The media sex police

Journalists generally ignore the sex lives of pols … except when it comes to tales of Arnold and Gigi

Shortly after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s election in 2003, a friend of mine who wrote an in-depth book about the porn industry told me he’d gotten a phone call from a reporter trying to link Arnold to a titillating porn rumor. The rumor was that Schwarzenegger was among the celebrities who visited Los Angeles porno sets during live shooting in order to “watch.”

My friend Luke Ford, author of A History of X: 100 Years of Sex in Film, told me he gladly agreed to help the reporter from the Los Angeles Times because it sounded like “a great story.”

He immediately called porn insiders who, he said, “believe me, would know if that’s true,” but he came up empty. He wasn’t particularly surprised, since during the years he was researching his book and hanging out with porn figures, he’d never heard “even a whisper of Schwarzenegger” among the public figures who visit live porn shoots.

Ford called the reporter back, explaining that Schwarzenegger was not among the voyeurs—though other public figures were. The reporter, Ford said, “was really disappointed.”

How telling. In modern times, no California political leader has been subjected to the scouring of his sexuality that reporters give Schwarzenegger. Not even Congressman Gary Condit, whose scandal was in a different league in that it actually involved a murdered young woman, has gotten the kind of scrubbing that Schwarzenegger continues to receive over his sex life.

Journalists generally ignore the sex lives of pols. When a former California governor was named in court a few years ago, along with numerous other pols, by a Northern California madam who rattled off the powerful people she claimed to have serviced, the story went nowhere.

Such a story, true or not, was considered tabloid. It wasn’t even worth picking up the phone to confirm or disprove. By and large, it was nobody’s business if politicians were covertly engaged in wild or otherwise titillating sex that they kept under wraps in order to hold office.

But when author Laurence Leamer published his unauthorized bio Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger this year, and a subsequent op-ed that delved into a love affair Schwarzenegger once had with a woman named Gigi Goyette, it morphed into a front-page story in the Los Angeles Times and then went national.

Between August 12 and August 14, media outlets nationwide repeated the story: that Goyette had been paid $20,000 by American Media for her life story several weeks before Schwarzenegger was elected, but her story was never published.

Much of this month’s coverage implied that Schwarzenegger may have been linked to the decision to pay Goyette $20,000 to silence her as he ran for governor. It implies that American Media, which at the time was wooing Arnold to be executive editor of one of its muscle magazines, needed to shut up Goyette in order to save Arnold’s reputation. Laugh if you wish.

One headline on a Web site of CBS 5 in the Bay Area stated breathlessly, “Governor Linked to Alleged Girlfriend Coverup.” Although I’m certain that some reporters desperately hope to link Schwarzenegger to an alleged coverup, no “link” has been made. But let’s not fret over facts.

A headline on the Washington Post’s Web site in recent days read, “Actress Paid Not to Talk of Schwarzenegger Affair.” In fact, exclusivity payments, made to ensure people don’t share their stories, are not normally described as paying people “not to talk”—as evidenced by the untold bios that sit on dusty shelves in Hollywood studios.

The Times’ August 12 story contained zero evidence that Schwarzenegger was involved in the $20,000 story-rights payment to Goyette or in the decision by American Media not to publish it.

Leamer’s book recounted how Goyette and Schwarzenegger had a short affair in 1975 when she was a teenager, according to her, and then got back together in the 1980s on an annual basis when she worked at a yearly Ohio fitness event he hosts. The Times’ story was based on the book and a recent op-ed Leamer wrote for the paper in which he revealed the $20,000 payment promised to Goyette.

“Michael Kinsley went crazy for it,” Leamer said of the Times’ opinion editor. But the front-page news story failed to advance things. In an egregious use of innuendo, the article contained the following anonymous comments, attributed to an American Media employee (whether a high-level staffer or a gossip paid for tidbits, the Times didn’t say): “Why didn’t the stories run? That’s the obvious question. … AMI systematically bought the silence” of Goyette and her friend, whom the paper reported got $1,000.

This anonymous conjecture seems to violate the paper’s useless new ethics “rule,” explained in a July 16 article, which allows anonymous quotes in the Los Angeles Times only “as a last resort to convey important information that cannot be delivered by other means.”

Clearly, the paper was at its last resort.

As the media pursue this story right up to the November special election, let’s be very clear: Gigi Goyette, after cutting a $20,000 deal in August 2003 to sell her story exclusively to American Media, continued telling her story, loudly, in the most public of ways.

On September 3, 2003, Fox News ran a Roger Friedman-bylined story online in which Goyette told Friedman all about her affair. She said it began nearly 30 years ago when she was 16 and ended when Schwarzenegger married Maria Shriver.

In the Fox interview, Goyette accused Arnold of getting her fired from her job after she revealed their love affair to the National Enquirer, which published it in 2001. Goyette said the Enquirer got its facts wrong (ahem). She told Friedman: “I broke off my affair with Arnold when he married Maria [Shriver]. It never started up again. … I told him I didn’t believe in that.”

Remember, Fox ran this before the recall vote in 2003. Friedman wrote: “Gigi’s writing a book, of course. She says no one in publishing wants to touch it, but my guess is if it’s juicy enough, and gives a lot of good Hollywood dish, Gigi will find a publisher for her memoirs. And why shouldn’t she?”

If Goyette was paid $20,000 as hush money before the Fox interview, the cash was sorely wasted.

Now the media will try to connect the dots where the Los Angeles Times failed. The whole thing makes me want to take a shower in recognition of the slimy levels to which California media continue to sink.

Does this mean that all manner of sex-related stories about public figures—rumors reporters hear but traditionally keep to themselves—will now be used by journalists as fodder for the political battlefield?

Will we now see other trashings, published under the guise of having a political “angle”? How about the well-known Democrat—to remain unnamed here—who California journalists long have known is gay, who publicly calls for gay marriage while pretending to be merely a very liberal heterosexual? That’s news, right?

And what about the madam who testified during a lawsuit against her employer that she should not have been fired, because she was a terrific madam who procured prostitutes for California pols—whom she named in court? News, right?

God, I hope not. I hope such stories will continue to be ignored. But I also believe we’re seeing the era of media sex police—at least when it comes to Schwarzenegger, the wild-living braggart who dared to cross from entertainer to politician.

Luke Ford said Schwarzenegger “played a role in making himself wide open for this type of stuff by all the things he said in the past, openly flaunting it and so on.” Now the media are “investigating his sex life like no other politician I’m aware of.”

He added: “This is an ongoing obsession for the L.A. Times, and it validates them if they find more sexually related things he has done—it validates them publishing those controversial [groping] articles in the first place.”

Larry Leamer noted that “people in the [non-tabloid] media are just energized to bring this guy down. Most [journalists] feel he kind of stiffed the media for a long time.” (Leamer, by the way, was not granted special access to the governor, and his very readable book doesn’t take partisan sides.)

Leamer told me, “I doubt very much that Arnold knew about the payment to Gigi.” He says it makes no sense for journalists to spin it today as hush money. “There was no reason to shut her up,” said Leamer. “Her entire story was already out in the media, and it was no longer an explosive story. There was nothing new in the L.A. Times except that this friend of hers was paid $1,000. It might seem like a new story to their readers, but it is not new.”

It hardly matters. Journalists have a fresh excuse to delve into Schwarzenegger’s sex life, especially with revelations that he failed to report a fat political contribution he got from American Media.

As Leamer noted, “People in California don’t even know the numbers of these important initiatives they will be voting on in November. But, believe me, they do know Gigi Goyette’s name.”

Just one more thing for which the California media can be proud.