Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger with son Patrick Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver and Christopher Schwarzenegger watch during NBA All-Star Saturday Night in 2008. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)

Doing our Morning Splash post this morning, I was confronted with one of those journalistic quandaries that comes up whenever a story presents itself you know the public is ready, willing, and able to devour like seven-layer chocolate cake, but which seems to have negligible value in terms of adding to the public discourse.

In the daily digest of news that Morning Splash is, where to rank the report that former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has admitted fathering an out-of-wedlock child with someone from his household staff? As of this writing, CNN and ABC have given it top-story status on its web page, MSNBC puts it at No. 2, and Fox and CBS are giving it prominent play. Even BBC News puts it just below the fold. As for the web site of the nation’s paper of record, the New York Times, the story is front and center, anchored by a large photo of Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver, from whom he is now separated. Only Al Jazeera English seems to have missed the boat on what — let’s face it — is an item that is probably going to drive a lot of web traffic. (The L.A. Times, the paper that broke the story, occupies two out of the top 10 spots on Google Trends right now, probably because nobody knows how to spell Arnold’s name.) Al Jazeera has deemed the defection of the Libyan Oil Minister of much greater importance.

I hate to engage in what some might consider journalistic navel-gazing. And “coverage of the coverage” is certainly a way for media to have its cake and eat it too. But since this comes up time and again, I think it’s worth looking at without any implicit condemnation. Factors arguing against the kind of treatment this story is getting today:

  • Schwarzenegger is no longer governor or a public office holder of any stripe.
  • The event in question occurred before he was in office.
  • Schwarzenegger did not govern as a cultural conservative. He was not the type of politician who made “family values” a part of his agenda or the narrative he pushed in citing his leadership qualifications. Meaning that, cultivating an image of personal morality and leveraging it as a sign of fitness for public office arguably makes one fair game to charges of hypocrisy when that edifice implodes. (Californians, by the way, dismissed as a disqualifier for office allegations of a much more serious matter against Schwarzenegger, the serial groping of women , back in 2003.)

And factors arguing for coverage?

  • It’s a helluva story! One that will spill over from water coolers and into cubicles, parking lots, and restrooms for days to come. My wife, for example, uttered this opener in our morning conversation: “Didja hear about Schwarzennegger?”

Uh, yes, I had. Because that is the first thing I clicked on today, with an urgency usually reserved for viral videos involving kittens. I wanted to know.

But is my and the rest of America’s desire to know a good enough reason to splash this story across the front pages of newspapers and web sites? And more provocatively, is this a story that should even be covered at all? Is the personal sexual morality of public figures a legitimate topic for any area of journalism outside of the gossip pages? Given the career-exploding escapades of such politicians as Mark Sanford and Eliott Spitzer, and the escalation of a marital transgression by the President of the United States into eventual impeachment proceedings, our society for the time being seems to have answered “yes.”

As for my morning quandary of where to rank the Schwarzenegger story in a list of news you should know, I placed it fifth, between Oakland gang injunctions and the Giants making an “It Gets Better” video.

Reasonable people can disagree.

What’s your take? Tell us in the comments section.

Is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Out-of-Wedlock Child a Legitimate News Story? 19 May,2011Jon Brooks

  • Joseph Sexton

    Why start worrying now about “legitimate” news? The news media stopped roasting that pig eons ago!

  • Ric S.

    Heartening to hear you agonizing over the issue, but this isn’t even a close call. Given that the couple in question is as public as this one, and that details of their separation were announced by the principals themselves via a public statement, I’d argue it would have been a lapse in judgment to let this go unreported. What’s sad is that anyone cares.

  • Khalid Rocca

    I guess he won’t be back!

    • John P. Jones

      Khalid … He’ll be back. He remains an “icon”. Scharzenegger would have to have made comments critical of Israel before he’d be terminated.

  • Khalid Rocca illegitimacy legitimacy!

  • w vision

    He married Schriver in 1986. The love child was born in 2001. He served as governor in 2003. The mother of the child served on his house staff from 1991 until 2011. So, while he was governor & married, he had a secret sexual/paternal relationship with a long time staff member. Sounds a little like a news story, doesn’t it?

  • Schwarzenegger is more than a public figure; he’s a pop-culture icon. The story is newsworthy, not because it is lascivious. That os coming from someone who avoids “entertainment news” like the plague. Journalists should not attempt to withhold the news. That amounts to unintentional censorship. Give the people the facts and let them decide.

    I wouldn’t want my personal life dragged through the papers so a bit of propriety is called for!

  • Cyndy

    No- It’s an “illegitimate” news story. PUN INTENDED!!

  • John P. Jones

    You’ve got to be joking … Right? Of course of course this Schwarzenegger story is news. When celebrities, or public figures (especially elected officials) capture and often command the news with their stories (or spin), they are fair game. As an extreme example, Tiger Woods … as the result of his over-the-top infidelity … got hammered (hell, crucified) to the point that he may never recover. The public interest is and should be greater when politicians are involved. We’re supposed to trust our representatives. Of course, the media publishes for profit and and usually cares less if it serves “truth” or “news”, but, in this case with SSchwarzenegger, the public has been presented with a huge lie … since even before he was elected. Arnold (the Gropenator>b>) has NEVER>b> had respect for women, so why would he have respect for his wife? Nearly ALL politicians lie. Some lie much more than others. Should we (the public) be interested in hearing about the exposure of their lies? Yes, we should. If the “media” were really doing its job, they dig into Schwarzenegger’s connections to Enron chief Ken Lay, and his complicity with the California energy debacle. But … today’s mainstream media only feels it’s doing its job when it’s making money.

    • Scott

      I will speak for myself here John but I figure when I can walk on water then I can start worrying about other people’s moral judgement or lack thereof. If someone call tell me how Arnold (or for that matter Clinton, or whoever) getting a little on the side results in an inability to perform a job as an elected official then it becomes our business. Until then society would probably be best served by worrying about their own character rather than everyone else’s.

      • John P. Jones

        Scott … Thanks! … I’ll speak for myself, too. I think “society would probably be best served” by representatives who are honest, not liars and cheaters. They needn’t be “role-models”. Please don’t confuse “concern” with “worry”. When we (as a society/nation) continually promote our core values, should we overlook or simply ignore it when those who are supposed to be representing us demonstrate corrupt values or no values?

        • Scott

          I suppose that would depend on what their role is. I personally don’t believe elected officials should be role models. I believe they should govern according to their post and leave the rest to society. I get terribly annoyed with politicians who portray themselves as so morally superior because it has nothing to do with their post (in my humble opinion). I do agree that they should be honest however, but again that comes back to society as well because we often fail to hold them accountable. When someone from “our side” messes up all too often we attempt to justify their actions due to entrenched partisanship instead of simply admitting “yes…he/she blew it”. That’s something that happens on both sides of the aisle as well. The media reinforces this because that’s what we as a society choose to “buy”. If you like watching Democrats get slammed and excused made for Republicans, you watch Sean Hannity. If you like the opposite, you watch MSNBC. That’s what sells and that is our fault.

          Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying “they are guilty but society is to blame” by any means, but I think all too often we as a society love to point the finger at other for whatever reason while ignoring our own shortfalls.

          • Scott

            I guess the point I am trying to make here John (and perhaps poorly) is that the only way this would be anyone’s business is if it could be demonstrated that it had a negative impact on his ability to govern. I think one would be very hard pressed to make a convincing argument to that effect. As such it impacts no one except his family and as such, in my opinion, it should be left there.

            It won’t be left there because there are far too many people in society who a) are looking for any excuse whatsoever to slam the other side of the aisle or b) are willing to spend their hard earned money on the National Enquirer, People Magazine, read TMZ or whatever gossip rag you like. Both motivations create the opportunity for financial gain by given media outlets and if there is money to be made it will be exploited by someone without hesitation or forethought of consequences. That’s the part where we as a society have to take the responsibility and the blame.

  • Scott

    Truth be told it’s no one’s business but his family’s and there is truth to the statement that Arnold never portrayed himself as a man of outstanding moral character in the first place so going after him as a hypocrite bears no fruit. I agree with Ric who said “What’s sad is that anyone cares”. Then again I clicked on the link just like he did. But people are always hungry for good juicy gossip so the story will get tons of attention even though all that should be said is “they are separating” and then the public and the media should leave them alone to work through it themselves.

    • John P. Jones

      Scott, you’re reading a lot into my statements. One, I didn’t say or even infer that Schwarzenegger portrayed himself as a man of “outstanding moral character”. I did say that we (as a society) would be better served by those who are honest. Schwarzenegger was not honest, and has not been honest about lots of things. The fact that someone may is honest shouldn’t be (and usually isn’t) a reason for them to portray themself as “morally superior”. Honesty HAS something to do with their post, and it has much to do with the reasons we elect people. If Schwarzenegger’s secret had been exposed before he got elected … would he have been elected? I’m really NOT concerned about his private life. I am concerned that he’s a liar. I have every right (in fact, I have an obligation) to be concerned about that. Our choices of elected officials has something (a little, at least, I hope) to do with truth. I wouldn’t and don’t want a person as governor if that person is a liar. His private life is not my business or within my control. If you wanna give Schwarzenegger a pass for being a liar (he lied to you, too), then that is your private business.

      • Scott

        I didn’t say or even infer that Schwarzenegger portrayed himself as a man of “outstanding moral character”.<<<<

        I know. It wasn't my intention to suggest you had. I was simply pointing out that it is a argument someone (not specifically YOU) might make that has no basis in fact.

        I did say that we (as a society) would be better served by those who are honest<<<

        I agree.

        I am concerned that he's a liar. I have every right (in fact, I have an obligation) to be concerned about that.<<<

        Aren't we all to some degree? I know I have told some whoppers in my life….mostly out of cowardice about things I have done for which I am rightfully ashamed and would hurt people who it was not my intention to hurt. We all lie whether it's little white lies or big ones. We forgive ourselves for our own lies by reminding ourselves we are human and not perfect (at least I do). Why is it fair to hold a higher standard to someone else, particularly someone who never professed to be anything else? I am not suggesting you are saying that…I am just making the point.

        I respect your opinion on Arnold's lies, your are entitled to them and I support your right to hold them, but it brings me back to the theme of my original point. I will hammer someone for lying when I am not myself a liar. I think if we all turn that mirror upon ourselves perhaps we would not be so hasty to condemn…but then again perhaps not.

  • w vision

    He lied, cheated and paid money to keep secret the existence of a love child in order to gain & maintain the highest office in the State of California. Those who knew his “secret” threatened his position. How many such secret keepers exploited their position for personal advantage other than the child’s mother? Couldn’t anyone who knew the secret bring him to his knees with a threat of disclosure? The perception of impropriety drove a wedge between him and his duties to office.

    • John P. Jones

      @ w vision … Excellent question. Legitimate questions are now being raised about whether Schwarzenegger used state or campaign money to pay for financial support for the woman with whom he had an affair … and their child.

      “Eric Bauman, Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party and Chair of the Los Angeles Democratic Party said:

      “Californians are greatly concerned that the former Governor deceived not just his wife and his children, and I for one certainly would like to know if any governmental or campaign resources were used to cover up this fiasco,”

      ““During Arnold’s campaign when women came forward and raised issued about his sexual advances and activities, he and his minions denied them vociferously and actually accused the women who came forward of being lairs and manipulators,” he continued. “What a shock that it was we Californians who were lied to and manipulated by Arnold.”

      “I think the Fair Political Practices Committee has an obligation to examine whether state or campaign resources were used to cover up this deception.”

      I agree !!!!

  • w vision

    Jon Brooks clearly scooped everyone by announcing this as the 5th most interesting story of the morning. Crock. Journalistic license or way off base? One must assume that Mr. Brooks knows not of that which he writes even though it is his chosen profession.

  • gwen

    Too funny. Do you recall the Monica Lewinsky/blue dress story? It broke on the SAME day we dropped more bombs on Milosevic than in Iraq part 1. Consider that this may be just another distraction to keep stupid Americans only thinking about what they want us to think about. This story…WHO CARES!!! Why do you care about this? This is a head cold in comparison to the swine flu our country has become. Step back and smell what is being shoveled and you might find a different stink than the one you orginally sniffed out.


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. He was also the editor of, which documented user-generated content about the financial crisis and recession. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

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