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THE INAUGURATION

A State Event Covered by the World's Media

November 18, 2003|Jeffrey L. Rabin and Shawn Hubler | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — They say political news is a snooze by TV standards, but it's not every day that an inauguration is covered by "Entertainment Tonight."

And E! Entertainment. And "Extra." And "Inside Edition." And press from 14 countries, that -- as part of an accredited press corps of more than 700 -- took the swearing-in of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to a global audience.

Monday's proceedings were broadcast live as far away as Moscow and Japan. And, of course, the news made Austria, where California's new top executive was, as they say, the ultimate local angle. Hundreds of millions were believed to have tuned in to at least part of Monday's ceremony.

"Not since the Gold Rush has there been so many pushy strangers on the streets of Sacramento," joked Duncan Campbell of the Guardian of London.

"This is Arnold's biggest premiere ever," concurred Michael Soares, a field producer for "Access Hollywood."

Media interest in Schwarzenegger has been almost dumbfounding, at least from a political standpoint, since rumors of his candidacy surfaced during the recall campaign. Reporters by the busload trailed him from rally to rally. Paparazzi staked him out. Height, tan, teeth, jewelry, diet -- everything about him was grist for headlines, including his reporter wife, Maria Shriver.

Monday prolonged the governor's higher-than-high profile, though most media outlets reported having ratcheted back slightly from earlier levels. ABC's "World News Tonight" anchor Peter Jennings was in California for the recall, but the inauguration was handled by correspondent Brian Rooney. Cable MSNBC covered the ceremony live, but opted not to send staffers, relying instead on correspondents from its partner, NBC News.

"Access Hollywood," which tracked practically every movement of Schwarzenegger during the recall, made do on Monday with just a correspondent, a producer and two crew members. Going forward, the show plans to cover his governorship only where it intersects with Hollywood, said a spokeswoman.

Monday's coverage, nonetheless, was thorough, as journalists from around the world roamed Sacramento and crammed groaning press risers that literally vibrated under the scribbling, muttering, camera-brandishing weight. Japanese news crews trawled shopping malls for man-on-the-street comments from Sacramentans. New York tabloid reporters scanned the crowds of Schwarzenegger supporters for Danny DeVito and Jamie Lee Curtis. A post-inaugural lunch at the venerable Sutter Club was staked out by "Inside Edition"; when actor Tom Arnold arrived in tandem with comedian Dennis Miller, a minor mob scene erupted.

"I never saw so much press before in my life. I'm glad I wore an appropriate suit," marveled Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City).

Pavel Krepkiy, San Francisco bureau chief for the independent Russian television network NTV, said the inauguration consumed 10 to 12 minutes of the network's hourlong newscast. "The Russian people don't really know about the California crisis, but they see a famous actor," Krepkiy said.

Japanese TV producer Adam Yamaguchi said his viewers too were mostly ignorant of California politics, but uniformly familiar with Schwarzenegger, who is known there not just as a hero of action movies, but a pitchman for vitamin drinks and ramen noodles.

"There would be no other interest," Yamaguchi admitted, "if not for him."

"It's not just about Hollywood and celebrity," said BBC correspondent Matt Frei. "I mean you have here a very direct and pure form of democracy that has been practiced before in California. It's been practiced again in recent weeks.... It will be interesting to see how this man manages, if at all, to make it work."

Political commentator Sherry Bebitch Jeffe said it was understandable that Schwarzenegger should make a global capital out of a state one. "What you've got is international curiosity about a current international superstar," she observed. The last time a celebrity became governor here, she added, was at the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, and "you did not have cable 24-7, you did not have 'Inside Edition,' 'Entertainment Tonight,' 'Access Hollywood.' "

That understanding is likely to run through what promises to be the media-savviest administration in the history of California. On Monday, every turn, it seemed, spoke to the new governor's understanding of images and the power of celebrity.

As Schwarzenegger made his way with his family and other officials down a Capitol hallway, he reminded his 6-year-old son, Christopher, to "smile" for the cameras. A release identified the designers of the suits Schwarzenegger and Shriver wore (he in Prada, she in Valentino).

And later, when Schwarzenegger officially repealed the car tax, he had to remind bystanders that he was "just joking" as he answered applause: "Thank you, thank you. Makeup, please!"

*

Times staff writers Gina Piccalo and Elizabeth Jensen contributed to this report.

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