S A N F R A N C I S C O, Calif., Oct. 3, 2003 -- By publicly acknowledging that he had
"behaved badly" with women over the course of his career, Arnold
Schwarzenegger unleashed criticism and controversy that managed to
engulf, at least temporarily, his effort to replace Gov. Gray Davis.
Schwarzenegger's comments came after an article published inThursday's Los Angeles Times quoted six women who said they hadbeen groped or fondled by the actor-turned-candidate between 1975and 2000. The article also quoted a campaign spokesman denying thatSchwarzenegger had mistreated women, and blaming the Democrats forplanting the allegations.
But in front of hundreds of cheering supporters in San Diego onthe first leg of a statewide bus tour, Schwarzenegger admitted hehad misbehaved at times and apologized for "offending" anyone.
"Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have donethings that were not right which I thought then was playful but nowI recognize that I have offended people," Schwarzenegger said."And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them Iam deeply sorry about that and I apologize because this is not whatI'm trying to do."
Contain It and Move On
By apologizing quickly and moving on, Schwarzenegger movedsmartly to contain the controversy and change the subject,observers said. But his admission of culpability also raised newquestions about his veracity and character.
"This is not just philandering or adultery — this is stuff thatpeople get fired for pretty regularly," said Bruce Cain, apolitical scientist at University of California, Berkeley. "IfArnold is saying he can grope women because people on movie setsplay by a different set of rules, I don't know that people will buythat."
The Times story topped weeks of controversy overSchwarzenegger's history with women. Early in the recall campaign,an interview Schwarzenegger did with Oui magazine in 1977 boastingof a "gang bang" with other bodybuilders in Gold's Gym was widelypublicized.
A Premiere magazine article from 2001 also resurfacedin which Schwarzenegger was depicted as a crude sexual predator.
Former Independent candidate Arianna Huffington complained bitterlyabout Schwarzenegger's treatment of her at a candidate's forum lastweek, and called it part of a pattern of treating women badly.
‘A Bit of Hypocrisy’
GOP strategist Allan Hoffenblum said the latest allegations,while reprehensible, were part of a history many Republicans hadcome to grips with long before Schwarzenegger entered the race.
And, he said, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and subsequentimpeachment of President Bill Clinton had largely inoculatedSchwarzenegger from heavy criticism.
"There's a bit of hypocrisy of all these Democrats who were soexcited to see Clinton campaign for Gray Davis then complain aboutboorish behavior by Arnold Schwarzenegger," Hoffenblum said.
But Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who worked for Clintonduring the Lewinsky scandal drew a sharp distinction betweenSchwarzenegger's behavior and Clinton's.
"People were critical of President Clinton's behavior — no onearound him defended his conduct," Lehane said. "But there is anenormous distinction between groping and consensual acts."
Davis Camp Notably Quiet
Davis and his team were notably quiet Thursday amid thecontroversy swirling around Schwarzenegger. Davis himselfsidestepped the matter at a campaign event in Los Angeles, andGarry South, a top Davis aide, pointedly refused comment.
"I saw the story when I got up this morning, and I'm not goingto respond," South said.
Schwarzenegger supporters tried to make an issue of the story'stiming Thursday, saying it was part of a plan by the Los AngelesTimes to slow Schwarzenegger's momentum.
"What we saw in the L.A. Times today was not an attack onArnold Schwarzenegger, it was an attack on every single one of usthat wants to take back California," U.S. Rep. David Dreier, aSchwarzenegger adviser, told a crowd in Costa Mesa.
Times Editor: ‘An Easy Decision’
Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll said he expected criticismfor publishing the story so close to the election, but "we weighedthat against how I would feel and how our readers would feel if weconcealed the information until after the election — and that madeit an easy decision."
Given the timing and other considerations, Cain said it wasunclear whether the controversy would help Davis, whose prospectsfrom keeping his job had been growing dimmer before theSchwarzenegger controversy erupted.
"I have no doubt this will cost Arnold votes among women, but Idon't know how men will react," Cain said. "Davis has to hopethat socially moderate, socially progressive men who are unhappywith him will now question putting someone in office who behavesthis way."
But Helen Grieco, Executive Director of California NOW, said theallegations would damage Schwarzenegger among both men and women voters.
"Men are going to say to themselves, 'how do I look at my wifein the face, my daughter in the face, my co-worker in the face, andgo to the polls and vote for a man who would treat women thisway?'" Grieco said.