It’s a Tab Tale! Arnie Vanishes!!

Ann Louise Bardach reported on Schwarzenegger for Newsweek International. Her book "Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana" will be reissued by Vintage this month.

One of the less ennobling secrets of the mainstream media in recent years is its reliance on the tabloid press to launder seedy but irresistible stories about celebrities and politicians. Once the story is baptized in the tabloids, it’s not long before it’s fodder for TV talking heads and late-night comics. Then, more often than not, it’s regarded as fair game for the elite media.

This symbiotic wash cycle went into high gear during the O.J. Simpson trial, and it was commonplace in time for Clinton’s impeachment (with added suds from tab-like Web sites like the Drudge Report). Gennifer Flowers and Dick Morris both made a splash in the tabs before hitting the mainstream.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Oct. 6, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday October 06, 2003 Home Edition California Part B Page 11 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Tabloids -- In a commentary Thursday on tabloid coverage of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Weekly World News, an American Media publication, was misidentified as News of the World, which is published by News Corp.

So there was a reasonable expectation that the tabloids would be having a field day with candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. After all, in his 1977 Oui interview he spoke of his vast sexual conquests and a predilection for orgies; a Premiere magazine article in 2001 depicted him as an aggressive womanizer and a bully; and the same year, the National Enquirer “documented” his alleged seven-year affair with a young actress. Given the film community buzz about his vanity, marital woes and plastic surgery, it seemed the tabs would be wallowing in their good fortune.


All of which has made Schwarzenegger’s tabloid disappearing act something of a mystery. Last week, the San Jose Mercury News turned over a few pieces of the puzzle when it reported that, in January, Schwarzenegger’s mentor and early business partner, Joe Weider, had sold his publishing empire -- including Muscle and Fitness, Shape and Men’s Fitness magazines -- for $350 million to American Media, the tabloid conglomerate that owns the Enquirer, the Star, the Globe and the News of the World.

The story also disclosed that although American Media’s tabloids had been virtually “Arnold-free” since the recall race began, they just published a 120-page glossy one-off titled “Arnold, the American Dream,” without identifying it as one of their publications. It’s on newsstands for $4.95, and one cover line reads: “Camelot’s Future.” To complete the coronation, the News of the World ran an “exclusive”: “Alien backs Arnold for governor!”

On another front, the New York Daily News reported that American Media owner and CEO David Pecker had assured Weider that the tabloids were going to “lay off” Schwarzenegger. “We’re not going to pull up any dirt on him,” Weider said Pecker told him. (American Media spokesman Richard Valvo calls the conversation “unfounded rumor”; Weider reconfirmed it Wednesday.)

Though some Democrats have begun whispering about the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, the motives and agenda behind the Schwarzenegger tabloid blackout appear to be more about commerce than politics.

Two sources at American Media confirmed that it was no accident that the tabloids had been Arnold-free, pointing to the Weider sale as an explanation.

“They cannot afford to [anger] Arnold because he is an icon in the muscle magazine world,” one said, adding that Schwarzenegger writes a column in one of the publications. The other American Media employee explained that Schwarzenegger’s influence in the bodybuilding world is such that his disapproval could nix everything from advertising to content: “If they [antagonize him], that huge sale is money down the drain.”


Both also pointed out that Schwarzenegger was not the first to get the kid-glove treatment. “We took a pass on Jeb Bush [when the Florida governor held a press conference to quell rumors about his alleged infidelity] also,” said one of the longtime employees.

No doubt the tabs are aware that Schwarzenegger aggressively protects his image. According to published reports, his employees and campaign staffers must sign confidentiality agreements that prevent them from disclosing anything about the star or his family, in perpetuity.

Schwarzenegger also purchased the rights to “Pumping Iron,” the 1977 documentary that chronicled his rise to bodybuilding stardom. Several scenes in the original film seem less than helpful to an aspiring politician. In one, Schwarzenegger smokes marijuana, and in another, he speaks of missing his father’s funeral in order to attend a bodybuilding contest. Sightings of the original film are now rare -- it’s out of print, said one video store owner, “impossible to get legally” -- though a DVD version is set for release in November, in which, an ad says, Schwarzenegger “shares his parents’ values with the press.”

Whatever the motives of the tabloids, it’s clear they won’t be doing any Arnold preelection spadework. As Slate blogger Mickey Kaus pointed out: “The tabs have taken a dive.” Which means that now the mainstream media have to roll up their sleeves and do their own work.