ONE WORD: WHOOPS!: It turns out that the Arnold-Hitler story is bogus. The critical part of the story — that Arnold supposedly said he admired what Hitler did with his power — is flatly wrong.
The story was based on quotations from a book proposal by George Butler, the producer of “Pumping Iron.” The most troubling and explosive part of the proposal quoted Arnold as praising Hitler’s speaking ability in the following way: “I admire him for being such a good public speaker and for what he did with it.”
The New York Times, which was the first print media outlet to report this bogus story, now reports that a transcript (released by the Schwarzenegger campaign) shows that the relevant passage says the exact opposite:
I admired Hitler for instance because he came from being a little man with almost no formal education, up to power. And I admire him for being such a good public speaker and for his way of getting to the people and so on. But I didn’t admire him for what he did with it.
Whoops! That’s a little different, isn’t it?? The NYT reports:
Mr. Butler said he could not explain the inaccuracy. “I am amazed that something like that escaped me.”
Whoops! I think I can explain the inaccuracy. My guess: someone gave the story to Maureen Dowd to check the quotations for accuracy.
Anyway, Schwarzenegger goes on in the transcript to say repeatedly that the Nazis misused their power. It’s perfectly clear that he was never praising the evil of the Nazi regime.
To its credit, our local Dog Trainer adds an interesting detail that the NYT doesn’t bother to pass along:
Butler’s statement said his book proposal, which he eventually withdrew, “contained a prominent disclaimer” warning that the statements it quoted “should not be taken as fact until verified.”
(There remains one detail that I find a little odd. According to the New York Times, the book proposal accurately described Arnold’s imitating Hitler, as well as “clicking his heels and pretending to be an SS officer or playing Nazi marching songs at home.” Now, I’ve imitated Hitler for laughs. So did Charlie Chaplin, John Cleese, and half the people you know. But I can’t find a single Nazi marching song among my hundreds of CDs. I think that’s a little strange. But not particularly significant, without more.)
LESSONS: The interesting question is: what does all of this tell us about how the media has handled this story?
It tells us that stories do need to be checked out carefully. The critics of the timing of the Arnold groping stinkbomb (including myself) should acknowledge that the Hitler story would have benefited from the sort of verification process that the Dog Trainer went through with the groping story.
It also tells us something that we should already know: we need to be very skeptical of these last-minute smear jobs. This particular one was reported by the New York Times, a paper that (at least before Jayson Blair) was considered by many to be a fairly reliable news source. But they got fooled on this one, big time.
And I think it tells us that it would be instructive to know who the political operatives are who are tipping people off to these stories (and here I include the Arnold groping story). Because with the Hitler, it’s obvious that some political operative had the story and sat on it. Some might have initially thought that this was unimportant because the story relied on documentary proof (the book proposal) — but that documentary proof turns out to have been seriously misleading. Does anyone think this was an accident?
If the papers won’t identify the tipsters, because of the general journalistic practice of protecting sources, then they shouldn’t tell us (as the Dog Trainer did with the groping story) that the story didn’t originate with the rival candidates. This is especially true if the story may have originated with someone connected with the candidates. (And if even if the folks reporting the story believe that there is no connection to the candidates — how do they know? Have they spent seven weeks researching that?) And when tipsters aren’t identified, newspapers — and the public — should be especially skeptical. Because otherwise, as the Hitler story illustrates, the tipsters may be pulling the wool over our eyes.
UPDATE: Mickey Kaus notes that, since the transcript emanates from Butler (just like the book proposal did), even the correction is not necessarily true. Given that Butler’s credibility is shot, perhaps we should wait for the actual tapes before making up our minds.
UPDATE TWO: The Boy from Troy says that he knows someone who has seen internal polling from the Davis camp from three weeks ago which contained this question: “If you knew that a gubernatorial candidate admired Hitler would that make you more or less likely to support him?” The Boy from Troy says: “Mr. Kaus, Miss Stewart, anyone at the LA Times…you have your marching orders: find and report on this poll by Monday.”
I take it that the inclusion of the Dog Trainer in that list is tongue-in-cheek.