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Tearing Him Down, Pumping Him Up

The ConWeb was beating up on Arnold Schwarzenegger for being too liberal -- until it realized he was the leading Republican for California governor. Now, they're trying to find ways to like him.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/23/2003

The ConWeb has been of two minds about the candidacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger for California governor: either distressed over the fact that he's not as conservative as they think a California governor should be or so elated at the prospect of getting rid of Gray Davis that any Republican, even Schwarzenegger, will do.

But while there was a lot of the former when Schwarzenegger first announced his candidacy, the ConWeb is serving up much more of the latter these days.

NewsMax has been the most conflicted. Right after Schwarzenegger announced, it hit quickly with an article featuring Rush Limbaugh complaining that Arnold wasn't a conservative -- "I know that (R) next to Schwarzenegger's name excites the White House, but his own words prove he's not a conservative" Rush is quoted as saying. But it hit just as quickly with selling Terminator-for-governor T-shirts, proving that making a buck appears to trump any core conservative values it claims to have. The T-shirt has since been joined by a Terminator-for-governor coffee mug; both note that they are worth buying "Whether you support Arnold or just like to have a laugh." NewsMax head Christopher Ruddy, meanwhile, made a point of saying in an Aug. 10 commentary that "our readers should not mistake NewsMax's 'Terminator Governor: Hasta la vista, Davis' T-shirts as an endorsement."

Then, the shift started. On Aug. 12, NewsMax ran another article with Limbaugh saying he wasn't really criticizing Schwarzenegger and that liberals "have falsely quoted me as accusing Arnold of claiming he's something he's not in order to get elected." NewsMax goes on to claim that "In fact, after pointing out that Schwarzenegger wasn't a conservative, Limbaugh spent the better part of his (Aug. 8) show defending the Hollywood star-turned-gubernatorial hopeful against attempts to portray him as a Nazi by liberal commentators like NBC's Katie Couric." Yet the Aug. 8 NewsMax article doesn't mention any of that.

NewsMax and Limbaugh finished the turnaround on Aug. 20 with yet another Limbaugh pronouncement -- that California needs to embrace Reaganism. The NewsMax piece summarizes an article Limbaugh wrote in the Wall Street Journal in which he says that the thinking of conservatives "has led them to support Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, to my knowledge, has yet to embrace any conservative positions, though he has embraced Warren Buffett." That's as critical as the article gets. That was followed by an article touting Schwazenegger's poll numbers.

WorldNetDaily followed pretty much the same path. An Aug. 8 article by Jon Dougherty followed marching orders perfectly by pointing out how Arnold doesn't compare to that other Republican actor-turned-politician, Ronald Reagan, focusing on Limbaugh's remarks. Then, on Aug. 21, it was time to turn around and pump Arnold up by touting Limbaugh's endorsement of Arnold as "actually conservative in his heart, with advisers trying to manage him out of his core beliefs." Writer Joe Kovacs did note that Limbaugh had earlier criticized Schwarzenegger's lack of conservative credentials, but being the Rush sycophant that he is he made no attempt to make Rush reconcile his contradictory statements.

Over at the Media Research Center and, they had a meme of their own to advance: that the media was covering the governor's race like a circus (what, the fact that there are 135 candidates on the ballot isn't news?) instead of a serious political campaign. It came in two forms -- an Aug. 12 Brent Bozell column and a story the same day. But it seems that a secondary goal is to discredit Arianna Huffington. Bozell lumps her in with Gary Coleman, Larry Flynt and "billboard queen Angelyne" as unqualified and "desperate, pathetically desperate, for attention."

The CNS story is headlined "Media Criticized for Slanted Coverage of Recall," though the word "slanted" is never used in the story written by Nathan C. Masters. He talks to two "media observers" who say that "network news programs, magazines and newspapers" are "ignoring substantive issues, portraying the recall as a 'circus' and playing into Democratic Gov. Gray Davis's campaign strategy." Problem is, they're not exactly unbiased observers -- conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt and the MRC's own Tim Graham. Was anyone expecting them to say anything different than that?

Hewitt went on to say that he "believes the media should focus on the two most serious candidates: Schwarzenegger and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a Democrat," calling Huffington a "sideshow" and a "cartoon." Why? "(C)overing anyone else is just an exercise really in helping Cruz because the more you focus on the choice between a sophisticated businessman like Schwarzenegger and an apparatchik like Cruz, the easier it becomes."

just how biased is Hewitt? The next day, in his column which appears at WorldNetDaily, he endorsed Schwarzenegger, saying that "a vote for Tom McClintock, Bill Simon or Peter Uberroth is a vote for Cruz Bustamante." Perhaps Masters should have reported Hewitt's role as an Arnold partisan.

Graham complains, meanwhile, that "In this case, since this recall was started by conservatives worried about taxes, it's being presented as a tool of the right wing" by the "liberal" media. We suspect that if it was a Republican governor targeted by the recall, Graham would be complaining that it was being taken too seriously.

Unlike NewsMax and WND, smacking Schwarzenegger around for not being conservative enough continues apace at the MRC. An Aug. 19 Bozell column warns that "Conservatives have much to lose from creating a Frankenstein monster they can’t control, not to mention how the definition of 'Republican' or 'conservative' might be warped beyond recognition." And an Aug. 22 CNS story is a conservative attack on Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, who is pounded on (this article also features an MRC staffer from down the hall) for her Kennedy family connections -- and, of course, for being "very, very liberal."

The ConWeb seems to have decided to hitch a ride on the Schwarzenegger bandwagon. It also seems bent on trying to steer it to the right.

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