Former Democratic campaign aide Susan Estrich, now a USC law professor and syndicated columnist, comes down hard on the L.A. Times for publishing the allegations of groping by Arnold Schwarzenegger. She writes in an op-ed piece in the Times:
None of these women, as The Times emphasizes, ever came forward to complain. The newspaper went looking for them, and then waited until five days before the election to tell the fragments of the story.
What this story accomplishes is less an attack on Schwarzenegger than a smear on the press. It reaffirms everything that's wrong with the political process. Anonymous charges from years ago made in the closing days of a campaign undermine fair politics.
Facing these charges, a candidate has two choices. If he denies them, the story keeps building and overshadows everything else he does. Schwarzenegger's bold apology is a gamble to make the story go away. It may or may not work.
But here's my prediction, as a Californian: It's too late for the Los Angeles Times' charges to have much impact. People have made up their minds. This attack, coming as late as it does, from a newspaper that has been acting more like a cheerleader for Gray Davis than an objective source of information, will be dismissed by most people as more Davis-like dirty politics. Is this the worst they could come up with? Ho-hum. After what we've been through?
To his credit, Schwarzenegger apologized for "behaving badly." So should the Los Angeles Times.
Also reacting on the LAT op-ed page: Republican operative K.B. Forbes, the former communications director for Bill Simon's campaign, calls Arnold "unfit to be governor."
Update 10 a.m.: Times editor John Carroll defends the story and the timing in the S.F. Chronicle: "We ran it when we felt it was publishable. I would have loved to have published it earlier." In a USA Today story, the defenders include former Timesman Bill Boyarsky and Jack Shafer, the media critic at Slate: ''With an election story, you publish the story when it's ready." Howard Kurtz at the WashPost: "Reaction has been predictably partisan." (All via Romenesko, who has more.)