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Coverage of Schwarzenegger Love Child Scandal; Gingrich Campaign in Tailspin

Aired May 22, 2011 - 11:30   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: There's a lot of talk, much of it justified, about how the media have gone tabloid. But sometimes, as we were reminded this week, there's a tabloid world to cover.

Arnold Schwarzenegger admits to fathering a child with a household worker, a story he kept out of the press for more than a decade. We'll have the only national television interview with the "L.A. Times" reporter who broke the news, Mark Barabak.

And this question: Should the media now give Maria Shriver and her family some privacy?

In politics, Newt Gingrich's campaign, in a tailspin after a "Met the Press" interview, and Donald Trump mesmerized the media before choosing "Celebrity Apprentice" over the presidential race. Was the news business duped by "The Donald"?

Plus, word this morning that Mitch Daniels, the favorite candidate of elite columnists, not running for president.

I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

The first scoop in the "Los Angeles Times" was big enough, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver splitting up just months after he stepped down as governor. But that was a mere prelude to the paper's bigger bombshell -- the former movie star admitting that he fathered what the tabloids call a love child. That story, of course, exploding across the media landscape.

Plenty of questions ahead. But first, Mark Barabak of the "L.A. Times" is the reporter who broke both the Schwarzenegger stories. In his first national television interview, I spoke to him earlier from San Francisco.


KURTZ: Mark Barabak, welcome.


KURTZ: Let's take a look at your reporting on this story. When you called the former housekeeper, she denied that this was Arnold Schwarzenegger's baby. She said it was her husband at the time who was the father of this child. At that point did you consider not publishing the story?

BARABAK: No. At that point we knew the story was dead-on factual. We would not have gone and knocked on her door. We would not have put in calls to Governor Schwarzenegger or Ms. Shriver if we didn't know that it was true.

We were not at that point setting out to confirm anything. And I want to take just a second to say, I mean, you give credit for my story. This was very much a team effort.

KURTZ: Sure.

BARABAK: There was a group of reporters at the paper who worked on it. And I want to see that they get credit as well.

So, again, we did not set out to contact the woman or anybody to confirm or to deny or to substantiate. We knew the story was true. When we reached out to these people, we were ready to go to press, and all we were looking for at that point was some reaction and some comment.

KURTZ: And so the fact that the key person involved was saying to you no, this was not his baby, you felt you had enough evidence from your other sources that you were absolutely confident the story was true?

BARABAK: Absolutely, unequivocally. We knew it to be -- as sure as I'm sitting here talking to you, we knew it to be true.

KURTZ: And if the former governor had not issued a statement to the "Los Angeles Times" acknowledging paternity, would you still have published the story?

BARABAK: You know, I'm going to sound like a politician here. That's a hypothetical.

We knew it to be true. We would have dealt with that if it had happened. We also did reach out simultaneously to Ms. Shriver.

So, you know, again, a hypothetical. It didn't come to that pass.

And, you know, when we called the governor and his folks again, we said, we're not looking for any sort of confirmation. We're giving you a statement. And they were, I want to give them credit, very forthcoming, very professional. You know, no argument, just put out the statement because it was true.

It was true. They knew it was true. We knew it was true. They knew that we knew it was true, so it was pretty straightforward at that point.

KURTZ: All right. So you made clear that you were going ahead with this story with or without his confirmation. Without getting into the confidential sources, did somebody or some persons come to the "Los Angeles Times"? Did somebody want this story out?

BARABAK: You know, I can't speculate on why people do or say what they do or say. I mean, I think the fact that people were forthcoming in a way that they weren't when we started looking into some of these allegations, as has been pointed out some years ago during the groping thing -- I'm sure that's going to come up -- people were forthcoming. I can't ascribe motives to them.

We received information. We developed it to a point where we were comfortable. And there were two stories here, as you know. The "L.A. Times" broke the story --


KURTZ: We'll get into the first story in a minute, but do you think that your ability to confirm the story was related to the fact that the housekeeper -- she told you, had voluntarily left Schwarzenegger's employment after 20 years, others accounts that she was fired -- do you think her separation from the household was very much related to the fact that this has come out now?

BARABAK: You know, that's hard to say. I don't know -- you know, in some ways the woman was -- I don't want to say peripheral to this, but, you know, by the time we knocked on her door, that was our first contact with her. So I don't know the timing in when she left or why she left.

Again, people came forward and were forthcoming in a way that they weren't previously. And it's hard to ascribe motives to people. When they gave us the information, it was solid.

KURTZ: When you knocked on her door, was she nervous? Was she kind of freaked out? Was she perfectly calm?

BARABAK: You know, I can only give you a secondhand account, because I was not the reporter who knocked on her door. But from the account of Victoria Kim, whose name was on the story as well, she was the one who knocked on her door.

By all accounts, the woman was gracious. She talked to her, was calm. You know, didn't fall over faint, didn't slam the door in her face.

She was gracious. I think she answered questions for 15 or so minutes, had a conversation with our reporter, yes.

KURTZ: OK. The value of knocking on doors, the old-fashioned journalistic technique.

BARABAK: Shoe leather. We still do it at the "L.A. Times."

KURTZ: Why did the newspaper in the initial stories not name the housekeeper? BARABAK: Well, because -- let me say this -- the pertinent information in this story, the fact that the former governor of California had a child out of wedlock and lied to his wife, and lied to the voters for 10 years, which he admitted he did, that was everything you needed to know. Whether he had had that child with the gardener or the cook or the chimney sweep really doesn't add a whole lot to the story. And whether it was a boy or a girl, and that boy or girl is 12 or 13 or 15 or 19, it doesn't matter.

The information that was important was all there. And the rest of it, frankly, seems like a lot of titillation.

KURTZ: Let's come back to it -- there's no shortage of that on this story. Let's come back to your first story, where you were able to disclose that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver had separated and were no longer living together.

Had you picked this up from political players in and around state government?

BARABAK: I had heard it. Look, the governor and his wife move in a lot of circles. They move in business circles, they move in Hollywood, they move in politics. And as you'll note on these stories, there were people from all parts of the paper from the business staff, from our Hollywood reporters.

I mean, I had heard it. It came up in the course of a conversation. It wasn't like, you know, I was meeting someone in a dark ally or in the middle of a payphone, if you can find a payphone in this day and age, you know, dropping a dime or anything. It came up in the course of a conversation.

It was a tip. We pursued it. We developed the information.

We had very good sources to a point where we knew not just the hotel, but the hotel room where Ms. Shriver was. We didn't go knocking on her door, but we ascertained it to be true.

And again, in that instance, I placed a call to Ms. Shriver and the governor, telling them that we had the information, we knew it was true, we weren't calling for confirmation. We were ready to run a story. And again, they were forthcoming and put out the statement.

KURTZ: So we're a little short on time. Again, you would have published the story about the separation even if the couple had not issued the confirming statement to your paper?

BARABAK: You know, it never came to that point. I mean, you know, they realized -- again, they knew that we had information that was true. It was true, so it never came to that point.

KURTZ: Right. Having facts always helps.

Last question. In 2003, a week before the recall election, the "L.A. Times" famously reported those stories about the 15 or so women who said that Arnold Schwarzenegger had either groped them or behaved in sexually inappropriate ways.

With the benefit of hindsight, do you think the paper should have stayed on that and possibly found out about the out-of-wedlock child?

BARABAK: I want to say a couple things about that.

Number one, the amazing thing about that story which still is amazing to me to this day is it was true. The governor didn't deny it. He admitted it.

And people got angry at us for printing the truth. And I'd like to invite the 10,000 or so people who canceled their subscriptions at that time, if you want to renew now, we'll have it on your door Tuesday or so. So call on up.

Should we have followed up? We did follow up.

And here's the basic thing about reporting. You know, the best reporter in America, whether it's Bob Woodward or Brenda Starr, can't make people talk. We don't have a magic potion. We don't have subpoena power.

If people aren't going to talk, you run into a stone wall. Every credible tip we pursued as far as we could. And at a certain point when you can't prove something, you've got to stop, and you go off and do other things like the Bell (ph) scandal, which we uncovered.

KURTZ: As you say, journalists can only rely on the power of persuasion.

Mark Barabak, thanks very much for joining us.

BARABAK: Thanks, Howard.


KURTZ: And joining us now to talk more about this, here in Washington, Amy Argetsinger, co-author of "The Reliable Source" gossip column at "The Washington Post." And in Los Angeles, Sharon Waxman, founder and editor-in-chief of

Sharon Waxman, the story is Arnold getting the household worker pregnant. To pick up on the discussion with Mark Barabak, what did it add other than the sheer titillation for the media to tell the world her name and show her picture on television and on the Internet?

SHARON WAXMAN, FOUNDER, THEWRAP.COM: Look, she had her picture up on Facebook and pictures of her son up on her Facebook page. She didn't take those pictures down all day. I'm not sure if they're down now, but I know in the first couple of days, when we knew what her name was, that she hadn't taken either her pictures down or pictures of her son down.

And most new sites, including ours, obscured the face of her little boy, who looks exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger. So if you're saying that the media should be more discreet than the person who's actually involved in this, I think that's probably asking too much of the media these days.

KURTZ: Well, I would say, Amy Argetsinger, that this woman is not a public figure. She didn't sell her story to the tabloids. She didn't go on "Oprah."

She had an affair with the boss. And the fact is, you can now see pictures of the kid on the Internet because of the way in which some, and then more, media outlets identified this woman, who I'm not naming on this show.

AMY ARGETSINGER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. Well, this is a tricky thing. And we really didn't have too much debate or discussion about this.

You know, I think 10 years ago, 15 years ago, with a different media climate, if you were the one media organization that was on top of this story, as the "L.A. Times" was, and this was knowledge that only you had, you'd be in a better situation of being able to have a discussion of, do we maintain this woman's privacy? Now, when you have this information everywhere, your average reader is exposed to it everywhere, it becomes more abstract to have the discussion of this woman's privacy.

KURTZ: But that raises a great issue, Sharon. Originally, the picture and the name were reported by Radar and also by TMZ. And then, you know, I saw it on Fox and the CBS Web site. And then "The New York Times" did it.

WAXMAN: It was on ABC. No, it was on ABC very quickly also, because we had it within an hour. We didn't break that story, but we've been following the story very quickly.

You know, we had our first story up within a half an hour of the "L.A. Times" breaking the story. So ABC did.

KURTZ: Here's an interesting point. OK. CNN's original position was, we're not going to show the picture, we're not going to report the name. And then "The New York Times" did it, and then CNN changed its policy.

So, essentially, every other organization is letting somebody else make the decision for them, and then throwing up their hands and saying well, it's out, we have no choice, we have to go along. But you do have a choice.

WAXMAN: You do have a choice, but in a competitive environment, and in an Internet world, there really isn't much point to not reporting it if "The New York Times" is, for example. You know that.

And to some degree, we had this conversation during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, how much to say, how much to show. You know, there was a lot of debate then, and that was before the Internet.

In the age of the Internet, you're two clicks -- you're one click away from finding it out anyway, actually. So, in some ways, it becomes a moot point, I think. KURTZ: "The Washington Post," Amy Argetsinger, did not put this story on the front page. It was reported in your column.


KURTZ: That is not your decision, of course, but I would say it's a colossal misjudgment. I mean, this is one of the most famous people on the planet. Everybody was talking about this story.

Why wasn't it treated as what it was, a news story?

ARGETSINGER: There were a number of people in the building who, like me, agreed that this is a story that should have more play. This is a big figure in American politics and American cultural life.

This is one of the more shocking revelations to come out about a politician. And it's an interesting story.

I think stories that are interesting can be on the front page. I think there is some thinking that, well, he's no longer governor, this doesn't affect California fiscal policy. It's an interesting story. I would have put it on the front page.

KURTZ: It doesn't affect California fiscal policy? Is that the standard?

ARGETSINGER: I would have put it on the front page. But I think --

KURTZ: What was the counterargument, who cares? Everybody cares.

ARGETSINGER: I think -- I don't know. I was not in on any of the discussions. I don't know that The Post ever seriously considered putting it on the front page, but I think there's a squeamishness about being considered a serious paper when you do have a story that does have a tabloid feel about it.

KURTZ: But that's an interesting point, Sharon Waxman. You know, respectable news organizations don't want to go tabloid. But we live in an age now where all of us report on Tiger Woods and David Letterman and all of these philandering politicians.

I wonder if some of those in the "establishment press" are just too squeamish about this stuff.

WAXMAN: I would have thought we were way past that, quite honestly. I don't see how this is not a major story for "The Washington Post" and every major news outlet.

And the question really might be, when do they go overboard? And you, very often, quite legitimately, raise that question, is when we're sort of gorging on that.

KURTZ: Right. WAXMAN: But this allows us to look back on the last 15 years of political and cultural history at a very famous couple. And you frame that the way you look at them differently.

You frame the way Maria Shriver reacted to the allegations of her husband's groping at the time. You look at that differently. You look at the "L.A. Times," having broken that story, and many other people writing about it, and this deal that Arnold made with American media and "The National Enquirer" when he was running for governor to quash other stories about this kind of thing. All of that --


KURTZ: Let me jump in and ask you about Maria Shriver asking that her family's privacy now be respected. Are the media capable of doing that in this crazy environment?

WAXMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we should absolutely respect her privacy.

She has four children. They're going through an extremely painful, painful thing.

I think there's not a married woman in this country, or even a single woman -- and lots of men, too -- who don't feel the pain, that feel for Maria Shriver and what she's going through at this time, and think about what that must be for her kids. So I think that we absolutely can do that and we should.

KURTZ: Amy Argetsinger, have journalists failed to cover this story from one angle, and that is it is potentially the story of a man abusing his power over a woman who worked for him, as opposed to just covering it as another political philandering scandal?

ARGETSINGER: Oh, I think you're starting to see that kind of discussion. I mean, that's, I think, one of the most grotesque aspects of this story, is the fact that this is a relationship with a subordinate.

But, you know, if you want to get into that, the Dominique Strauss-Kahn story, that's where you're really seeing -- that has sucked away that argument and that point of talk. But I think that's absolutely something. Obviously, that seems to have been the turning point with this.

KURTZ: A very different story, obviously, about an alleged sexual assault on a maid in a hotel by the former head of the IMF.

Amy Argetsinger, Sharon Waxman, thanks for joining us. We're a little short on time this morning.

When we come back, we'll talk about the coverage of Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump -- he's not running, you may have heard -- and Mitch Daniels. He's really not running. We found that out this morning.

Stay with us.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the coverage of presidential politics, here in Washington, David Frum, editor-in-chief of "Frum Forum," and a former assistant to George W. Bush. And in San Francisco, Joan Walsh, editor-at-large for

Joan Walsh, Newt Gingrich made all kinds of news on "Meet the Press" last Sunday, answering that question from David Gregory about the Paul Ryan Medicare plan turning into vouchers. He called it right-wing social engineering.

What do you make of Newt's charge that he was somehow set up by the host of "Meet the Press"?

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, SALON.COM: It's unbelievable. It's unthinkable. How is that a setup? It was a good question.

It's the question that Republicans and Democrats as well are being asked, Howie. What would be a setup about that? It would be a very predictable question if you were Newt's staff prepping him for what's likely to be discussed.

It didn't come out of thin air. It didn't come out of left or right field. It was good journalism. It wasn't "gotcha" journalism. That's preposterous.

I think that -- I just cannot believe that a man with his experience has consistently been blindsided by things that have come at him, and I don't think he was blindsided. Let me take that back.

I think he prepared that statement. He tried it out. He thought it might have some resonance.

It had resonance, not in a good way. So, you know, what a whiny guy. What a baby. That's ridiculous.

KURTZ: Just for the record, what Gregory asked was, "Do you think Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move toward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program?"

David Frum, the heat really came not from Joan and her liberal friends, but from conservative commentators who just went nuts over Gingrich seeming to go up against the official GOP position.

DAVID FRUM, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "FRUM FORUM": Right. Well, the thing that was the tragedy with all of this is, actually, Gingrich gave a very wise answer, the answer that the party's eventual nominee will be giving in the campaign of 2012.

KURTZ: But why was it deemed unacceptable by many conservative columnists?

FRUM: Well, that is to be expected. Conservative columnists are very invested in this kind of tactical radicalism. A different candidate, or Newt Gingrich, if he had prepared for this campaign in a different way, could have stood up to them.

His problem was he had taken such strident statements on things like -- he had endorsed the Dinesh D'Souza theory about President Obama is a Kenyan, outsider. He had been the leader of the anti-Lower Manhattan mosque faction. But to now say, but I'm going to be the voice of a more moderate approach on domestic economic issues, that made no sense with where he was before.

Had he been a different candidate, this would have been an excellent answer. It's the answer that whoever the nominee is will give.

KURTZ: It drew this response, Joan Walsh, from Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler, telling "The Huffington Post, "The literati sent out their minions" -- those would be the journalists -- "to do their bidding, and these did it because they didn't want to be dropped from the establishment cocktail party invite list."

What did you make of that pushback?

WALSH: It's really funny. And if you got to see John Lithgow delivering the whole statement on "The Colbert Report" the other night, you know how ridiculous it was.

Look, it didn't require anybody to go out -- it didn't require any minions. It was -- I mean, David makes a very good point. It really is going to be -- it has to be the mainstream Republican position in November 2012.

This is going to kill the party otherwise. But we have all these Republicans who know better reversing themselves on climate change, on aspects of the health care reform that are actually good in mainstream aspects.

So you have smart Republicans doing extremely dumb things. And it doesn't really bode well for their chances in 2012.

KURTZ: What about this other question, David, about this bill that Gingrich owed to Tiffany's for somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000? When Greta Van Susteren brought this up, he didn't want to answer it. Bob Schieffer brought it up this morning on "Face the Nation" and Gingrich said it was just a revolving fund.

Does the average American care about that, or is that kind of a media obsession?

FRUM: I don't know whether the average American cares about it.

KURTZ: Do you care about it?

FRUM: But here's why I think it's an interesting and important question. This debt existed seven years after Newt Gingrich had left public life, five years after he had married his current wife.

And it raises questions to, if you can afford $500,000 to Tiffany's, or afford the purchase, well, good luck to you. But the fact that you're making purchases that you can't strictly afford seven years after you've left politics does raise the question about, what exactly is your financial situation? And that rings all kinds of alarm bells if you know the kinds of operations that Gingrich has been running.

KURTZ: I want to slip in a question about the news this morning. I'll start with you, David, about Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor who is obviously very reluctant to run for president, not going to get into the 2012 race.

He really was the candidate of the elite columnists, all of whom think he should have run, urged him to run, rooted for him to run.

FRUM: Well, as with many -- he's a friend of mine. He's a friend of many of ours. And we have enormous respect for him. And I think there's a pretty general feeling among conservatives in Washington that if you could pick a president, if it could be a ballot of one, and you were the one, this is absolutely the guy you'd like there.

KURTZ: But you've got to run, and your wife has to think it's a good idea, too. In this case, that apparently was not the case.

FRUM: Well, it's a very normal and human reaction. And you almost wonder about the people who make the opposite choice. How do they manage to do it?

KURTZ: Joan?


KURTZ: Are you happy or not happy that Daniels is staying out?

WALSH: I never thought Daniels was a formidable candidate. I'm sorry. I think that his connection to the Bush deficit budget was going to be a tough thing to get over.

I think the idea that he's such a sensible man, he called for a truce on social issues, and then he defunded Planned Parenthood, you know, another probably smart centrist guy who had to play to the right. I was never as a Democrat afraid of him. And I think, you know, coming out and saying it's his wife and daughters is a rather strange --


KURTZ: Well, it might have the virtue of being true.

But in our remaining moments, let me ask you, Joan Walsh, about Donald Trump. I guess it was this past Monday that he said he's going to choose "Celebrity Apprentice" over the presidential campaign.

With the benefit of hindsight, were some journalists taken in by a masterful Trump publicity campaign?

WALSH: You know, I think there's some evidence for that, but I'm not entirely sure, Howie. I think perhaps if he had just been greeted by "Hosannas," maybe he would have done something different with "Celebrity Apprentice."

I think that the pushback that he got was very important. And I give Seth Meyers enormous credit for his White House Correspondents Dinner takedown of Donald Trump. He knew he was going to face incredible questions, as well as ridicule. So I don't know that we'll ever know.

KURTZ: I think Trump was tempted at one point when he got the 26 percent of the polls.

WALSH: Yes, I agree.

KURTZ: Let me get David in our final moment.

FRUM: I think there's a broader question you could ask, which is, when Mitt Romney easily puts away this whole contest on Super Tuesday on February 5th or 7th, whenever -- this is 2012 -- we're going to look back on four years of punditry and say, what was that all about? Wasn't it obvious the whole time that Mitt Romney was the frontrunner, was going to win, and that none of these other people had the staying power to beat him?

KURTZ: Well, if it was so easy to know the future, many of us would be out of business. It's more fun to talk about it. But I do think that there came a point when we had to take Trump seriously.

And I think, Joan, that you make a good point. When the press finally started looking into Donald Trump's business record, his voting record, and some of the things that he was pushing, particularly on birthers, that's when I think the air started to go out of the Trump balloon.

We have got to go. Joan Walsh, David Frum, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Still to come, a curious omission in a CNN report on political sex scandals. Our "Media Monitor," straight ahead.


KURTZ: Just a quick hit from the "Media Monitor' this morning.

It was supposed to be a look back at the major sex scandals involving politicians in recent years. But there was one glaring omission in this CNN report. Take a look.


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Suzanne Malveaux takes a look back at some of the scandals.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Whether it's the rumored affairs of President John F. Kennedy, or the painful story of John and Elizabeth Edwards, infidelity, lies, and the inevitable apologies.


KURTZ: Others in this hall of shame included Mark Sanford, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, David Vitter, Larry Craig. But there was no mention of a New York governor who resigned in disgrace three years ago after patronizing prostitutes.

I'm sorry. If you're going to do this kind of story, you have to include Eliot Spitzer, even if he does now host a primetime CNN program. Otherwise, you are airbrushing history.

CNN says the omission was decided by an individual producer and that other reporting did make mention of the Spitzer scandal.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.