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The San Francisco Chronicle
Feb 15, 2005 - 01:00 AM
by Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writer
'Governor, your suits look so beautiful';
Media sometimes appear starstruck by SchwarzeneggerCall off the media hounds.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- heading around the state to push his proposals on radio and TV -- knows all too well how to handle the reporter types trying to play "gotcha."
Take the recent no-holds-barred exchange on Los Angeles radio station KZLA:
Q: You've got the best suits I've ever seen. Are they custom-made or are they off the rack?
A: You know, with my body I cannot get things off the rack ... .
Q: May I say, from one man to another, beautiful? They drape unbelievably."
Schwarzenegger also took this grilling: "I've got to ask you, governor. A lot of the guys we talk to... say their wives turned them on to country music. Does Maria like it as well?"
And at an "all news" Los Angeles station, there was this recent interrogation:
"You have done so much in your life. You won what, five Mr. Universe titles, I believe -- is that right?
And there was this probing question during a radio interview last week: "You sound terrific. The energy you have is unbelievable. How do you do that every day?"
More than 16 months into the job he won during an unprecedented recall election, Schwarzenegger's current California media tour to promote his plans for reforming state government looks like a resounding success -- if only because the California media, rather than turning up the heat, often ends up in marshmallow mode with the state's famous governor.
Darrel Ng, a spokesman with the governor's office, reminded of some memorable moments from the current lovefest, said the governor is proud to daily go toe-to-toe with "hard-hitting journalists." He adds: "And those are news stations, too."
But some consumer and governmental observers say the media types aren't exactly going toe-to-toe, but more like playing footsie with the celebrity governor.
"It's hard to imagine any world leader getting this type of treatment. All I know is, people who have spent their lives in the media business ought to have tougher questions for the governor," said Doug Heller of ArnoldWatch.org, which is run by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "If you're a news reporter, the only time you should be asking about wearing a certain suit is to find out if he's using sweatshop labor."
To be fair: While most media queries on the current Schwarzenegger tour aren't quite of that bare knuckles variety, the governor is regularly asked about his serious agenda -- proposed merit pay for teachers, the state's budget deficit, nursing reform and pension overhaul.
And, in a nod to his unusual background, even in tough arenas like newspaper editorial boards, Schwarzenegger is queried -- as he was recently at The Chronicle -- about lighter subjects like whether he'll take a role in "Terminator 4," which is reportedly scouting for locations.
But media watchers say the current surfeit of sweetness is the result of savvy planning by the governor's team -- and evidence of how the attack dogs of media elite can, on a surprisingly regular basis, be just as spineless and starstruck as their entertainment media counterparts.
"Part of the reason he is so successful at managing the media is that there are so few reporters who cover state government on a regular basis," said Barbara O'Connor, a political science professor at California State University Sacramento. "He has made himself available to the Capitol press corps on a limited basis. But it's clear that this governor wants to set the media agenda in the way we haven't seen in a long time. And because of his celebrity status, he is successful at doing that."
He also chooses the venues, and "appears on highly rated talk radio," often with a conservative bent, "and on entertainment news evening shows, like Jay Leno," O'Connor said.
In both venues, media folks have learned that the governor has a comfort level with certain subject matter -- happily expounding on his custom suits and movie career. But on drier topics, such as what will my taxes look like, "he's less likely to give an answer," O'Connor said.
Ed Cavagnero, director of news and programming for KCBS-AM in San Francisco -- one of the few California stations to conduct a detailed, all-news, serious interview with the governor recently -- said he can't really explain the tendency of some media personalities to give the governor the kill-'em-with-kindness treatment.
"We're the news station, and so we cover the issues in the news -- and that's what we stick to with newsmakers," he said, adding diplomatically, "I think other stations have different agendas."
What else explains this statement from radio host Larry Elder, a conservative talk show icon who is tough as nails on a lot of subjects: "Governor, as charismatic as you are, as energetic as you are, as popular as you are, your opponents are going to raise more money than even you can raise to defeat these ballot initiatives."
Or the, uh, preparation factor on radio station KFI, where the hosts -- talking about illegal immigration -- noted that Schwarzenegger went to schools "where everybody was speaking Austrian too."
And that Los Angeles "all news" radio station anchor, who asked: "Do you miss the movies?"
So in the interest of saving the governor from any more such interrogations:
Sure, the suits are custom -- because of his chest measurements.
Five Mr. Universe titles. Seven Mr. Olympia.
No, he doesn't get tired.
And yes: It's the greatest job he's ever had.
E-mail Carla Marinucci at firstname.lastname@example.org
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