Sign of the Times?
It was the Friday before the recall election and Arnold Schwarzenegger had a problem
Make that: a big problem.
Having begun the morning in San Diego, the first stop on a south-to-north barnstorming tour that would end up later that weekend on the steps of the State Capitol, Schwarzenegger was confronted with a devastating story in that morning’s Los Angeles Times, alleging the movie star was a serial groper.
The candidate took the story head on, apologizing (without going into details) for his randy past behavior. But the damage was done. Not with voters, who swept Arnold into office the following Tuesday. Rather, it only fueled the suspicions of Republican conspiracy theorists that the Times (which cared little for the recall election, rarely had anything positive to say about Arnold’s candidacy and raced like mad to get the story into print before the vote) not only had a liberal bent, but went out of its way to skew the outcome of the October 2003 election.
It even reminded some of the “November surprise” that appeared out of nowhere the Thursday before the 2000 presidential election, revealing that then-candidate George W. Bush had been arrested for driving under the influence 30 years earlier, not too far from the family home in Kennebunkport, Maine. It didn’t cost Bush te election, but Karl Rove will tell you it nearly did — suppressing his support among Christian conservatives.
I mention this because here we are, seven years later and five weeks from the Nov. 2. election, and the conspiracy buffs are buzzing again. This time, it has to do with a University of Southern California/Times poll that had surprisingly strong numbers for top-of-the-ticket Democratic candidates Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer.
Whitman’s campaign wasted little trying to debunk the numbers, claiming the methodology was wrong (i.e., the wrong blend of too many Democrats and too few Republicans in the sampling)? So why the rapid response? To put an end to headlines like this one, from Reuters.
Media bias is probably a sensitive subject inside the Whitman campaign, which must tire of the same two queries every day: (1) why is she spending so much (answer: because she can); (2) why don’t she have a lead to show it (answer: cynical voters; a lot more Democrats than Republicans in California)?
But it does raise this question: come tomorrow night and the first gubernatorial debate at UC-Davis, will the questions be posed in such a way that the burden of proof is on Whitman to justify herself for lack of governmental experience, or is the panel spotlight instead on Brown for his eons of experience but seeming joy in avoiding details and specificity?
Those same conspiracy theorists who not only loathe the Times but also watched Carly Fiorina take much more heat than Boxer in their first debate, likely know what to expect.
And, come Wednesday, we’ll have more talk about debate winners and losers . . . and the media playing favorites.