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Editorial: Schwarzenegger a Blessing in Disguise?

Oct 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Whatever the Arnold Schwarzenegger era brings to California’s state government, his election as governor is already bringing one positive effect: Broadcasters, at least in California, have begun to pay closer attention to government affairs.
Evidence that stations are moving in that direction surfaced this month with the announcement that CBS affiliate KPIX-TV in San Francisco will join forces with CBS owned-and-operated KCBS-TV in Los Angeles to open a full-time bureau in Sacramento. Other stations are said to be planning beefed-up coverage of state government as well.
Coming as it does after a period in which broadcasters have increasingly turned their backs on serious political coverage, international news and other stories that are important but lack the immediate pop of a car chase, the announcement is good news. Never mind that the stations are attracted by the glamour of having an action-movie hero and his well-connected wife in the governor’s mansion; as long as they’re on the beat, they almost can’t help but cover actual issues and politics.
It has been widely reported that a major factor in Mr. Schwarzenegger’s election victory was his celebrity power. He ran a campaign that was long on catchy sound bites and short on detailed policy. However, with the problems of a troubled state now resting squarely on his massive shoulders, Mr. Schwarzenegger will be forced to start coming up with real answers to the tough questions. And thanks to the star power that got him elected with minimal scrutiny, he can now expect to have the spotlight trained on him as he tackles the issues.
Whether Mr. Schwarzenegger responds to accusations of sexual groping or finally explains his plan to solve the state’s monumental budget crisis, the TV cameras will be rolling. In contrast to recent administrations led by bland politicians Gray Davis, Pete Wilson or George Deukmejian, when this governor of California opens his mouth, it will at least make the news and may even occasionally be the lead story. And one inevitable result of increased media attention on Sacramento, in the short term at least, will be greater awareness among viewers of what’s going on in state government.
Maybe the California broadcast media’s renewed interest in state government will inspire stations in other states-those with mere mortals in their statehouses-to increase their coverage as well. Most other states’ interest in the recall election seemed to be focused on how those crazy Californians were at it again, putting a movie superhero, a porn actress and a troubled former child star on the ballot. But the subtext of that focus is that politics can indeed be interesting. And it can attract viewers. For television stations, that’s not such a bad thing.