The Insider wouldn’t have been surprised to see a governor in a movie muscle a fictional reporter who wasn’t taking his word for something.
But this wasn’t a movie, It was real life on Tuesday in fire-whipped Southern California. And when ABC News Senior National Correspondent Claire Shipman followed up her question about complaints other officials had uttered about the state’s response to the fires, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger first declared the question "nonsense." Then he took Ms. Shipman firmly and literally in hand, holding her right hand hostage and shaking it until the subject changed.
"I didn’t realize there would be such commotion," Ms. Shipman said two days later, after she had returned to her home base in Washington, D.C.
But when’s the last time network news viewers saw a well-muscled public official apply force to a female reporter while a camera was running?
The Media Research Center, founded by Brent Bozell to wage a war against liberal bias in journalism, posted a transcript of the interview. It explained that Ms. Shipman had "attempted to deflate Schwarzenegger’s sunny optimism by mentioning unnamed officials in Orange County who asserted the state doesn’t have enough resources, including fire-fighting aircraft. The former actor simply wouldn’t go along with this premise of victimization. He firmly retorted, ‘Anyone that is complaining about the planes just wants to complain, because it’s a bunch of nonsense.’ Schwarzenegger then proceeded to point out that the state has 90 planes and only wind has hampered their use."
The headline was "Arnold Grabs ABC’s Shipman, Demands: Stop Spinning Fire Coverage."
On Thursday morning, the "Fox & Friends" studio crew was laughing and applauding the actor-turned-pol for taking "a stand against a reporter," as co-host Gretchen Carlson put it. "Yes, that goes in the YouTube annals for sure, because his response was just so classic and just so perfect for the little buzzing bee that she was," said conservative columnist, author and blogger Michelle Malkin via satellite, while Fox News producers highlighted the vise-like grip the Republican governator had on Ms. Shipman.
At most TV news operations, the Schwarzenegger move was regarded as inappropriate on his part and smoothly handled on hers.
One of The Insider’s favorite TV news veterans judged it just something whipped up by "the chattering classes" from something that probably signified little more than a tendency by Gov. Schwarzenegger to talk with his hands.
Ms. Shipman said the experience was both "bizarre and amusing," but not something that felt "invasive."
"I’ve interviewed a lot of politicians who’ve tried to intimidate me. I wasn’t feeling intimidated," said the correspondent, suggesting that her own habit of gesturing with her hands when she talks might have led him to take her by the hand.
"My interpretation was that he was just really passionate about his point," she said.
Another reason Ms. Shipman thought the governator was being funny was that when the interview was over, he said something to the effect of, "I’m married to a journalist. I know what you are like." He was, of course, referring to wife Maria Shriver.
Ms. Shriver said last week that she had told NBC News, which granted her a long leave when Mr. Schwarzenegger was elected, that she won’t return to that job. She was speaking at the conference she staged for presidential candidates’ spouses (an event NBC and other networks covered, although it couldn’t compare in drama to the fires). Her professional tipping point, she said, was the excessive coverage of Anna Nicole Smith’s sad end.
The Insider, however, thinks the governator would be better served if he had a journalist, not a former journalist, close at hand in the family.