While conservative pundits frequently charged that the L.A. Times‘ expose was motivated by partisanship, the LA Weekly‘s Hollywood reporter, Nikki Finke (9/12/03), was one of the few to draw attention to the fact that right-wing radio was explicitly campaigning to recall incumbent Democrat Gray Davis. The websites of Disney’s KABC-AM in L.A. and its KSFO-AM in San Francisco both had “countdown clocks” ticking out the projected end to “California’s Gray Days.” Salem communications’ Sacramento AM promoted itself as “the Home of the Recall,” reported Finke.
Claiming that they feared an avalanche of ads from all 135 candidates in the race, Viacom’s Infinity Broadcasting, with 36 California stations, refused to accept paid candidate ads for the recall election. Clear Channel, the nation’s biggest radio company, with 71 California outlets, generally required candidates to buy ads on at least 20 stations through its “political-action network.” In San Francisco alone, the 16 Infinity and Clear Channel stations represent a nearly 35 percent share of listeners.
Taking advantage of the equal-time rule’s exemption for newscasts and news interviews, hosts like shock-jock Howard Stern gave their favored candidates, such as Schwarenegger, “massive amounts of free air-time through softball phone interviews,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle (9/18/03). “When you win–and you’ll win, don’t worry, we’ll see to it–would you let me make a speech at your inaugeration?” the paper quoted Stern asking Schwarzenegger on Stern’s nationally-syndicated program.
Schwarzenegger had not just radio, but a TV network on his side. The actor launched his campaign on NBC‘s Tonight Show with Jay Leno (8/6/03). On the Sunday before the election, Arnold received puff treatment on NBC‘s Dateline (10/4/03), Maria Shriver’s employer, from which she took temporary leave during the campaign. Come election night, NBC star Rob Lowe–who worked as an adviser to Schwarzenegger–provided enthusiastic commentary for reporters, including CNN‘s Judy Woodruff, while the governor-elect’s pal Leno announced the beaming couple’s victory.
Oprah Winfrey was another media friend who helped Schwarzenegger weather the storm when the sexual-abuse allegations hit, inviting him onto her woman-focused program on the blockbuster first show of the fall (9/15/03). Winfrey fawned over her “good friends” Maria and Arnold, and asked no hardball questions about either the racism or misogyny quotes.