Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, in an excerpt from their new book, consider Arnold Schwarzenegger, the media, and the politics of misdirection:

The announcement prompted whoops and cheers from Leno’s studio audience, and Schwarzenegger rewarded them with some of the lines he had made famous in his movies. “Say hasta la vista to Gray Davis,” he said, promising to “pump up Sacramento.” He also paraphrased a line from another movie–the 1976 film, Network. The people of California, Schwarzenegger said, were “mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

Written by Paddy Chayefsky, Network is a satire about television sensationalism run amok. In the movie, Peter Finch plays Howard Beale, a deranged newscaster who has rejuvenated his network’s ratings by promising to kill himself live in front of the cameras. Instead of committing suicide, though, Beale urges his viewers to join him in chanting that they are “mad as hell,” and a cult-like movement forms around his diatribes against “the system.” Ironically, Beale’s anger eventually becomes a predictable television ritual, his ratings drop again, and the network itself arranges to have him killed. The movie’s message was that even when the public gets “mad as hell,” nothing changes in the end. It was a grim and cynical cinematic statement–almost as cynical as Schwarzenegger’s seemingly non-ironic use of Beale’s line.

Months previously, Schwarzenegger’s approach had been spelled out by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who conducted focus-group research for the party’s “Rescue California” campaign to recall Davis. In a memo to “Rescue California,” Luntz outlined 17 ways to “kill Davis softly.” It was important, he advised, to “trash the governor,” but, “Issues are less important than attributes and character traits in your recall effort.” Accordingly, Schwarzenegger carefully avoided mentioning the budget or raising any policy questions during his Leno appearance, sticking to Luntz-tested lines such as, “Do your job for the people and do it well, otherwise you are ‘hasta la vista, baby!'”


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