his opinion on gay marriage, the would-be governor answered, "I don't want to get into that now." I see. And when asked how he would fix the state's fiscal crisis, Schwarzenegger replied: "I will be there for everybody, young and old, men and women alike." Gotcha.
There are the press rumbles in the distance suggesting the media's growing discomfort with this unserious recall campaign. That would be good, except to see how some in the media choose to make this "serious" makes me pine for more Terminator lines.
On the August 7 "Today" show, Katie Couric was ready to talk seriously about Schwarzenegger's candidacy, and posed this "question" to Democratic strategist Darry Sragow: "Let me ask you about his baggage, if you will. He's admitted smoking marijuana, using steroids … He's the son of a Nazi Party member … Through his publicist he's denied allegations … that he sexually harassed women and committed infidelity. All those things, are they gonna be front and center, Darry, do you think, in this campaign?"
But just four days later, Couric did a complete back flip when she posed this question to candidate Bill Simon: "According to the New York Daily News, it says a Simon strategist said, 'His lagging campaign plans to win by stirring up the base, spotlighting the actor's raunchy past and liberal social views.' How dirty will you get?"
Moral of the story: Only hypocritical reporters are allowed to hurl mud.
The Cato Institute governor-watchers gave Gray Davis an F rating last year. He has "become one of the biggest spending governors in California history." Spending went up 13 percent in 1999-2000, and then rose another 14 percent in 2001-2002. Davis bungled the state's energy crisis by locking in electricity prices at two to three times the market price. The bond rating has been downgraded twice in his tenure.
The news media should be covering the real issues, accurately explaining the problem, and challenging all real candidates to present their comprehensive solutions to solve the crisis. Until they do, they will be as guilty of promulgating this charade as that midget actor and hybrid driver.